Listen to a Londoner: Sue Hillman

Listen to a Londoner is a weekly interview post with people who live (or have lived for a while) in London. If you fit the bill and want to be interviewed, give me a shout at Always looking for new volunteers.

Sue Hillman, 52 

Sue runs her own travel company for visitors to London offering tailor made tours and has lived in London for over 30 years. Before that, she worked in HR at the BBC for 18 good years but felt the need to  try a different throw of the dice. She loves to travel and has notched up 50 countries so far but London is her favourite city in the world!

LLO: Having lived in London for 30 years, what dramatic or noticeable changes have you seen in that time?
So much has changed, but I guess one of the biggest turnarounds has been the South Bank which was a not somewhere I used to go at all. Now there are loads of bars and restaurants, the Globe, the Tate Modern, City Hall, the restored warehouse buildings, the Millennium Bridge and, of course, the London Eye.

LLO: Tell us a bit about your website, It’s Your London.
We design and organise tailor made tours of London for small groups. It’s a personal service and each visit is built around what my visitors want to do and see at the pace they want.  We take all the hard work out of visiting London and arrange the itinerary, the entry tickets and make sure we get to the right places at the right time, not wasting any time but not being rushed either. It’s great fun for all concerned.

LLO: What would you consider “your London”; where do you love spend a free day? 
I love being around the Thames on a fine day as the views are so beautiful – especially good is a walk from Westminster Bridge through to Tower Bridge. I’m also a museum buff so any excuse to go into the British Museum and travel the world ancient and more modern in a few hours is always a treat. Being a linguist, the Rosetta Stone is a big draw for me. A free day would have to include trying out a new bar or restaurant – or both! I love to find out the new in London. It’s such a vibrant city, there’s always something.

LLO: What’s the most unique itinerary you’ve been asked to create for a customer?
Some examples of what I’ve been asked for are: a tour of East End rag trade to see its history and Jewish roots, a photo opportunity in front of the Stock Exchange, to see a court in session at the Royal Courts of Justice, afternoon tea in Buckingham Palace (luckily not with the Queen!),  a tour just of up-and-coming fashion designers with the chance to meet and talk with them. There was also talk of a tour of iconic London gay men’s homes, but only those already dead! Often people don’t realise how big London is and want to pop Windsor into a full day tour of central London. They’ve not experienced our traffic….

LLO: If you were approached by a magazine photographer who wanted to find the most colourful and unusual parts of the city, what sort of itinerary would you create?
Best for visuals are views along the Thames, the streets of coloured houses in Notting Hill (I’m biased, but it is lovely!), views from the top of the Park Lane Hilton and from the London Eye. Unusual shots are easy to find by just turning off a main road in most places. I like the streets around Borough Market towards the river and the mews streets of London where you can just imagine the horses and carriages pulling in. There is one in South Kensington where the horses were kept up on the the second storey and you can see the walkways they went up – again an amazing image.

LLO: What’s your favourite London “discovery”?
Every time I find a new place/bar/restaurant I get excited. I’m very bad at picking favourites but most recent discovery were pigs in the middle of Holland Park in the swanky W11 postcode. Huge pigs living just next to where the open air opera is performed in the summer, who’d have thought that possible! 

LLO: What’s the best thing about living in your postcode?
Portobello Road and the fun of wandering up and down any day of the week to see how it changes. There are so many great little shops, bars and restaurants, it’s never dull. The whole area is beautiful with its terraces of white stucco houses and garden squares forming green oases. One more thing – as it’s so central, my friends can get here easily to visit so I see them far more often than when I lived further out. Then there’s always the fun of celebrity spotting. I saw Kate Moss yesterday!

LLO: You’ve recently returned from a month in Southern Africa. Where in London can we find a bit of African culture?
The British Museum has a huge number of African items and currently they have a major exhibition called Kingdom of Ife which has ‘exquisite examples of brass, copper, stone and terracotta sculpture from West Africa’, they tell us. Food is an important aspect of African culture and there is everything from the top end Moroccan restaurant Momo through to Lalibela, an Ethiopian restaurant where you can sit in traditional style to eat authentic cuisine, to the amazing Caribbean and African food stalls at the Notting Hill Carnival when the area enjoys a mad, mad weekend!  Then there are markets.  Try Brick Lane and Petticoat Lane and you never know what you’ll find. There’s Brixton market for African produce.

LLO: Favourite London pub or restaurant?
So many to choose from! I’m very fond of many of the places round my area and for the warmest welcome, I’d have to say Aphrodite on Hereford Road.  The Electric Brasserie on Portobello is pretty cool any time of day and El Pirata de Tapas is a favourite with my mates who come to stay with me.  At the upper end, I like Momo as it feels like an evening in Morocco, Maze has wonderful small plates of intense flavour, the Ledbury has Michelin-star French cooking and L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon is a real treat. Stop me now or I’ll go on for the rest of the page!!

Thanks Sue!  

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.

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