Sophie Malerba established authenticity in the heart of the lockdown with fellow award-winning London Blue Badge guide Pepe Martinez, to provide insight into real London. She shares her views on London, lockdown and the future of tourism with London Begins at 40.

What do you love most about London?

Londoners. It’s the eclectic mix of diverse people that really makes this city exciting, and that in turn draws similar minded people, creating a hive of creativity and electricity.

What made you start authenticity?

London is a diverse and creative city

As a tour guide, I worked with a lot of agencies in London and experienced the city as a visitor, with clients that were paying a lot of money for the same thing over and over again, focusing their attention on Westminster and the City, whilst Londoners themselves are enjoying food markets in London Fields and workshops in Peckham. I desperately want to share the more diverse London that I love, and introduce clients to some of London’s creative minds that are moulding the shape of the city to come, whether this is a street artist in Hackney, a Savile-row apprentice or a theatreland dresser to the stars.

“Now I get London, why everyone says it’s so great!”

One particular moment I remember from 2019 was working with a lovely American woman and her two teenage children. On the itinerary for the day, we had the usual Westminster Abbey, London Eye and Tower of London. I decided we had time for a quick detour to Spitalfields, and within minutes the daughter’s eyes lit up and a smile broke from ear to ear and I will never forget her saying, “Now I get London, why everyone says it’s so great!”

What is the idea behind authenticity? How does it work?

Nothing says London more than a great pub
Nothing says London more than a great pub

authentiCity is all in the name really, we want to show visitors the authentic London, by offering unique, creative and unforgettable experiences, by showcasing the local London scene, and partnering with creative like-minded Londoners. authentiCity experiences are always hosted by a local qualified guide to weave curious and interesting stories into the day, however they include a unique and bespoke twist. Whether this be by meeting a royal designer for a behind the scenes atelier tour, a spray workshop alongside a street artist, or a vintage challenge with an emerging stylist, there is something to fit everybody’s interests and tastes. Bespoke is the name of the game here, and going that extra mile.

How has the lockdown affected you?

London has taken a bashing in the pandemic, and it still moves me to think of the empty streets in central London. I remember one photograph which was an empty Trafalgar Square, except for a line of people waiting for a food bank. The pandemic has increased our appreciation of the need for community and the need to give back to this fabulous city. The easy solution is to give a percentage of profits to our favourite local charities; Centrepoint and the Childhood Foundation, however we are always looking for ways to take things further, such as supporting local traders and businesses, offering cookery classes through a charitable foundation, clean-up sports activities and in an industry that prefers private transfers to public transport, promoting electric vehicles and cycling.

People have a new appreciation for life and will want experiences that connect them to their destination

What do you think post-pandemic luxury travel will look like?

I believe that more visitors will be wanting private experiences, keeping away from the crowds, and we are already seeing this with more people choosing to travel by private jet. I feel there will be more last-minute bookings, as countries open up to international travel. I also feel that people have a new appreciation for life and will want experiences that connect them to their destination and will emotionally move them, curated to their personal tastes, that will form amazing happy memories for them and their families, after a very tough 18 months.

If a visitor had only one day to spend in London, what would you suggest they do?

But certain London experiences are timeless
But certain London experiences are timeless

Contact authentiCity! Otherwise don your most comfortable walking shoes and explore. Not just the main streets, but the backstreets, the mews and the hidden corners. Yes, see the main sites, but also take the short trip to a local neighbourhood like Peckham, Hackney, Camden or Spitalfields and see the real London. Check out what’s going on that evening in Time Out, as London is full of pop-ups and one offs.

Finally, if you were Mayor of London for one day, what would you do?

House the homeless. It was achieved during the pandemic and can be done.

To discover more about authenticity, click here. Cover image of Sophie with fellow authenticity founder, Pepe Martinez.