When I think of where I’d take a visitor to London, one of the first places that springs to mind is Covent Garden — and it’s not just because I’m preparing to direct My Fair Lady! (Eliza Doolittle is, of course, a flower seller at the great market when she first encounters Henry Higgins). The market is no longer in that location, sadly, but the area still holds some wonderful memories for me. This is where I’d start my cultural tour.
The Royal Opera House (popularly known as Covent Garden) is located in the centre of the old market area. This beautiful building is home to the Royal Opera and Royal Ballet Companies and is truly worth a visit. Around the corner from the Opera House is another great theatre, Drury Lane. This is where I performed in My Fair Lady when the show came from New York to open in London. At that time the area was still a working market. The great flower and vegetable markets were superb. I would either be coming to work at the matinee or be coming out of the theatre and the Cockney barrow boys would say “’ello Julie! good luck, luv!” Wonderful memories.
Hampton Court Palace is not too far from where I was born and raised in Surrey. Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, former chief advisor to King Henry VIII, bought the property in 1514 and turned what was a grand private house into a bishop’s palace. By 1528, Wolsey had fallen out with Henry and the King acquired the palace. All of Henry VIII’s six wives had lodgings there. The Palace holds wonderful memories for me, and the gardens — they cover 26 hectares —are superb. When London became illuminated again after World War II, the palace was also lit and it was a most wondrous sight. The royal family hasn’t inhabited the palace for more than 200 years and these days it’s open to the public.
Galleries: I would definitely take a visitor to a few of the great galleries — definitely the Tate Britain because of its magnificent Joseph Turner collection. The Tate Modern is a newer building, but again, it’s a wonderful gallery. The Royal Academy had a huge exhibition of David Hockney landscapes a few years ago and next year (2016) they have an exhibition of his portraits.
A river cruise: I would suggest taking a boat down the Thames. You see the city from a completely different perspective: The historical Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, The Tower of London and Greenwich, birthplace of King Henry VIII. (The Greenwich Meridian is the point from which all time zones are defined.) There are also fascinating Royal museums here including the Queen’s House, the National Maritime Museum, the Royal Observatory, the Old Naval College and the famous clipper, the Cutty Sark. Mustn’t forgot the less historic London Eye too!
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. I just love Kew Gardens and it’s only 30 minutes from London. The grounds are sublime and there are glasshouses and historic buildings and magnificent trees. I’m passionate about Great Botanical gardens. The beautiful gardens at Wisley, also just outside of London, are smaller but well worth a visit.
Finally, I’d take my visitors to London to a good old English pub. It’s what the real earthy part of London is all about.
My Fair Lady, a recreation of the 1956 Broadway production that starred Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews, opens at the Sydney Opera House on August 30, 2016. The production will be directed by Julie Andrews.