the domestiC AcTresS

Stay at home with the cats... or act on stage. My lifelong dilemma.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Things to do in London when you're Broke

I've been back from London for over 2 weeks and have been so busy with friends & work - not to mention an impromptu rehearsal-less performance at St James with Pia last night (which went down very well, thanks for asking and which I shall blog about on another occasion) - that I have neglect my poor bloggy-woggy. So here is an article I wrote for the Sunday Times Travel supplement which appeared yesterday about visiting London on the cheap!


In the past couple of months, circumstances have decreed that I travel to London twice in quick succession. Now, I love London. I adore the quirky lifestyle of the Londoners. I love the West End, where the stars I have seen many times on TV ply their trade in the best plays and musicals. I love popping in to Boots to stock up on all the beauty stuff we don’t get here. I love that I can get practically anywhere by using my Oyster travel card and hopping on an underground train or bus.

But let’s face it, London is expensive. Every time I go there, I budget for, say, a week… and proceed to blow it all in a day or two. But now, I was determined to stick to my budget. And here is how I did it, while managing to have an absolutely brilliant time anyway.

This is basically ‘A Guide to London on a Shoestring Budget… while still doing all the things you want to do and more’!

Enjoy Theatreland

First off, there is no way I am going to London and not watching any shows. In the past two trips alone, I went to the theatre eight times. I found that one good way to enjoy as many shows while in London is to plan ahead. First of all, I found the two shows that I was determined not to miss – Avenue Q and Equus and I booked them online through Ticketmaster - - and Delfont Macintosh Theatre - - respectively. That way I knew that, whatever happened, I would be watching the two shows I was determined not to miss.

Then once in London, there were a number of ways to book the other shows I wanted to watch, such as Wicked, Little Shop of Horrors and Spamalot. Go to the half-price booth in Leicester Square and see if they have any cheap tickets for that day. Or pop in to the fabulous Apple Store in Regent Street where you can use computers for free, go into and find a bargain, such as theatre tickets for £10.

If you can only afford to watch one show, I would advise watching Avenue Q if you have a good sense of humour. It is my new favourite musical ever!

Wicked is a fun, big glorious show with amazing music; while Spamalot is a must-see for any Monty Python fan, and features the woman with possibly the most amazing voice in the world (it spans four octaves) Hannah Waddingham. Little Shop of Horrors is a hoot and the current cast includes impressionist Alistair McGowan as Orin Scrivello and Sheridan Smith (Janet from the hilarious BBC sitcom ‘Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps’) as Audrey.

As everybody knows by now, Equus stars Daniel Radcliffe, better known as Harry Potter, in a rather, erm, compromising position during one particular scene. Having watched the play with him and the great actor Richard Griffiths in the leading roles, I can say that this play is so much more than just that one scene. It is a brilliant play with a brilliant cast, and the set by John Napier is just amazing. Go and watch it if you can.

Eat cheaply

Everybody has to eat; not everyone can afford to eat at The Ivy (although you can look at it from the outside… more on that later). So, look out for special offers at various places. For example, when I was in London, Boots had a great ‘Meal Deal’ offer where you could choose a sandwich, salad or sushi plate, pair it with a drink and top it off with a snack, piece of fruit or packet of crisps – all for £3.30. Of course, if you’ve been traipsing around the shops all morning and are starving, the trick is to choose the largest and most filling sandwich, the most expensive drink and the most sugary dessert… and voila, you’ve saved two or three quid and have a full tum.

Look out for similar offers in fast-food outlets and do try to choose the healthier option at least a couple of times!

Shop till you drop

One word - Primark. This is a fabulous clothing store which is dirt-cheap. The secret is to plough through the stuff until you find a gem such as summer dresses for £10, jeans for £8, bikinis for £2 or a pair of men’s trousers for £4. Even better is their selection of bags, shoes and accessories. Personally, I love their socks! I have stocked up on so many Primark socks that I am now sorted for my whole lifetime.

Before April, the closest Primark store to central London was in Hammersmith but now, they have opened their 70,000 sq-ft new flagship store in Oxford Street. Thousands visited the store on its opening day; there were riots and one member of staff ended up in hospital with minor injuries. I stayed well away that day, but did venture there the day after and only waited 15 minutes in the queue. Almost three hours later, I emerged happy, satisfied and the proud owner of four pairs of multi-coloured socks, amongst other things!

Find a celebrity

Want to see a star? Wander round Harrods in Knightsbridge for long enough and you’re bound to see someone you recognise. Or get down to famous London restaurant The Ivy, near Leicester Square, and join the paparazzi in staking out the place. Alternatively, just hang around the West End and, if you are lucky enough, you’ll be veritably star-struck. In the past couple of months, I saw musician Brian May enjoying Wicked, ex-soap star Martine McCutcheon texting on her mobile in the window of a restaurant and velvety-voiced, legendary Shakespearean actor (although he will forever remain Star Trek’s Captain Picard to me) Patrick Stewart, watching Equus.

Enjoy some eye-candy

If you have a free hour, pop into stylish, hip American clothing store Abercrombie and Fitch, which has just opened its first UK shop in Savile Row. You don’t actually need to buy anything (although some articles of clothing are actually pretty decently-priced); just feast your eyes on the gorgeous half-naked male models they employ at the store and enjoy the dance beats permeating the store. I met a friend working there whom I hadn’t seen since he was about 12. Now in his early twenties, he is definitely grown up into model-material. As for the male readers, you get to drool at the pretty female staff members who are all in their late teens / early twenties and have absolutely no body fat whatsoever. I wonder if management weighs them before they employ them…

Get some culture

Most museums in London are free. The Victoria and Albert Museum in Kensington is the world's greatest museum of art and design and most of its exhibitions are free. However, I did splash out £9 to see their fabulous ‘Surreal Things’ exhibition, which explores the influence of Surrealism on the worlds of fashion, design, theatre, interiors, film, architecture and advertising. The ‘Kylie Minogue’ exhibition, on the other hand is absolutely free, although you do have to get timed tickets, and I must admit I could not resist peeking in, mainly to see those famous teeny gold metallic shorts that she wore for the video of ‘Spinning Around’!

The National Gallery in Trafalgar Square houses one of the greatest collections of Western European paintings in the world, while the National Portrait Gallery features portraits of famous British men and women. The current main exhibition is called ‘Faces of Fashion’ and is made up of photos of the rich and famous taken by world-famous photographers.

My favourite museum experience to date, however, is probably The Tate Modern, Britain’s national museum of international modern art. The exhibits are fabulous. Over my last two visits, the Turbine Hall of this museum was filled with an artwork created by Carsten Höller, which basically was made up of a series of slides, which are impressive sculptures in their own right which the public could enjoy gliding down – hours of fun! Unfortunately, the installation closed in mid-April but I can’t wait to see what will be next!

There are loads more things to do in London which are free, or nearly. Take a walk in one of the many parks, such as Hyde Park or Green Park and enjoy the trees, grass and occasional squirrel; wander round Camden Town and gaze and the weird and wonderful shops found there; walk up to the Buckingham Palace gates and try and catch a glimpse of a royal personage. Just soak up the atmosphere in the knowledge that it is possible to enjoy London and not break the bank!


  • At 1:24 PM, Blogger shaspi said…

    Things to do in London (when you're NOT broke) ... Take the Shasp out for dinner ;) Miss you lots, Easter lunch on the South Bank was fab, fab, fab!

  • At 2:06 PM, Blogger princess buttercup said…

    Yes it was! We'll do it again the next time I'm there for sure! Miss you!

  • At 7:21 PM, Blogger Alex said…

    I got back earlier in the week.. forgot to tell you that I read this piece! I watched Dying for It at the Almeida and the Blue Man Group... really good fun. Now counting the pennies to see if I can justify getting back end of the month to watch Rufus Wainwright, Zoot Woman.. and watch Cheek by Jowl's Cymbeline.

    Hope you're keeping well... x

  • At 3:15 PM, Blogger Cor said…

    What fun! My bro had watched the Blue Man Group in December and loved it. I'd LOVE to eatch Cheek by Jowl again! Ha nigi mieghek! miss you!

  • At 9:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I am soooooooooooooo jealous! Don't have even a shoestring budget to work with so am stuck here.
    On the bright side, I do get to be Jewel's bestest bud for 3 days!
    Love ya!

  • At 9:31 PM, Blogger princess buttercup said…

    *raspberry* to katt! love ya! xxx

  • At 2:40 PM, Blogger Pawlu said…

    Bah... now you can't even go to Greenwhich to see the Cutty Sark.
    Used to be able to do -that- on a shoestring budget...

    *rolls eyes*


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