“The kind of travellers my tours interest are the kind of travellers who have been to London quite a lot of times. Probably half of my guests are visitors, while there’s still a lot of Russians who just happen to live here and I’m quite proud of that. I never realised there was going to be such an interest from the local community, because if you’re here and you’re Russian, by default, you have an interest in London.”

It’s often said that Londoners don’t look at what’s on their doorstep. Are you finding there’s a market there with people who live in the city but don’t really understand it?

“Definitely, I’ve done several tours for either Brits or Americans and they find it equally fascinating. I’m always saying that this walking tour is almost a pretext for a lot of Russians who live here to become a traveller again – to see the city again and to fall in love with the city again.”

Do you think there is something that particularly appeals to the Russian psyche in London? Is there an aspect of London’s history that really fascinates them more than others?

“London is fascinating and I’ve been trying to find out what it is about the city that attracts Russians. I think in many ways it’s the predictability, because things are very unpredictable back in Russia and I think here a lot of people find comfort and peace that they’re struggling to find back in Russia.

"At the same time I think a lot of people find it quite complimentary – I’m always thinking about [author Vladimir] Nabokov’s characters and how all of his characters who live in Germany stay Russian, they never assimilate. But all of his characters that happen to live in the UK almost become these international figures – they become not British, but almost not Russian, and they transform themselves, and I think that is one of the most fascinating things about London is how it’s able to transform itself.

"Also, you don’t feel like an alien in London - you only need to live here for a month and you become a Londoner and that’s what’s fascinating about London and I think a lot of Russians appreciate that.”

London is obviously a big city with a lot of different sides to it – there’s the Victorian side, there’s the historic side, there’s what happened here during the war, there’s the modern art side, there’s the modern political scene, there’s the royalty scene. Is there something in particular that Russians want to know about?

“Royalty – I think a lot of Russians don’t understand royalty, they still find it just peculiar and weird. So a lot of people do ask about royalty, but I wouldn’t say that this is a major area of interest. A lot of people who come on my tours actually ask about ordinary life in London and what it’s like.”

Have you got competitors? Are there other Russians doing similar things?

“In find most Russian tour guides just do what most people ask them to do, which is Big Ben, Tower of London, Buckingham Palace and Westminster, which is equally fascinating, but I try to show London through the eyes of a local and I don’t know anyone else who does this.”

London famously can take years to get to know, do you ever get caught out? Presumably there are lots of things you feel that you still need to find out about London?

“Every now and then someone asks me a questions and I look at them and say ‘I have no idea.’ London is transforming as well; street art is a great example. You go on a certain street to show a certain work and it's not there anymore, even though it was there three days ago - it’s a never-ending cycle of new art pieces. Again, one of the fascinating things about London is how it changes; it looks like one of those old cities that has always been there, but the truth is it was a completely different city 5, 10, 15 years ago.”

What do you think strikes Russians most about what’s different between London and Moscow?

“I think one of the funny things is that your mobile phone doesn’t work on the underground. They [Russians] just find it fascinating - they just can’t imagine it. They love the pace of the city, it is still quite dynamic and fast, and at the same time most Russians would say that it’s not aggressive. Moscow is known for being very much in your face, a little bit like New York – it’s very brash and in your face, whereas London is far more polite and gentle, but at the same time it’s very nice and comfortable to live in.”

 And do you have a personal favourite sight or place or attraction in London that you would see if you only had one hour in the city?

“I’m always saying go to Brick Lane and see the modern London, because you can always find other things, but Brick Lane feels like the kind of place that isn’t going to be there forever. It’s already going through quite a transformation – look at the street art, look at the dynamic, modern feel of this. I really feel we’re in the last couple of years of that area being the way it is now; it will transform itself quite drastically.”

(VoR)

London Street Art: Walking tour of East End