x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

A duck's-eye view of London

From where I stand Matt Watts took his work from the office to the water and is a guide for Duck Tours in London.

Matt guides tours in a vehicle once used in WWII.
Matt guides tours in a vehicle once used in WWII.

Matt Watts took his work from the office to the water and is a guide for Duck Tours in London. I've been working as a guide in London for Duck Tours since 2003. Like most of the guides, I'm an also actor. We hone our acting skills and we have great fun on the Duck. The Duck is an amphibious vehicle. We have six vehicles, and they're all historic. They were used in World War II, including during the D-Day landings in 1942. They've been fitted out to health and safety regulations with new parts. Of course, you do get some clients who are a bit nervous. They think: "This vehicle was used in the Second World War. Should I really be getting on it?"

You have to be bright, charming and positive to do this job. We tell funny, off-beat stories about London, like what happened when a flock of starlings landed on the big hand of Big Ben, for example. We start at the London Eye, and you see all the sights: Trafalgar Square, Parliament Square, Pall Mall, St James's Park, Buckingham Palace. Then we go to M16, and spend 30 minutes messing around on the River Thames. It's a show, a piece of entertainment, and an alternative view of London.

I went into Duck Tours for what I thought was going to be an interview. And they said "What are you doing at 2:30 today?" and I got in the Duck and that was that. I moved from Coventry to London in 1995. I didn't particularly like working in an office. I got to my 30th birthday, and I wasn't enjoying what I was doing. I was involved in creating workshops for theatres, but I've always loved the anarchic nature of stand-up comedy and improvisation. I ended up in Canada studying improvisation for a summer in 2000. It was a wonderful experience and it set me off on a different path.

Occasionally, if our regular route is closed off we have to take an alternative tour. And it's really great to turn things around and see people who were grumbling about not seeing Buckingham Palace have a good time. I like people glaring at me. I see it as a challenge and I say: "I'm just going to entertain you." Very rarely, we'll lose power on the river and have to be rescued by the fire brigade. Once when that happened, the most delightful lady who was celebrating her 90th birthday said that being rescued by the young firemen was the best thing that ever happened to her.

I feel I've been given a second chance in life. I was very straitlaced before I started doing this. And people still think I look like an accountant. But I feel I've been let off the leash. If I can give people a good time I feel good.