Real life fiction: Made in Chelsea Tour, London
TV and movie locations tours are big business. Just ask the people at Universal Studios – they’ve been carting droves of tourists around their movie lots for years. But are they any good? I signed up for a Made in Chelsea tour, London which visits the real life work and play locations of the uber posh reality TV stars. So what’s it like to step onto the set?
Real life fiction Made in Chelsea Tour, London
In this post some scenes have been scripted for your enjoyment. Yes really. There may well be product placement too; especially around the high street. This is a reality TV post after all.
The Made in Chelsea TV stars shop, flirt and argue on Channel 4 for a good chunk of the year. The long running show has built a healthy following, but admittedly it’s a marmite thing; you love it or you loathe it. Me? I am a big fan, which is why, on a Saturday afternoon, I find myself peering through the gates of Candy Kittens HQ on a BritMovietours locations tour.
The Made in Chelsea Tour differs from the likes of Harry Potter or Bond in that the protagonists are all alive and kicking. Today it has all the ingredients of a good time; the romance of a stylish and wealthy part of London, twenty enthusiastic people wandering around in the sunshine, a cheerful guide, a Ferrari or two roaring away in the background, and the chance of bumping into the cast. Lordy, the very thought of it is making me break out into a sweat. A bit.
Our guide is Gina. She was born and grew up here in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. She’s never been in the TV series or seen it being recorded but has met some of the main characters.. Gina tells me this is the biggest group she’s ever taken on this tour. Maybe it’s not surprising. Its stars are everywhere; securing advertising deals for make up and handbag companies, starting their own clothing and jewellery lines, posting selfies on Instagram and appearing on other TV shows. Although how much they are actually involved in their businesses probably varies.
The life of a Made in Chelsea star
But that’s why I love them. They’re not bound by the same rules as the rest of us. They don’t have mortgages or marriages to slow them down and make them boring. They don’t have credit card limits. They don’t even have to turn up for work. They are the heirs to great fortunes yet they are just as messed up and hopeless as the rest of us. You wouldn’t ask a single one of them for relationship advice, and to be honest I wouldn’t even ask them to make me a piece of toast. I don’t imagine they do carbs anyway. Just champagne or Mojitos in The Phene pub. Which is real.
Which is real and which is reality TV?
It’s confusing, distinguishing what is real life in Chelsea and what isn’t. It’s just as confusing as it is on telly. But Gina’s role today is to help us through it as well as entertaining us with stories of Chelsea old and new, fact and fiction. As we walk she gives us a stream of gossip about the show, interspersed with history about the location. Fact mixed up with froth.
To counterbalance the ‘lite’ Made in Chelsea tour theme Gina educates us in the origins of this modern London suburb. We hear how the King’s Road was originally Kings Charles II’s private road to travel to Hampton Court Palace. We find out that Chelsea was more like a village and that the Alpha male before Spencer Matthews arrived on the block was Sir Hans Sloane, who owned 11 houses. (Sloane Square was named after him.) We stop in front of the Mary Quant shop where the mini skirt may or may not have began.
Chelsea history brought to life
“The swinging sixties were when Chelsea really came alive. It was the centre of bohemian culture and a busy, buzzy place. You’d have seen Twiggy and Vivienne Westwood walking around.” says Gina. She tells us this is a new Mary Quant shop. “When I was little my mum used to walk with me past the original shop.” I look around at the people with their shopping bags and lap dogs and try to imagine how it was decades ago, before Charles Saatchi arrived on the square with his pickled shark displays.
Gina points out the Royal Hospital Chelsea, which houses the Chelsea Pensioners retirement complex, partly designed by Sir Christopher Wren. We learn that an unassuming and frankly tiny house in Margarette Terraces sold recently for £3.75 million, and that the most expensive house in the area recently went for nearly 7 million pounds. But as it’s a TV locations tour, gossip about old men, overpriced houses and kings won’t do. We want to see where our favourite celebrities live, work and play. We want the gossip behind the series. How scripted is it? Are they being paid good money to cock up relationships and nick each others boyfriends? They are, but not much says Gina. And how real is it? Well shock, horror, some of it is manipulated. A little of it is even completely fabricated. Diehards, remember that first episode at Raffles nightclub where Ollie held a clipboard outside the club? He didn’t actually work there!
Location, location, location
We don’t care about that though because the celebrity locations come thick and fast. The benches on Sloane Square aren’t just seats, “This is the place where Millie and Rosie sat outside with Herbie and ran into Andy and they chatted about how to deal with Spencer.” Gina briefs us. And then we move on taking in a smorgasbord of locations; Rosie’s gym, Joe and the Juice (where Jamie admitted to Spencer that he had messed up with Binky) and Benihana- (the steak house where there was a showdown between Spencer and Louise when they were on dates with Stephanie and Andy.) We stand outside Upper West Lounge nightclub where Ollie told Oscar he was about to be gay. I start to have palpitations. No not really. I’m just hot.
On this sunny day in June, reality and TV blurs and I can almost imagine myself living and hanging out here. As an orange Maserati blasts past us for the third time on it’s show-off circuit, we come upon a set of iron gates, leading to a passageway. “This is..” Gina pauses for full effect “..the headquarters of Candy Kittens HQ.” There is an audible gasp and an Irish girl grabs the rails as though she’s visiting her husband in prison. On death row. I ignore her; I’m too busy peering through the gates to see if I can see Proudlock or Jamie.
The Mae in Chelsea tour ramps up
I bond with Debs and her fifteen year old son, who have come up for the day from Guildford. Debs always had a crush on Mar Francis. “Mark Francis and Victoria were much posher than the others. They looked on the rest of them like they were chavs,” giggles Debs. I ask Gina if she has ever bumped into the stars of the show on a Made in Chelsea Tour, London? “I had one hen party where we met Jamie,” says Gina. “And another time we saw Proudlock.”
“It’s The Phene.” According to Gina, George Best once propped up the bar of this compact pub where TV heroes hang out. I stand in the garden where Binky’s heart was once broken. A shiver almost goes down my spine. The others move on to The Bluebird and other locations but I’m thirsty and want to recharge my batteries. I buy a glass of wine for a ridiculous price and get chatting to two locals. Derek and his friend work in the city and are keen to discuss technology, finance, travel, life and everything. They don’t want to discuss Made in Chelsea. They have never been to Candy Kittens HQ. Really? It is interesting that on a Made in Chelsea tour I set out to find the fictional world and instead meet Gina and Derek; -the genuine article.
The chilled out TV tour
So. My verdict? As tours go this one is pretty relaxed. You walk, you eat, you shop, you chat. Pretty much like the Made in Chelsea cast do on a weekly basis. In fact the movie tour is a bit like the series in that it feels like everyone has been hugely busy, and you’ve had a great time and it’s gone really fast and it has given you something to talk about with your friends or at the office water cooler, but pretty much nothing has happened.
Basically as far removed from my normal life as humanly possible. What if this was my reality? For a moment I ping back to Cumbria where amidst the cows and the sheep, Stuart is driving the kids to parties, ferrying them from band lessons and trying to do the weekly shop. Real life is overrated. I prefer the reality TV version for today; a lapdog on a lead, a shopping trip to an exclusive boutique and a white convertible Mini buzzing down The Kings Road. Child and responsibility free; I’m happy to be beguiled.
On Britmoviestours the pace is relaxed, but covers about 20 stops. It mostly follows the line of the King’s Road with some deviations. If you take the tour on a Saturday then don’t eat beforehand; Gina takes you to some great places like the Farmers’ Market in Duke of York Square, which has it’s own champagne and oyster bar. We also stop for ice cream later on as well. (not included in the tour price.)
A word of warning; you WILL get car envy during the tour and you may go home dissatisfied with your life. But at least a Made in Chelsea cast member hasn’t broken up with you. In a text. From New York.
Disclosure Note: Thanks to Brit Movie Tours who offered a tour so I could bring you this review of their Made in Chelsea tour London. And while the characters and story line maybe part of Made in Chelsea, the views, experience, photography and opinions are, as ever, all my own.