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The British Museum and Google Arts and Culture bring ancient Maya heritage to life

The British Museum

TODAY (November 29, 2017) sees the launch of the British Museum’s collaboration with Google Arts and Culture to digitise and share the ancient Maya collection of Alfred Maudslay, a 19th century explorer who brought the stories of the Maya to the world.

This important collection is made up of photographs, casts and other scientific documents created during archaeological excavations and research at Maya sites in the late 1800s. Now available to view online for the first time, these objects are also part of new resources which bring to life ancient Maya culture using the latest technology.

Through a new dedicated page on Google Arts and Culture, interactive content focused on Maya sites in Guatemala has been created, with a series of online exhibits introducing the project, its activities and the British Museum’s Maya collections more broadly.

Alongside these, new immersive Google Street View tours are available, transporting people from their own living rooms to Guatemala – using Google Cardboard – to visit Quiriguá and Tikal, UNESCO World Heritage sites and two of the ancient Maya’s most recognisable cities.

A special Google Expedition aimed at schools is also available through the Google Expedition app, taking children on a virtual reality journey from the British Museum to Quiriguá. Street View capture of the entire publicly accessible area of these sites is also launched today as part of the collaboration.

The objects that have been digitised were created and collected by Alfred Maudslay, a technological pioneer who used the captured image to engage the public in Maya cultural heritage. He travelled extensively in Central America in the 1880s and 90s, often becoming the first visitor to scientifically document now famous ancient Maya sites like Tikal and Quiriguá using up-to-date recording techniques.

The collection consists of over 250 glass plate negatives from Guatemala, and in excess of 1000 pages of archives, including Maudslay’s personal diaries. All have been newly digitised to exceptional standards. It is hoped that this could reveal never previously observed details.

Over a hundred casts have also been 3D scanned, allowing for monuments to be re-assembled in digital form. These will represent an outstanding resource for scholars who will be able to tilt, zoom and manipulate the lighting of these models in order to achieve the best conditions to read the hieroglyphic inscriptions.

Many of these casts, in Maudslay’s own words ‘survive the originals’, which have suffered from environmental and human-induced damage in the intervening century and a half. They are a 19th century time-capsule and are therefore an invaluable resource for learning about this important civilisation. Examples of the casts can be seen on display at the British Museum, with the remaining casts forming part of the study collection at Blythe House.

This repository of casts, photographs, diaries and drawings is of global significance for the study of the ancient Maya, a civilisation that emerged in a geographical area encompassing Guatemala, Southern Mexico, Honduras, Belize and El Salvador.

Its apogee, known as the Classic Maya period, began in around 250AD and lasted until c. 900AD, and the culture’s most iconic ruined cities, like Tikal and Palenque, date to this period. Thanks to this partnership and the new technologies it brings with it, more people than ever before will have the opportunity to engage with landscapes and monuments of this fascinating culture.

Hartwig Fischer, Director of the British Museum says: “The British Museum’s collection spans the globe, and I am delighted that through our partnership with Google Arts and Culture, we can bring the story of the ancient Maya to more people than ever before. Not only is it now easier to enjoy these fascinating objects from our collection, they can be experienced in new and exciting ways.”

Amit Sood, Director of Google Arts & Culture says: “We’re excited to work with the British Museum in supporting archaeological research on the ancient Maya. Finding new ways to share academic research such as digital preservation and sharing lost stories online are critical to helping us connect the past to the present. We are delighted to have this unique look into Maya heritage on Google Arts & Culture.”

John Glen MP, Minister of State for Arts, Heritage and Tourism says: “Our #CultureIsDigital project is all about promoting the use of technology to increase the accessibility of our world-class cultural organisations. This new collaboration between Google Arts and Culture and the British Museum is a great example of the tech and heritage sectors coming together to do exactly that.”

Jago Cooper, Curator: Africa Oceania and the Americas at the British Museum says: “The Maudslay photographs and casts, transported back across the Atlantic, brought with them a new understanding of a society which had created some of the greatest cities in the world. They demonstrated how successful the ancient Maya had been by creating a unique approach to urbanism, food production, water management and governance. By collaborating with Google the British Museum is continuing Maudslay’s legacy of technological innovation, digitising collections, making new discoveries and bringing exciting narratives to a global audience.”

The British Museum houses a world class collection of ancient Maya artefacts, a number of which are on display in Gallery 27: Mexico. In addition, extensive twentieth-century collecting has endowed the Museum with several thousand contemporary Maya objects including textiles, masks, basketry and ceramics. These collections join the 70,000 objects that comprise the British Museum’s encyclopaedic Americas collection. The casts which are not on permanent display are currently stored in Blythe House.

The Super Six Semi-Finalists to Star in The X Factor Live Tour 2018

The X Factor Live Tour

Event preview

THE X Factor’s super six semi-final acts will star in The X Factor Live Tour 2018. A seventh wildcard act will then be decided via an online vote from all the acts to feature in this year’s live shows.

The top six artists confirmed to go on the tour are: Rak-Su, Grace Davies, Kevin Davy White, Lloyd Macey, The Cutkelvins and Matt Linnen.

Rak-Su are the first ever X Factor act to have had two No.1 singles on iTunes whilst being on the show, riding high in the charts with Dimelo and Mona Lisa, which also won them the weekend vote in Week 4.

Grace Davies won the Prize Fight in Week 1 with her stunning and emotional performance of her original song, Too Young. The track also became the first song of this series to top the UK iTunes chart.

Kevin Davy White won the weekend vote in Week 2 with his incredible vocal and electric guitar for his rendition of Santana’s Smooth.

Lloyd Macey topped the weekend vote in Week 3 with his moving rendition of George Michael’s A Different Corner. As a result, he won the right to open for chart-topping superstars Little Mix on their arena tour in Manchester.

Also joining the line-up are The Cutkelvins, whose electrifying original song Saved Me From Myself was one of the stand out performances across Week 4, as well as Matt Linnen, who has been impressing the judges and audience with his raw and original takes on hits, including Alicia Key’s Falling.

In addition, one other act from this series’ live shows will join the line-up. They will be chosen as a wildcard by the British public, via a vote on The Sun Online. The most popular act will receive that all-important seventh and final spot on The X Factor Live Tour 2018.

The X Factor Live Tour – with each concert to be hosted by presenter Becca Dudley – kicks off in Belfast on February 16. It will travel across the UK and Ireland, visiting Birmingham, Bournemouth, Brighton, Cardiff, Dublin, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield.

The X Factor Tour has been seen by more than three million people since it began 13 years ago, making it one of the UK’s most successful annual arena tours. Tickets are on sale now.

Read more about The X Factor Live Tour 2018.

The Showstoppers’ Christmas Kids Show! - Christmas In Leicester Square

Preview by Lizzie Guilfoyle

SHOWSTOPPER! The Improvised Musical (Best Entertainment and Family Show Olivier Award winners 2016) are bringing a seasonal helping of their hit family show to London this Christmas.

The Showstoppers’ Christmas Kids Show! will be presented in The Paradiso Speigeltent as part of Christmas in Leicester Square from December 16 to December 30, 2017. Tickets are on sale now.

In a Christmas grotto, the Showstopper Elves are ready and waiting to take kids’ ideas and suggestions and transform them on the spot into hilarious, magical, musical interactive adventures.

Pirates at the North Pole? Done! Harry Potter in Lapland? No problem! The Gruffalo singing carols with Peppa Pig? Just shout it out and The Showstoppers will bring it to life!

Kids (and only kids!) are in charge, and they get to decide everything from who the heroes are to what happens next. They can even join in!

No two shows are ever the same as The Showstoppers take audience suggestions and spin a brand-new comedy musical out of thin air – stories, characters, tunes, lyrics, dances, harmonies and all – with unpredictable and hilarious results. If you thought improv looked difficult before, try doing it in time (and tune) to music! Then try doing it in front of an audience of kids…

The rotating cast features some of the brightest minds in the world of comedy and musical theatre. The rotating company for The Showstoppers’ Christmas Kids Show! will include Showstopper regulars – Ruth Bratt, Dylan Emery, Susan Harrison, Ali James, Sean McCann, Adam Meggido, Philip Pellew, Andrew Pugsley, Lauren Shearing, Lucy Trodd and Duncan Walsh Atkins (MD).

Ticket prices: £15 (£13.50 concessions); £52 Family Ticket (a group of 4 to include a minimum of one adult). £1.50 booking/transaction fees apply per ticket or per family ticket.

Times: 1.30pm (shows at 11.30am and 1.30pm on Saturday, December 23 and 30).

Running Time: 60 minutes.

The Paradiso Speigeltent, Leicester Square, London, WC2H 7DE

The Enchanted Room - Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art

Exhibition preview

THE Estorick opens its 20th anniversary year with a major exhibition of works from one of the world’s most important collections of modern Italian art, housed at Milan’s Pinacoteca di Brera.

Comprising paintings and sculptures donated to the museum by Emilio and Maria Jesi, it includes iconic images by Umberto Boccioni, Gino Severini and Mario Sironi, an extraordinary nucleus of Metaphysical paintings by Carlo Carrà, and important works by Giorgio de Chirico, Giorgio Morandi and Filippo De Pisis.

The Enchanted Room runs at the Estorick Collection from January 24 to April 8, 2018.

Like Eric and Salome Estorick, Emilio and Maria Jesi were primarily drawn to figurative art and sculpture, although their collection does include a characteristic work of geometric abstraction by the maverick painter Osvaldo Licini. On donating their works to the Brera, they stated: “This collection of the art of our time, entrusted to the State, is dedicated to the artists and art lovers of yesterday, today and tomorrow.”

Among the highlights of the exhibition will be Boccioni’s Divisionist Self Portrait of 1908, and Carrà’s The Metaphysical Muse of 1917, in which a looming, faceless mannequin generates the claustrophobic and unsettling atmosphere typical of Pittura metafisica.

Alongside these will feature Amedeo Modigliani’s famous Portrait of the Painter Moïse Kisling (1915), Severini’s equally renowned Le Nord-Sud – a dynamic Futurist tribute to the Paris Métro of 1912 – and Ardengo Soffici’s exuberant Cubo-Futurist collage Watermelon and Liqueurs (1914).

Also included are a small number of Mario Sironi’s sombre cityscapes, and Massimo Campigli’s otherworldly depictions of women.

This is first time a major part of the Jesi collection has been shown outside of Italy. It will be displayed alongside a rehang of the Estorick’s own permanent collection, thereby providing an exceptional opportunity for the public to take a glimpse inside the minds of these great collectors of Modern Italian art.

Full list of artists on show: Umberto Boccioni, Massimo Campigli, Carlo Carrà, Giorgio de Chirico, Filippo De Pisis, Osvaldo Licini, Mario Mafai, Marino Marini, Amedeo Modigliani, Giorgio Morandi, Ottone Rosai, Gino Severini, Scipione (Gino Bonichi), Mario Sironi and Ardengo Soffici.

The Pinacoteca di Brera was officially established in 1809, although a collection of artworks began to be formed from as early as 1776 with the aim of allowing students at the Accademia di Belle Arti (Academy of Fine Arts) the opportunity to study important masterpieces at first hand.

Today, the Pinacoteca is Milan’s main public art gallery, and represents one of most pre-eminent collections of Italian painting anywhere in the world, including a number of the greatest paintings of the Renaissance as well as key collections of modern art.

Image: Amedeo Modigliani, Head of a Young Woman, 1915. Oil on canvas, 46 × 38 cm. Courtesy: Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan.

Admission: £6.50, £4.50 concessions (includes entry to exhibition and permanent collection).

Opening Hours: Wednesdays to Saturdays from 11am to 6pm, Sundays from 12 noon to 5pm.

Tel: +44 (0)20 7704 9522

Website: www.estorickcollection.com/

Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, 39a Canonbury Square, London, N1 2AN

St Paul's Cathedral

St Paul's Cathedral by Lisa Duddy

Feature by Lizzie Guilfoyle

St Paul’s Cathedral, with its magnificent triple layered dome, the second largest in the world, is perhaps the best known of London’s many landmarks.

The brainchild of Sir Christopher Wren, it rose, phoenix-like, from the ashes of the Great Fire of London which destroyed not only old St Paul’s but also, a massive four-fifths of the city.

That was in 1666. Nine years later, and after much debate, the foundation stone for a new St Paul’s was laid and although the bulk of the work was completed in 1698, it wasn’t until 1710 that Wren’s son laid the last stone.

In the initial stages, stones from old St Paul’s were used and it was then that Wren noticed a Latin inscription on one of them. Its aptness prompted him to have it copied on the pediment of the south door, beneath a carved phoenix. It reads, ‘Resurgam – I shall rise again’.

Wren did, in fact, mix many styles in his design. They included classical and gothic, but unlike the usual bare stone characteristic of medieval British cathedrals, the interior was ornately carved, with brilliantly coloured decoration and a symmetry that is truly amazing.

To all this, masters of the day added their expertise. Woodcarver, Grinling Gibbons, was responsible for the choir stalls, while the sanctuary gates were the work of wrought-iron genius, Jean Tijon, who also designed the gates of Hampton Court Palace.

Over the years, St Paul’s has paid tribute to Britain’s glorious dead in the setting up of memorials, the oldest of them to John ‘no man is an island’ Donne, who was Dean of the cathedral from 1612 until his death, in 1631.

The largest honours the Duke of Wellington, the victor of the Battle of Waterloo, and his body is buried in the Crypt along with that of Admiral Nelson, the hero of Trafalgar, as well as that of Wren himself, who is fittingly remembered.

A simple inscription on his tomb, translates as, ‘Reader, if you seek his memorial, look about you’.

Two other memorials are worthy of note; the first, outside the cathedral’s south wall, to the 32,000 Londoners killed during World War Two; the second, the American Chapel, honours the 28,000 Americans killed in Britain during that same war.

St Paul’s did, in fact, survive The Blitz and became a symbol of hope for the people of London.

On a lighter note, are the cathedral’s dome galleries.

Of these, the Whispering Gallery is more easily accessible, being only partway up inside the dome.

It’s also the source of a strange phenomenon, so don’t be alarmed if the first thing you notice there, are visitors in quiet commune with the walls.

The fact is, a whisper can be heard 112 feet away against the opposite wall, much to the delight of millions. Hence the name.

The Golden Gallery, on the other hand, is not for the faint-hearted or indeed, anyone not 100% fit, for it can only be reached by climbing a staggering 530 steps. Goal reached though, the view is well worth the effort – and I speak from experience.

St Paul’s is, however, a working cathedral and, as such, should be afforded the respect it deserves. It also means that it is subject to closure for services.

In fact, St Paul’s has hosted some of the nation’s grandest occasions – the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, as well as the Queen’s Silver and Golden Jubilee celebrations.

Situated in the City of London, St Paul’s is easily reached by bus or Tube. A pleasant alternative is to walk, crossing the Thames via the Millennium footbridge.

On weekdays, the surrounding area is crowded with city workers but weekends are much quieter.

'Allies' of Old Bond Street

'Allies' of Old Bond Street

Feature by Lizzie Guilfoyle

I WAS introduced to ‘Allies’ by Indielondon’s Jack Foley while on a book assignment in the capital and I immediately fell in love with it.

So, what is it and what makes it so special?

‘Allies’ is a life-size bronze of Sir Winston Churchill sitting on a rather ordinary wooden bench – the sort you and I might relax on in the park – talking to Franklin Roosevelt. And it’s incredibly life-like; right down to Churchill’s hallmark cigar.

It was crafted by Lawrence Holofcener as a tribute to the bond shared by the British Prime Minister and the American President during World War Two, and has stood, somewhat aptly, in a pedestrian area of Old Bond Street since 1995, when it was unveiled by Princess Margaret.

Since then, it has been a favourite with visitors, many of whom find it an irresistible photo opportunity.

Was I one of them? To find out, you’ll have to ask Jack.

Some Kinda Wonderful – The Music of Stevie Wonder - Christmas in Leicester Square

Some Kinda Wonderful – The Music of Stevie Wonder

Event preview

FEATURING Noel McCalla and The Derek Nash Band, Some Kinda Wonderful – The Music of Stevie Wonder takes place in the Spiegeltent on December 27, 2017 as part of Christmas in Leicester Square.

After sell out 2017 shows celebrating the life-time genius of Stevie Wonder, the mesmeric vocalist, Noel McCalla, and award-winning saxophonist, Derek Nash, with a band of top musicians, arrive at Leicester Square to play a wide-ranging catalogue of Stevie Wonder’s classic hits, guaranteed to appeal to anyone who loves great music.

From Signed, Sealed, Delivered through to hits from albums Innervisions, Songs in the Key of Life and Hotter than July and playing hit after hit, from the classics Isn’t She Lovely and Superstition to beautiful arrangements of My Cherie Amour and Overjoyed, audiences are thrilled by the compositions by Stevie Wonder with which he and others had massive hits.

Christmas in Leicester Square returns for 2017, transforming the centre of bustling London into a wonderland including traditional Christmas markets with hand-crafted goods and delicious food and drinks, a Santa’s Grotto where children can meet the man himself, plus a whole host of fantastic shows in the beautiful surrounds of a traditional 1920s spiegeltent.

Tickets: From £20. To book, call 03333 444 167 or visit www.christmasinleicestersquare.com/whats-on/some-kinda-wonderful-the-music-of-stevie-wonder.

Time: 7:30pm.

Spiegeltent, Leicester Square, London, WC2

George Frampton's Peter Pan

Peter Pan statue

Feature by Lizzie Guilfoyle

ALMOST as magical as the story itself was the appearance, in Kensington Gardens, of George Frampton’s bronze sculpture of Peter Pan.

For strange as it may seem in this publicity-seeking age, neither the book’s author, JM Barrie, nor sculptor, Frampton, sought any such thing. In fact, and due solely to their wishes, the work was denied even an unveiling ceremony.

Its appearance, on May Day morning, 1912, therefore, came as something of a surprise which is strange considering that a year earlier, Frampton exhibited a plaster version at the Royal Academy. Stranger still, it evoked neither comment nor speculation.

Consequently, it was left to The Times newspaper to announce its arrival – and briefly at that:

‘There is a surprise in store for the children who go to Kensington Gardens to feed the ducks in the Serpentine this morning. Down by the little bay, at the south-western side of the tail of the Serpentine, they will find a May Day gift from JM Barrie, a figure of Peter Pan blowing his pipe on the stump of a tree, with fairies and mice and squirrels all around.

‘It is the work of Sir George Frampton and the bronze figure of the boy who would never grow up is delightfully conceived.’

Like Sir Alfred Gilbert’s Eros, the work marked a technical milestone in the evolution of public sculpture and played a key role in transforming the language of this particular art form.

For it was largely due to the technical advances made by Singer’s and Burton’s, the two leading British foundries of the day, that allowed the base and figure of Frampton’s work to be cast as an integral unit.

Interestingly, although Frampton worked in Paris during the late 1870’s, at a time when Fremiet’s great fountains, lavishly decorated with the flora and fauna of far-flung outposts of the French Empire, were much admired, he himself, avoided any such exuberance

Instead, and for the tree stump setting, he opted for a combination of semi-tame animals of the English country-side – rabbits, squirrels, mice and snails – and delicate winged fairies. The result, however, was equally exotic though in a very English and under-stated way.

So, just who is Peter Pan and what, if anything, is the significance, of Kensington Gardens? Peter Pan was the creation of JM Barrie and first appeared in stories he told to the sons of his friend, Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, with whom he had a special relationship.

The name Peter is thought to be taken from the then youngest of the Llewelyn Davies boys and Pan, from the Greek god of the woodlands.

It has also been suggested that Barrie drew inspiration for the character (the boy who would never grow up) from his elder brother, David, whose death in a skating accident at the age of 13, deeply affected their mother. Although no hard evidence supports the theory, it might be reasonably supposed that she drew comfort from the fact that, in dying a boy, he would remain a boy forever. Hence the comparison can be drawn.

Peter Pan first appeared in print in 1902 in The Little White Bird, a fictionalised version of Barrie’s relationship with the Llewelyn Davies children.

Two years later, and entitled Peter Pan or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, it became a highly successful play. Finally, in 1911, it was adapted by Barrie into the novel, Peter and Wendy (now usually published as Peter Pan) that is still so popular with the young and young-at-heart.

So, what’s it all about?

Peter invites the girl, Wendy, to Neverland, to be a mother to his gang of Lost Boys. There, accompanied by her two younger brothers, she becomes involved in a series of adventures, many involving Peter’s nemesis, the infamous Captain Hook. Eventually though, Wendy decides that her place is at home with her family .

But why Kensington Gardens?

The spot chosen for Frampton’s sculpture, is the very spot where Peter (he could fly, incidentally) landed in Barrie’s story. And it was intended to give quiet pleasure to nannies and their young charges as they walked or played in the park.

Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square

Feature by Lizzie Guilfoyle

TRAFALGAR Square is one of the most famous squares in the world. Situated in the very heart of London, at the intersection of Pall Mall, Charing Cross Road, The Mall and The Strand, it’s primarily a tribute to one of Britain’s great naval heroes, Admiral Nelson, who, in 1805, made the ultimate sacrifice defending his country from the French and Spanish at the Battle of Trafalgar.

Fittingly, his 18ft high statue, resting upon a 170ft high column, dominates the square.

Looking up, or across from the London Eye for that matter, the whole thing seems very much smaller than its dimensions would suggest.

But an indication of its true size lies in a little known fact – that 14 stonemasons actually dined on the flat top of the column before Nelson’s statue was installed.

At its base and seeming to guard the column, are Sir Edwin Landseer’s four, huge, bronze lions resting on granite plinths. Tolerant in the extreme, they remain unperturbed by the thousands of visitors who use them as photo props.

The fountains, the design of Sir Edwin Lutyens, complete the tableau. The glistening sculptures of mermaids/men and dolphins are particularly beautiful when sunlight illuminates the spray and as such, have been photographed many times.

Trafalgar Square’s original, neo-classical design of the 1820’s, was the inspiration of John Nash. It was, however, modified in 1840, by architect, Charles Barry, who created the northern terrace and installed steps – much as it is now, and a far cry from the days when Dr Johnson frequented what was then part meeting place, part mews for the royal hawks and later, royal stables.

Apart from Nelson, several lesser statues adorn the square. Set on large pedestals, two commemorate the Indian army heroes, Sir Charles Napier and Sir Henry Havelock, while a third is an equestrian statue of George IV. A fourth pedestal acts as a platform for temporary exhibits.

There is, however, a fourth statue – that of Charles I on horseback. It stands on a traffic island at the south end of the square, on what was the original site of Charing Cross.

Charing Cross was, in fact, the last of 12 crosses erected by Edward I in 1290, to mark the 12 resting places of his wife’s funeral cortege, as it journeyed from Nottinghamshire to Westminster Abbey. It was removed during the Civil War, but a replica now stands in the forecourt of Charing Cross Station.

And if, like me, you’ve ever wondered from what point all ‘distances from London’ are measured, Charles I marks the spot.

Also worthy of note are the buildings bordering the square. On the north side is the National Gallery, home to masterpieces by Leonardo Da Vinci and Rubens and next to it, the National Portrait Gallery where, among Britain’s sovereigns and heroes, hangs a painting of Emma Hamilton, the wife of Sir William Hamilton, and the mistress of Nelson.

Close by, in the north-east corner of the square, is the church of St Martins-in-the-Fields, while further along, on the east side, stands South Africa House. Pause for a moment, and you will see African animals featured on its stone arches.

Across the square, on the west side, is Canada House, where visiting Canadians can read newspapers from home, surf the internet and even send and receive e-mails.

Trafalgar Square is a popular venue for rallies and public meetings and each year, at Christmas time, a giant spruce tree stands there – a gift from the people of Norway, in gratitude for Britain’s part in the liberation of their country during World War II.

Decorated with hundreds of lights and a focal point for carol singers, it embodies the true spirit of Christmas.

And, of course, there are the pigeons – as much a part of the square as Nelson himself. But feed them at your peril – a few crumbs and you could, quite literally, be swamped!

For more on Nelson, see his burial place in St Paul’s Cathedral, or visit his flagship, HMS Victory, at Portsmouth Harbour.

View photos

The London Eye

The London Eye

Feature by Lizzie Guilfoyle

WHAT AT first appears to be a giant ferris wheel is, in fact, the ultimate viewing platform.

Designed by David Marks and Julia Barfield, the London Eye weighs in at an impressive 1,900 tonnes and with a diameter of 450 feet (135m) has the enviable distinction of being the highest point, accessible to the public, in London – only Canary Wharf and the NatWest and BT towers are higher.

Representing the turning of time, and as much a celebration of London’s past as an anticipation of its future, the London Eye was a fitting new attraction for a new Millennium.

Strangely, though, Britain had very little participation in the construction of its component parts. The main structure was built in Holland, although British Steel did provide the materials; the hub and spindle cast in the Czech Republic; the bearings, which allow the rim to turn, made in Germany, and the cables and capsules in Italy and France, respectively.

Only then, when everything was completed, did the actual construction begin on the banks of the Thames.

There, it’s ideally situated, being close to many of London’s most famous attractions – the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, both instantly recognizable; County Hall; Cleopatra’s Needle and Waterloo Bridge.

However, once your ascent begins, the views are virtually limitless, particularly on a clear day, when it’s possible to see for 25 miles – as far as Heathrow Airport and Windsor Castle, so I’m told. Unfortunately, I chose a day that turned out to be wet and chilly.

To aid orientation, each capsule is clearly marked with the four major compass points, which, together with the ‘in-flight’ commentary, ensure that you make the most of the experience.

A good idea, however, particularly for those unfamiliar with the capital and its environs, is The Essential Guide, a highly informative and easy to follow guide book, available for purchase in the ticket hall.

Conveniently divided into sections such as looking east and night London, it’s a comprehensive guide to the capital’s major attractions, both from the air and for future reference back on terra firma. For maximum benefit, take a minute or two to familiarize yourself with the relevant sections before boarding.

As well as the above, it’s full of fascinating snippets of information. Did you know, for example, that the fountain pools in Trafalgar Square are lined with blue tiles to make the water look as brightly coloured as possible, or that you can see Big Ben through the legs of Sir Winston Churchill’s statue in Parliament Square? Now there’s a photo opportunity not to be missed. But I digress…..

Binoculars too, incidentally, are an asset for real enthusiasts.

With a flight time of only 30 minutes, there’s a great deal to take in, though with a speed of just 0.26m/s, you never feel rushed. In fact, movement is barely perceptible.

And for those who don’t like heights, the trick is never to look directly down. I have a friend who is genuinely afraid of heights and she heeded the advice and, while not completely comfortable, was able to derive a great deal from the experience – as I’m sure you will too.

The London Eye is situated on the South Bank, between Westminster and Hungerford bridges, and opposite the Houses of Parliament.

It can be reached in several ways: By Tube – approximately five minutes from Waterloo, Westminster or Embankment stations.

By rail – approximately five minutes from Waterloo International.

By bus – numbers 221, 24 and 11.

By river – various boats dock at the Waterloo Millennium Pier.

Tickets can be purchased in advance or on the day although, for the latter, queues could be a problem.