Writing profiles: Hilary

Hey, everyone! This is the first draft of a profile I have written for my newspaper module portfolio. Commentaries, especially critical ones, are very welcome!

Hilary has a gift: she can travel through time. What is even more striking, she is always happy to take you with her.

A first-class guide, knowledgeable and accurate, she has been unveiling the secrets of British history to tourists for more than 20 years now.

Hilary has been guiding tourists through space and time for more than 20 years now.

Warm bright red coat, brown corduroys, comfortable shoes, a backpack with a bottle of water in the side pocket, a scalf and gloves. Her cozy outfit manifests years of guiding experience. Her glasses, the “accredited guide” bagde over the coat and articulate manner of speaking leave no doubt: she is the boss here.

A teacher by birth

“Please be careful when you cross the road,” Hilary asks another group of tourists as we step out of the station in St. Albans on a lovely autumn day. There are 29 of us, and I wonder how she is going to manage such a big group.

“Oh, it might look huge to you”, says Hilary, “But I had once 106. It was very hard work.” Then she adds, with an arch smile in her eyes: “Luckily I’ve got a very loud voice if I need it”.

That loud voice and an ability to control large groups of easily distracted people are presents from her past. For 30 years, she taught History at secondary school, leading field trips to Russia and battlefields of the First World War.

“I think it’s really important children are made aware of what war means,” Hilary, who has a poppy pinned neatly to her coat, is very serious now. “There’s nothing like showing them a huge graveyard full of crosses to make them realise that it’s not just a number, it’s actually people.”

In 1998, Hilary qualified as a prestigious Blue Badge Guide and started working full-time as a tour guide.

“I loved working with children, but got tired of interference with politicians in the end,” Hilary explains why she decided to change the profession. “Every government in England that comes in tries to do something different to teaching. And being a tour guide means teaching people, but without constant change of the rules, without all the hassle of marking essays.”

A favourite tour guide

One thing the job of a tour guide does involve, though, is surprises. Hilary shares some of the “scary stories” that have happened on her tours while we have lunch in one of the little cafés of the old town.

Once an elderly English lady slipped on the walk, fell and cut her head. Hilary asked the group to wait and took the woman to the nearest pub, to ring a taxi for her.

“The man in a pub was really helpful,” Hilary remembers the incident. “And the group decided they want to pay for this lady’s taxi. She rang me a few days later to say she was fine. She also told me the taxi driver who had taken her to the hospital wouldn’t just leave her, he made sure she was seen by the nurse.”

“There are some really nice people around, aren’t there?” Hilary concludes, and somehow I feel that the story means a lot to her.

Another day she did the walk with just two tourists. “That was the smallest I had,” she says. “That was a jolly walk in a pouring rain with two Australians”.

She confesses that knowledge is not the only thing that makes you a good tour guide. Every group you have is different, so a guide has to be a psychologist in a way, to be able to shape the walk according to people’s reactions.

Hilary is keen on spotting details, like this weird figure of a succubus on an old pub in St Albans.

And Hilary does the job so brilliantly, that some tourists call London Walks, the company she works for, before coming on a tour, to make sure Hilary is guiding it.

Sue, a tourist from United States, is one of her fans. She has taken lots of walks with Hilary, starting in 2004.

“She is my favourite. She really knows a lot about history and she loves what she’s doing. And I think she makes you love it, too,” Sue says.

A busy Grandma

But history is not Hilary’s only passion. She cares about these days as well.

In 1980, she joined Soroptimist International, an organisation that creates opportunities to transform the lives of women around the world. Today she is co-ordinating the work of hundreds of volunteers who address issues like human trafficking, gender discrimination, women’s health, and lots of others.

“It’s very rewarding, it gives you lots of opportunities, and it feels like you do some good work that makes a difference”, says Hilary.

With life so full of action, it’s no wonder she has almost no free time at all.

“I am very busy, horribly busy,” she admits with a cheerful smile. “But I’m not good at sitting doing nothing, and I never have been. I’m always happier with too much to do than not enough to do.”

A teacher, a tour guide, a soroptimist. She has three successful careers, yet she says her life’s greatest achievement is her family. Looking at her smart close haircut and rapid confident gait, it’s hard to believe she is four times Grandma.

“I’ve got a very tolerant husband. He’s also a very busy person, but he does all the cooking and shopping,” she chuckles.

“We have two daughters and a son, and we managed to bring them up so that they turned from being our children to being our friends. We enjoy their company. For me, that’s quite special,” she says.

It’s getting darker now as we approach our last stop on the walk around St. Albans. With a last amusing fact and a round of well-deserved applause, Hilary leaves us, to greet another group of tourists tomorrow and guide them through space and time.


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