Diary of a Guide…The Shard, Security and Stairs

This week I spent five days at The View From The Shard. Now, I haven’t worked five days on the trot since the end of the high tourist season in October – it felt like I had a proper job!

I started my week delivering landmark training for their new photographic team, Magic Memories, who are specialists in tourism photography.

Their strapline is ‘We Make People Smile’, and they certainly made me smile as the two managers, who were with the group of photographic hosts on their training, attempted to outdo each other in naming key landmarks. It was like having two naughty schoolboys on a school trip as first one then the other competed saying “I know that one” and “Ooh, let me try naming it”.

'The Spire' at The View From The Shard

‘The Spire’ at The View From The Shard

Like many visitor attractions, you have a photograph taken when you first enter The View From The Shard. However, the photographic hosts also roam the observation floors on Levels 69 and 72 taking in-situ photos with the view in the background. Many guests like to have a photo taken in front of a favourite landmark or iconic building, so as part of the training we not only discussed which landmark was which and which are the most popular (basically the big sexy ones like St Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower of London), but also how to frame a shot from 244 metres (800 feet) up in the sky.

Of course the ‘spire’ is a key feature of The Shard, rising from Level 72 (the highest floor the public can go on) to the very top of the building at Level 95 (309.6 metres or 1,016 feet above the ground). It’s quite spectacular having a photo with the spire as a backdrop, especially when it’s lit up at night. So we finished the training crouching down pretending to take photos of the spire, much to the amusement of other guests enjoying the view. Of course, you can get an even better shot if the photographic host lays on the floor of Level 72 and shoots up towards Level 95 right at the very top – weirdly, the team didn’t seem too keen on that idea!


Tuesday – Friday

Following the classroom-based training a few weeks ago, the rest of the week was spent with my colleague Bruce assessing the practical skills of the guest ambassadors in delivering their tours before they are let loose on the public. 18 trainees meant hearing 18 tours, all covering virtually the same view. Now you would think that over the course of the week I would get fed up hearing about the view, the various landmarks, the story of the Shard and the building itself. But not at all, because each trainee put their own personality into their tour and the view of London changed constantly. Well, not the actual buildings obviously, but how they look and which ones you can see depending on the weather.

Smiles of relief all round as the last two Guest Ambassadors complete their tour training

Smiles of relief all round as the last two Guest Ambassadors complete their tour training

As a professional guide I recognise all the landmarks, I generally know a fair bit about them and I also know quite a lot about The Shard, but I was pleasantly surprised by the trainees’ depth of knowledge and turn of phrase. Some approached the tour as a key highlights tour, others focused on London’s history, one gave us an architectural tour, and another took us on a tour of film locations that can be seen from the top. He even likened the view to Mary Poppins flying over the church steeples and the chimney pots!

Along the way, I discovered that the lift speed is the same as a male kangaroo at full hop, the window cleaners are the ‘daredevils’ of The Shard, and the Tower of London houses ‘the Queen’s bling’. My quote of the week though was being told that when Renzo Piano designed the building, he (apparently) wanted something ‘classy and glassy’.

It was fun listening to the different interpretations, but not so much fun going through the airport style security all those times. On the plus side, I’m now on first name terms with the security guys, know that the metal plates in my arm (broke it badly a few years ago) set off their scanners and can disrobe in under 5 seconds (that’s coat, bag, empty pockets etc., but you do get to keep your shoes on!). By the end of the week, I had it down to a fine art and could scoot through pretty quickly divesting myself of my bits and bobs.

Internal staircase at The Shard

Internal staircase at The Shard

But the worst part of the week had to be trekking up and down the stairs. You don’t have to walk up to the top on Level 72 as guests get whisked up via two speedy lifts. But I was based in the offices on Level 3 for the week and the easiest way to get to the attraction entrance is via the internal staircase. As I trudged up and down between tours, I noticed the signs telling me how many calories I burned by taking the stairs (3.99 per floor). So how many calories did I burn walking between Level 1 and Level 3 all week? A measly 287.28 calories! Which doesn’t sound a lot – until I worked out that the number of times I’d gone up and down was the equivalent to climbing all the way up to Level 72!

It was only on Friday that I discovered that out of the 40+ lifts within the building, there is only 1 that goes all the way from the bottom to the top. Some of the guest ambassadors refer to it as ‘the Queen’s lift’. Don’t know about the Queen, but might have been easier if I could have used it!

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