Celebrity Tips

McQueens Kally Ellis Reveals Train ‘We Should all do Before We Die’

The founder of McQueens Flowers talks railing to Scotland, spectacular Switzerland and the train trip everyone should do

As founder of luxury florists McQueens Flowers, Kally Ellis has travelled around the world but she still loves the thrill of travelling by train. As a student she slept on a train ‘like a sardine’ but these days she looks forward to travelling in style on Eurostar 

What has been your favourite rail journey and why?

I love going to Scotland, and last year we went to the Edinburgh fringe festival. The journey up on the train from Kings Cross was all part of the magic. It’s such a pleasurable, relaxing way to travel, and as you get further north, you pass through such wonderful landscapes that gradually change as you progress. You emerge at Edinburgh Waverley ready to play, whereas if you take a plane you’d just feel horribly stressed out. 

What country have you most enjoyed visiting by rail?

I think the journey by rail from France to Italy via the Simplon Pass in Switzerland is just spectacular. It’s the sort of journey where you sit with a book on your lap but you’re so transfixed by the scenery that you never actually read a single word. 

Kally ellis, Switzerland Simplon pass
Switzerland’s magical Simplon Pass

Have you ever travelled by train overnight? 

Yes, when I was a student. I slept on a couchette on a train going to Italy. We were jammed in like sardines with total strangers but you sleep like a baby. It’s the combination of the noise and the gentle rolling motion that does it. 

Can you remember your first ever train journey?

I’m born and bred in north London so it’s probably a trip to town on the northern line from Tufnell Park tube station. I still find the underground nothing short of miraculous. Ten minutes’ walk and a quick whirl in the lift and before you know it, you’re in the centre of the most vibrant city in the world with theatre, restaurants, galleries and clubs at your disposal.

Where would you like to travel to by rail?

A great friend and inveterate traveller told me about her journey on the Belmond train that snakes its way through the Highlands [Belmond Royal Scotsman] – it sounds so cosy and romantic. I think waking up on a train in a remote part of Scotland is something we should all do before we die. 

Belmond Royal Scotsman bagpipes
On Kally’s list: The Belmond Royal Scotsman

Which train companies do you think serve the best food on board?

I have travelled a lot on Eurostar and after a bit of a sticky patch, I think they’ve really got their act together. Last time we took the Eurostar I was served a little choux bun St Honoré that was so delicious I now start drooling like Pavlov’s dog every time anyone mentions Eurostar now.

Who is your ideal travelling companion on a rail journey?

I’d like someone who talks when I want to chat, shuts up when I’m tired, fetches me drinks and snacks at the drop of a hat and lets me snuggle up when I’m in need of a nap. My husband will do nicely.

Are there any special train trips you’d like to take?

I would like to travel by train to see the Northern Lights. I’m slightly obsessed with the idea of sweeping off to the frozen north on a train in pursuit of the Northern Lights – somewhere remote and snowy in Scandinavia would be amazing.

Kally Ellis: northern lights

What’s the best thing about taking a train journey?

Not having to drive. 

What do you always take with you on a train journey?

A copy of the Guardian (for the quick crossword and sudoku), a good book, some jelly babies (they’ll be gone before we’re barely out of the station) and a cashmere pashmina because we all need one of those. 

What’s your best memory of travelling by train?

I travelled down to Avignon direct from St Pancras with my husband a couple of summers ago to stay with some friends. We didn’t have to change trains and the journey was so fast and comfortable that you arrive ready for anything.