Simon Callow: My Perfect Day in London

From favourite building to taking the top deck of a London bus, star of stage and screen tells us about his favourite places in the capital, his home town.

One of Britain’s best-loved actors, London-born Simon Callow (65), star of West End stage and films including Ace Ventura, Amadeus and Four Weddings And A Funeral  talks about his favourite spots in the city.

What are your favourite London landmarks?

Westminster Cathedral, London
Byzantine style Westminster Cathedral, designed by Callow's great great uncle (©Israel Hervas/iStock/Thinkstock))

I’m more inclined to classical buildings, like St. Paul’s Cathedral. As the skyline becomes more obscure, more crazy, it remains a bit of majesty and splendour – and it can survive bombs. Westminster Cathedral was designed by my great, great uncle, John Francis Bentley. I grew up as a Catholic, very proud about that he was the architect of that fantastical building. 

How about London’s new buildings?

I rather love the Shard, an exceptional example out of this wave of new buildings. I’ve got nothing against ‘comedy in architecture’, or a light-hearted approach – it’s not so much the individual buildings, but the overall effect. I think architecture is the art form that's the most difficult, as it intrudes into our life the most.  

Favourite museums and galleries?

I have a great passion for the National Portrait Gallery. That’s partly because it shows people, which is what I do. I love the 16th and 17th century portraits, that distill character and personality in many ways, which is very illuminating for an actor.

Tell us about your #1 green space.

Hampstead Heath, London
refreshing, lush expanse of Hampstead Heath (©MikeInLondon/iStock/Thinkstock)

I live in north London, so I particularly adore Hampstead Heath. It’s a glorious space – a cross between a wilderness and something that dominates. I take my dogs every Sunday, and we always find something new. Week by week, it changes according to the seasons. 

Your strongest memories?

The West End is where I came to as a child, from Streatham in south London, drawn by the magic of the theatre. My great grandfather, who was a clown and then a theatre impresario, had his office in Cranborne Street, near Leicester Square and by the London Coliseum. It has always been part of my world. Subsequently, I’ve spent a lot of my life as an actor in the West End.

How do you enjoy getting around the city?

I love sitting upstairs on the bus, which takes me back to my childhood. The 159 bus that took me from Streatham was always magical, then on to where my great Aunt lived in St Johns Wood.

Tell us your best entertainment venues

Ronnie Scott's jazz club, London
Ronnie Scotts jazz club has been going strong for more than 50 years (©Ronnie Scotts)

I go to the theatre a lot. My partner is a fan of jazz, so we go to Ronnie Scott’s. Otherwise my own personal passion is classical music, so I go to concerts at the Royal Festival Hall, the Barbican and Wigmore hall – a wonderful stage with marvellous acoustics.

Where do you like to eat?

I’m a great fan of Chris Corbin’s restaurants. I love the Caprice, the Ivy, and the Wolseley is fantastic.

What makes London stand out from other cities?

Bloomsbury, London
Bloomsbury's architectural style, one of many London neighbourhoods (©MikeInLondon/iStock/Thinkstock)

The fact that the city's development has been organic. All these different areas, for example Bloomsbury, have clear character. I love walking across London and seeing the different characters the different stories that each place tells.

We should see The Man Jesus because…

Whatever your persuasion, or lack of persuasion, Jesus is an unavoidable figure in history, culture and daily life. I play 12 different characters, including Mary Magdelen, Herod, Jospeh and Judas!  (21 September at Richmond Theatre; 6 October at Lyric Theatre).