Listen to a Londoner: Kirsty Allison

Listen to a Londoner is a weekly interview with a Londoner – someone who lives in this city, born here or elsewhere. If you’re up for being interviewed, email littlelondonobservationist@hotmail.co.uk.

Kirsty Allison
Image by Kelli Ali

Novelist, film producer, fashionista, rock n’ roll queen, journalist, Ibiza party girl, teacher, DJ, editor, stylist, poet, traveller and, most importantly, born and bred Londoner, this is Kirsty Allison…

LLO: As a born and bred Londoner, what are the biggest changes you’ve seen over the years? Anything in particular you miss?
KA: I used to frequent a goth club called the William Morris in Wimbledon, I drank snakebite and black, and pretended to be an art student before I became one.  I was thirteen or fourteen.  I’d like to take a time machine back to those times, and have a talk with myself.  London will always have speakeasys and people trying to fight the powers that they think restrict them, it’s the nature of British culture, thankfully, like the city itself, it’s all about contrasts.  The best advice I got at primary school was being told to look up – at buildings…there’s more sky around London than there used to be – rooftop bars, penthouses, I like feeling elevated, rather than suppressed by the towering infernos of our city, although they inspire me.

Image by Kelli Ali

LLO: Which area of London are you most familiar with? Write us a mini-poem about why it rocks.
KA: Shoreditch, is my bitch, She’s the devil to my itch, Roaming there, my artistic lair, Makes my teenage dreams fall fair.  The seen it all before they were twelve year olds, or the enthusiastic old boys and girls, We’re hunting for where we lost our souls, and this is where I like to roll.

LLO: You’ve challenged yourself to wear a different outfit every day for a year. If you were to do it again next year, which five London shops would you hit first to build up your wardrobe?
KA: I’d drop by Fiona Doran’s (aka Mrs Jones) Emporium on St John’s Street. She’s an alma mater who’s guided me like a lady with a lamp in her dress for years.  Beatrix Ong has recently opened a shop in Sloane Street, she knocks class and sex into heels.  I collect Alexander McQueen, so it’s hard to think of a wardrobe without some of his original pieces.  The Vivienne Westwood shop at World’s End features clothes she’s sewn herself.  The Shop below Maison Bertaux in Soho is great, and I love Kokon Tozai.  Off Broadway rocks, set up by the divine Donna Kernan.  Concept stores like http://www.ln-cc.com and Dover Street Market…I could go on…Liberty’s is a pleasure to shop in…whoops, how many was that?!

Image by Gaynor Perry

LLO: Ambit just featured an excerpt from your first novel Medicine and you made the cover! You’ve got three sentences to sell your book. Ready, go…
KA: So tough to compress a work into a small space, but, it’s set in 90’s Shoreditch in an exclusive scene where fashion and music industry myths are accepted as truth.  It’s rock n roll to the max, following the downward social adventures of a fashion designer who starts managing a band, Chernobyl, fronted by a male model.  As their fate becomes stardom, she travels from Ibiza to Paris and a world tour, letting her fashion designs become increasingly bonkers.  It’s a funny tale which makes people cry.  I’ve been working on it for 15 years…

LLO: You’ve been a celebrity stylist and a model, coming across some influential names in the fashion industry. Which up-and-coming London-based designers should we keep an eye on?
KA: Louise Amstrup. Holly Fulton. Elliot Atkinson. James Long. SD Yohans.

LO: Best London discovery?
KA: Churches and graveyards are always good value.

LLO: I’m in London for one night and want to veer off the tourist trail for some food and drink. Any fabulous recommendations?
KA: I like La Trompette in Chiswick, I’ve taken my mum there.  The Seven Stars, off Fleet Street behind the law courts is entertaining, it’s proper characterful landlady stuff.  If you want to keep it cheap, C&R on Rupert Court does a good Singapore Laksa, and follow it with a few drinks at The Coach & Horses in Soho, where every table has served me as an office.  Cay Tre on Old Street is always busy, but if you like Vietnamese it never disappoints.  Lemonia on Regents Park Road.  Wholefoods Market is a palace.  Cecconi’s is proper Jackie Collins territory.  A curry in Southall. There are always new places everywhere.

Image by Kelli Ali

LLO: In the late 90s, you were DJ-ing internationally with the likes of Kris Needs, Irvine Welsh and Howard Marks including a residency at Manumission Motel in Ibiza. Where’s your favourite place in London to party the weekend away?
KA: The party is where you’re at.  Aside from that, The Sanctum Hotel in Soho is cool.  Quintessentially is fun.  The lure of a private member’s bar is something I fall victim to but I love a decent bass, and there are so many warehouse parties going on again, it’s easy to get lost partying.

LLO: Tantric Tourists is one of your latest creative projects. Tell is a bit about what inspired it. Any London screenings or events scheduled?
KA: Tantric Tourists follows a self-proclaimed guru as she escorts 10 American students on a quest for enlightenment across India.  It’s a comedy road movie.  The director, Alexander Snelling, and I first met the guru, Laurie Handlers, in India where she was “whirling on the beach”.  We did a test shoot at a workshop she was hosting in Primrose Hill and cracked up at the rushes.  It was too good a story to turn down.

It goes on limited release from Valentine’s Day.  The DVD is available with a discount by becoming a fan on Facebook.  More info: www.tantrictourists.com

LLO: Do you have a favourite London-based book or a great bookshop to recommend – one of those cosy ones with the slightly musty basement smell or great in-house coffee shop?
KA: This is mainstream but I used to like Borders, they had chairs, it was an easy place to get lost in. Waterstones in Piccadilly does a good job, as does Foyles (if only the Westfield rates weren’t so high they’d still have a second floor).  There are many indie shops doing a great job. Broadway Books is hitting the mark. And my local library has a cafe in it, long may it last.  The Daunts in Marylebone is great because it has all these wonderful wooden bannisters, and they are so excellent at travel books.  Judd Street Books is lovely for art books and oddities, towards Bloomsbury from Kings Cross.  The Oxfam bookshops are always great.  The customer service in Hatchards is good. I love a good bookshop, I clear my head by walking through them, flicking through those who manage to hold their fort on the shelves.  The Espresso Machine is a concept I’m excited about – it’s so called because in the time of a coffee you can order whatever book you desire in whatever paper you choose – so if I wanted Lolita in baby pink, Bob the Paedo is my uncle…(almost) any bookshop or library is serving the future of England a favour.

Image by Laurence Tarquin Von Thomas

Thanks Kirsty!

For more on Kirsty’s fascinating life, lookie here: www.kirstyallison.com

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.

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Parliament Square Protests for Peace

Peace Camp in Parliament Square

A rainbow-striped peace flag flaps in the sudden warm breeze as Big Ben sounds twice, early afternoon. Sprawled across the green patch of Parliament Square are canvas tents, bent cardboard signs and placards, a few stray sandals and water jugs and a refreshing atmosphere of activism.

Guitars for Peace

There’s a battered old guitar stripped of paint laying on the ground, a bare-footed girl sitting cross-legged in the sun and a middle-aged man in a baseball cap patting a new plant into the circular peace garden they’ve created in the centre.

Peace Garden

They want to stop the war. They want to make borders redundant. They want freedom.

Flip Flops and Freedom

They call it the Democracy Village, this group that has set up camp around Brian Haw’s famous protest.  (However, Brian’s website states in bright red letters that his ongoing protest has “no connection or affiliation whatsoever with ‘Democracy Village’ which came here on May 1st 2010.”)

Democracy Village

Brian, Parliament Square’s world-famous protester, has been camping out in the square for3,294 days now. That’s just over nine years that he’s been living under a tent, eating whatever food his supporters offer, washing in a bucket and sitting in the sun or snow smoking enough cigarettes to give him a nasty cough. Apparently an anonymous washroom attendant in Westminster tube station’s public toilets charges his phone so he can keep in touch with the world outside the square.

Brian Haw 3

I walked up to Brian who was sitting in a fold-up chair, the crutches he uses to walk leaning against the sides. He was staring out at the Houses of Parliament with striking blue eyes, his signature badge-covered helmet casting a shadow over his face. He glanced at me and I asked if I could take his photo. With a solemn silent nod he acknowledged my request. When I thanked him, he did the same again.

Promote Peace with Peace

Living his life as an outdoor exhibition has taken its toll. You can see it in his weathered skin, the tiredness of his body, the slow and contemplative way he turned a lighter around in his hands. There was a distinct weariness about him alongside the sort of strong mental determination of the sort of person who can stand for his beliefs so powerful that his wife and seven children fall out of the picture, who can step up against one of the most powerful governments in the world, to be considered a permanent representation of freedom of speech for an entire nation.

Don't Trade in Your Beliefs

His protest began the summer before 9/11 when he was campaigning against economic sanctions imposed on Iraq and the bombing by the UK and US. That September, his focus widened to include the War on Terror.

Bollox 2 Bombs

Now, “He protests on behalf of those innocent people who suffer and die in other countries, as our governments seek to further their own economic, military, political and strategic interests around the world.” In 2005, he was short listed for a Human Rights Award and in 2007 was Channel 4’s Most Inspiring Political Figure.

Change The World

There have been many attempts to evict Brian from the square, many court cases and arrests, including the most recent last month. But he’s still there and, despite revived attempts to remove him, it doesn’t look like he’s got any other plans.

Fascists Bite Here

While this lifestyle has left 61-year-old Brian drained of physical energy, the camp that has built up around him was lively, engaging the crowds with anti-war chants and sing-a-longs.

Peace Camp Drummer

As I walked away, Bob Dylan’s lyrics floated across Bridge Street, “How many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died?”

Brian Haw 2

Here’s a great Indy article on Brian if you want to read more.

Time for Peace