“Standing outside Whitechapel Underground waiting to lead the Unknown East End Walk, I was approached by a man in a state of high excitement. Not, it has to be said, an unusual occurrence down Whitechapel way.
‘I need a favour,’ he announced. Again, just another day in the East End. ‘A really, REALLY, big, HUGE favour. Mate, you gotta help me.’
While he looked like a respectable enough bloke, stories from the Unknown East End walk that lay ahead flooded my imagination. Did he want me to divert the walk to create a distraction while his gang performed a jewellery heist a la the Sidney Street anarchists? Elbowing my better judgement aside, I blurted out, ‘Sure. How can I be of help?’
I’m glad I did.
He handed me a scrap of paper with his girlfriend’s name on it and said: ‘At the end of the walk, can you call out her name and ask her to step forward.’ Reaching into his coat he pulled out a ring box and levered it open with his thumb. ‘I’m going to ask her to marry me.’
How he contained himself, through two hours of immigration, extortion, rhyming slang, Captain Cook, the Krays, Edith Cavell, Joseph Stalin and the dear old Queen Mum, I don’t know. But it did give me time to compose a big build up for our London Walks Romantic and his once-in-a-lifetime moment.
Standing before the Martyr’s Monument in Altab Ali Park, on the site of the bombed-out St Mary Matfelon church – the old White Chapel itself – I gave him a drum roll:
‘It’s always a privilege to recount the tales of what this great city has seen. But never have I had the pleasure of starting a story that has yet to happen… Until now. Will Emma step forward please.’
Bang on cue she flushed crimson as our hero assumed centre stage and, with a confidence tempered with just the right amount of embarrassment, he cleared his throat and spoke:
‘Right. I won’t muck about. Emma…’ And with this he brandished the ring with a chivalrous flourish. ‘Will you marry me?’
What can top the first London Walks wedding, I thought, as I struck out west with an extra spring in my step. Only one thing, of course: the birth of the first London Walks baby. As a precaution, I’m packing a flask of boiling water and a clean towel along with my white leaflets. You never know.”
POST UPDATED 4/6/16
A London Walk costs £10 – £8 concession. To join a London Walk, simply meet your guide at the designated tube station at the appointed time. Details of all London Walks can be found at www.walks.com.