That's what someone said to me once in response to the question: "What do you like about my tours?"
It's a question I ask others, and myself, a lot. 'Cos lets face it, there are lots of great walking tours out there. The ubiquitous Jack the Ripper Tours with the ominous guide in the top hat, cloak and lantern leading you down dark east end alleyways, describing the horrific crimes of Whitechapel. There are ghost walks, haunted pub crawls, LGBT walks, feminist walks, black history walks, Roman, Medieval, Elizabethan, Georgian, Victorian history, and even swinging 60’s walks. There are themed walks focussing on film locations, specific characters or celebrities from Aleister Crowley To Harry Potter…if you're too lazy to walk, you can get on a Ghost bus tour, or a horrible histories boat tour. Or if you want theatre you can head down to the London Dungeons, or the Clink Prison. If you like food - you can join a foodie tour.
There are even several immersive theatrical walks that incorporate comedy, theatre and history. Tourists are quite frankly, spoiled for choice.
So basically, I am in a pretty saturated market here in London. I run walking tours on history that incorporate theatre and comedy. That isn’t unique, and I'm well aware of that.
So why would anyone bother booking one of my tours? Well this is a question I have, in my darker moments of self doubt, when I’m struggling to sell tickets, often asked myself. What am I actually doing that is different?
Several things, in my opinion. (Apologies if the following comes across as sales-y and cringe… just indulge me for the next few minutes….)
Firstly, as the title quote alluded to - I’m not your typical walking tour guide. The industry is largely dominated by men (although I believe that is starting to change) - particularly when it comes to ‘dark history’ - which I tend to gravitate towards. With the darker aspects of London's history - crime, disease, sin, - you generally find either male ex-drama school or sometime-actors, confidently striding around London in their dark garb, masterfully projecting their deep, shouty voices across the street, emphasising the stress points of their story well enough to make someone in a pub a mile away jump and make their drama teachers from school proud..(Can you tell I've worked in the industry…?;-) ...OR you get the slightly (dare I say- drier?) Older, academic types that have either written a book on the subject and are therefore experts, or are blue badge trained or have some other walking tour guide qualification that they proudly mention every 5 minutes. And more power to them. There is a place for these types, and they do well. This is meant as a playful dig, not a spiteful one.
But, I’m not ex drama school. I'm not professionally trained in acting. I don't have a blue badge certificate or any other professional guiding certificate. I haven't written any books or have a First in History from Oxford. I realise in many people’s eyes this lowers my credibility to run theatrical, historical walking tours. But what I do have is experience running tours (over 3 years now), natural storytelling and comic skill, a love of researching history in my free time and tons and tons of enthusiasm and passion for what I talk about. Because I research and write my tours- the stories I tell are the ones I am most passionate about.
When I was fired from an immersive theatre walking tour company that shall not be named, I was devastated and felt completely unfairly cast out and scapegoated. The experience compelled me to write my own tour, telling the stories of other scapegoated women in history, and thats how Hex and the City was born - telling the stories of Londons witches, and from there Harlots and Gaol Birds. Forgotten women - written out of history - these are the stories and characters I bring to life. Using my creative and imaginative license, my tours provide a platform for these voices from the past. And yes, I think I can fairly and justifiably represent them,- having experienced what it is to be cast out, bullied, scapegoated and denigrated throughout this life, and, very likely, in other lifetimes too. (Yep I believe we live more than once).
And although the subjects are often dark and depressing, my style is very comedic, so there are moments of (much needed!) levity, without, I believe, losing the sensitivity and respect for these women’s lives. I think, having been on many ‘dark history’ tours in my time, it is quite hard to strike this balance. Many either go for the pure performative ‘jump-scare/shock’ value, or the very serious, academic style/ lecture approach. I think my tours effectively balance the two.
But….How can she do theatre if she's not a trained actor? You may ask. Well, I guess only my audience can judge my skill on this and everyone has their own opinions. But I've been writing and performing my own skits and monologues for a while. I know I've got a knack for it, if you can call it that. Plus, I’ve got what most actors need - a sense of humour, a love for being in the spotlight, a hint of mad eccentricity, and a desire to not grow up (!) I've always loved dressing up and showing off, creating characters and doing different voices for fun. But when younger, I was just too shy and insecure to take it anywhere, lest I be judged and criticised. As you get older, you give less of a shit what others think. I now proudly embrace my madness, and channel it through my tours.
So when you book a tour with Herstorical Tours, I think what you are getting is this: an evening of creative re-telling and sometimes zany channelling of a selection of largely forgotten women’s stories from history, performed for you, by women, on location in the places in London that they took place. You are immersed in the history and become a part of it. I examine the historical context of the real life stories I tell, and you are invited to ponder what this all means for us nowadays. It’s not just about having a fun night out (although it is that, of course!) My tours make people think, and want to learn more. I know that because I always get people wanting the references and names I've mentioned so they can look them up themselves!
So yes, there are lots of other theatrical walking tours and historical walking tours out there that seem similar to mine. And many of them have better credentials than me, more followers, more of an online presence, etc etc. But if you’re looking for an experience that will 1) make you laugh, 2) occasionally scare you, 3) sometimes sadden you, and 4) definitely inspire you, you might want to consider booking one of my tours. Or more than one. Oh and tell all your friends, too… Thanks for reading ! :-)