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Published September 10th 2012
A tale like no other
Every Londoner, by birth, residency or wishful thinking, and the city's tourists are familiar with Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace. Cameras' flashes blind the passers-by in these areas while these emblems appear on the postcards and every film shot in the British capital. Still, the lucky ones to walk on the streets of London aware of the stories, anecdotes and curious facts that lie beneath these emblematic attractions are of a rare breed. Led by a hilarious, witty guide, we had the chance to uncover the most astounding history of the world's most visited city.
Sometimes reality surpasses fiction and when it comes to royal London, the popular amazement never ends with the most unbelievable anecdotes. The Story of London Free Tour sets off in Green Park all the way to Dean's Yard, revealing a story like no other on the planet.
We met by the Diana of the Treetops Statue in Green Park. It was there where the little-known stories began. With a high dose of humour by the tour guide named Paris, we learned the reason why Green Park has such a descriptive name. And no, it's not exactly because it's green. The story is a bit more complicated than that. It all started with Charles II who loved wine, food and women – very original interests, indeed. As a way to court women, he took the flowers from the park and offered them as a bouquet. He probably liked women too much or too many women, as he left the park with no flowers at all. Therefore, the park was just green, hence the name.
The second stop was Buckingham Palace. With the guards and its imposing façade, breaking into the palace sounds like pulling a Mission Impossible coming down from the roof and evading all the security alarms. Well, actually the time it was broken into back in 1982 was more similar to Santa Claus' chimney stunt. The intruder's name is Michael Fagan, a common man in search for a job who, like many employment seekers, ended up in a pub. After one too many drinks, he had the fascinating idea of breaking into the Palace, setting off so many alarms that the staff thought the security system was broken so they shot it down.
Fagan ended up in no other room than the Queen's bedchamber, and guess who happened to be there? Shockingly so, Fagan had a 10 minute conversation with the Queen and asked her for a cigarette. She called the footman and asked him to bring a cigarette and call the police. Curious fact alert: The footman actually brought the cigarette. Michael Fagan was only arrested for 24 hours for civil disorder because back then there was no law that prohibited breaking into the Royal chamber. It took 900 years to make it illegal. Fagan's mother later said, "He thinks so much of the Queen. I can imagine him just wanting to simply talk and say hello and discuss his problems."
The tour continued with very interesting facts of London history in St. James' Palace. We kept walking to see a burial of Gira, a dog, by his favourite tree and then it went on to a love story that conquered our hearts. Legend tells that the Duke of Westminster feel in love with Coco Chanel in Paris. When he asked her to marry him, she said, "Darling, there will be many Ladies of Westminster, but there will only be one Coco Chanel". He came back to London with his tail between his legs and with "a green and yellow melancholy" he ordered to put his and Coco Chanel's initials on the lamp posts. The official version is slightly different and dull, so this tragic love story is preferable.
The Duke of Westminster's and Coco Chanel's initials on the lamp posts
We passed by the Athenian Club, which is a gentlemen club or club of the mind, which comprises 52 noble prizes. Then we reached Trafalgar Square where we can find Nelson's statue. Here the guide gave us the details of the greatest naval history of all times. Nelson commanded against the French and Spanish armada which had twice as many ships. He used a novel tactic and non of his ships sank. In the breeze of victory as a proud battler, he stood right on top of the ship's bow, and with all his condecorations on his clothes it was a like a neon sign for a French shootman. His last words were "Thank God I've done my duty". The tour guide gave more details on how he won the battle and what happened afterwards, which is really interesting and surprising.
We moved on to the Parade of the Horseguards, a tradition that has its origin in alcohol. The Queen found the guards drunk at 4 in the afternoon, so she punished them to do a parade for a hundred years. Even though this punishment was lifted in 1996, the tradition still lives.
We continued to 70 White Hall where we learnt why there are not any rubbish bins, then we walked to 10 Downing Street, and then reached Churchill cabinet war rooms. Endless turning points in History flood the city of London.
Nearby, there is St. James Park, which has been a home for very inappropriate animals, such as crocodiles and elephants. Not long ago, a pelican ate a pigeon and the video can be found here. Consequently, there is a hut where somebody works to keep the pelicans from eating the pigeons.
The tour continued to emblematic places such as Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster. There we learnt interesting facts about Westminster Abbey, how much Prince Williams' wedding cost, and the origin of the name "Big Ben", among other interesting facts.
The tour ended with a peaceful walk to Dean's Yard.
The free walking tour starts every day at 11:00 and 15:00 by the Diana of the Treetops statue in Green Park.