I’d begin my perfect day with an impossibly noisy breakfast at The Wolseley in Piccadilly. If you are in a group of four, you have to scream across the table – that’s London – and part of the fun is that everyone else is doing the same. It’s elegant and convivial (and I love the herring).
I’d then walk to Trafalgar Square and the National Portrait Gallery. I love looking at those faces. It’s the greatest collection of portraits in the world, from Lady Diana to Dusty Springfield, all depicted by the greatest artists.
From there, I’d stroll down Whitehall. At Horse Guards Parade I like to look at those guys in plumed headgear – very English! I’d take a few pictures then I’d carry on to Westminster Abbey. I like the sense of majesty, not just looking up at the vaulted ceiling but when you study the tombs. The collection of great people who will sleep there for eternity is spellbinding – not just composers but writers too. It’s a journey down the corridors of history.
Back outside, I’d head up Victoria Street – not very exciting in itself – and at Scotland Yard take a right, worming my way through to St James’s Park. I grew up in this area and have a particular fondness for it, especially the willow trees. If the weather is good, there will be a band playing at the gazebo. I’d throw myself into a deck chair and, half asleep, listen to the music. There’s nothing like it.
From St James’s Park, I’d walk back to Covent Garden or take a cab to St Martin’s Court for lunch at J Sheekey. Sitting at the bar, I’d like to start with at least six oysters – 12 is better – and move on to the razor clams with chorizo. Then sea bass baked in salt. I’ll order a bottle of Billecart-Salmon champagne and stick with that – no pudding.
My preference now is to go back home for a nap and, at 4pm, a cup of tea – a very British experience, especially on a Sunday. In the evening, well, I’m a musician, so of course I would say I’d go to the opera, but the National Theatre or one of West End theatres are quintessential London: no other stage in the world can match them. If it’s the National, I like walking across Waterloo Bridge with the London Eye and Houses of Parliament to the right and St Paul’s Cathedral to the left. There’s something life-affirming about it.
If it’s a Saturday, I’d rush home after the play to watch Match of the Day, otherwise I’d jump into a cab and head for a late supper at the Connaught. There are two restaurants, one fancy and one more normal, with windows looking on to the street. I’d choose the latter and have something light, with a lovely Burgundy. Afterwards, a walk through Mayfair – the upper crust of London, grand and over the top – and then I’m ready for bed.
Sir Antonio Pappano is music director of the Royal Opera, Covent Garden