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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Listen to a Londoner: Daisy Coole

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.

Daisy Coole, 26

Daisy Coole is a jazz and session musician who has temporarily swapped touring Europe for organising the biggest and best cupcake extravaganza this country has ever seen. Cupcake Camp London will feature thousands of cupcakes and raise money for the North London Hospice, who looked after Daisy’s father until he died in March 2010.

LLO: As a born and bred Londoner, what are some of the biggest changes you’ve noticed in the city throughout your life? Anything in particular you miss?
DC: I miss being able to walk down a street without being knocked over by a 4×4, controversial as I’m sure that is! Drivers try to fit these ridiculously wide cars down the narrow backstreets of London. Use public transport or buy a smaller car! Or walk! I often have to travel with at least two saxophones, a music stand and some hefty sheet music, as well as my boyfriend’s bass and amp but I don’t need a mini truck to transport me across London: my little Ford Fiesta does the job. We are blessed with a brilliant transport system in this city. Except when you want to get from Kilburn to Hampstead. Then it’s a pain. Why isn’t there a connecting line between the Jubilee line and the Northern line before Kings Cross?

LLO: You’re a jazz musician. What’s your favourite London venue to play and what’s special about it?
DC: When I toured Europe last year, some of the best gigs were to hundreds of people in small Swiss cities, so it’s somewhat ironic that my favourite venue to play in the huge city of London is the Green Note in Camden. It’s a tiny vegetarian restaurant and live music venue which has the most incredible atmosphere. The audience are literally at your feet and you often have to swing round to avoid the waitresses as they pass between the rooms but you feel them take every step with you as you perform. Plus the food is amazing – always a bonus at a gig.

LLO: What the best thing about living in your postcode?
DC: I grew up in Hampstead and although it took me 12 years (aged 12-24) I moved back into the area as soon as I could, albeit to Gospel Oak! From my house I can walk to the posh cobbled streets of Hampstead Village, the eclectic and somewhat grubby Camden Town or the bustling (polite word for overcrowded and crazy) central London! Most importantly I’m back near Hampstead Heath, park of my childhood and the scene of many fond memories. It’s also my memorial place for my father who died last March. We scattered his ashes on top of Parliament Hill and you can see the whole of central London, particularly Fleet Street, where he spent so many years as a journalist. There is something overwhelming and yet calming about sitting on a bench on the hill and imagining the thousands of trials and tribulations taking place down in those streets. I find it peaceful.

LLO: One of your ideal escapes is an armchair in a cosy café. Share your top three comfy cafes?
DC: I hate to sound cliche but number one has to be the Starbucks in South End Green, NW3, because it’s right next to my gym – caffeine and comfort when I need it most! There used to be an amazing cafe in Camden called the Bean & Cup, which had huge sofas to sink into and loads of newspapers in the back room. They also did a divine Strawberry Latte, which I’ve never found anywhere else. My third recommendation is Proud Galleries in Camden: a gallery and live music venue with gorgeously decorated stables, in which you can hang out and have a coffee while browsing the internet, playing Wii or watching TV. The best room is pink with a big white wicker throne and loads of hanging plants. It’s also the venue for Cupcake Camp London.

LLO: As the organiser of Cupcake Camp London, give us a rundown of what to expect and why we should sign up to attend immediately.
DC: Cupcake Camp London is the first of it’s kind in this country, having started in San Francisco two years ago and travelled via New York, Paris and Sydney (among others). It is an incredible day where London’s amateur and professional bakers can bring down their best cupcakes to share with the public and raise money for the North London Hospice. There will be live bands, Frosting Shot Girls, a tombola and a silent auction where you can win seven nights at a gorgeous hotel in India! Bakers can even enter the cupcake competitions, judged by the founders of Primrose Bakery, legendary food writer, Mary Berry, supreme political strategist, Alastair Campbell and the winner of BBC’s Great British Bake Off, Edd Kimber. We have almost 2,000 cupcakes pledged so far and need lots more so sign up on the website www.cupcakecamplondon.co.uk and join us!

LLO:Favourite London bakery and best thing they serve?
DC: I’m a big fan of Primrose Bakery and bought their book while my father was in the North London Hospice. Cue much excitement when they agreed to be judges at Cupcake Camp London! Their bakery in Primrose Hill is almost painfully gorgeous with its yellow shopfront and pastel-coloured interior. I celebrated my birthday there last year with my oldest friends from school and we shared about eight different cupcakes between us. I think my favourite has to be the Lime and Coconut cupcake although it’s almost an impossible decision.

LLO: I hear you’re up for a cupcake tour of London… Tell us the starting point, the ending point, and not-to-miss stop off in the middle.
DC: Bake-a-boo in West Hampstead is the perfect starting point, particularly for anybody with allergies. It is also delightfully pink and girly and they do wonderful ‘Afternoon Teas’ on cake stands for Hen parties and the like. Crumbs & Doilies have a stall in Covent Garden, among other places, and were one of the first companies to support Cupcake Camp London by donating a prize. They do a great ‘name this cupcake’ competition on their website every month and whoever does their piping is a genius – Johnny Depp in icing is quite a sight! Lastly I would travel down to Greenwich Market and visit our Cupcake Camp Vegan judge, Ms Cupcake. Discard any preconceptions you have of vegan cake: these are delectable and rich and not at all healthy… love it!

LLO: After all those cupcakes, what’s a fun way you’ve found to work it off and stay fit?
DC: Most of the cupcakes I bake go straight into the bellies of my boyfriend and his friends, thank God! If they’re not around, I try to get the cupcakes out of the house as quickly as possible to avoid becoming as big as a house. I’m captain of a social league netball team in Islington and we’ve just won our league for the third season in a row, with a random assortment of teachers, hotel executives, insurance brokers and corporate PA’s. Come to think of it, they always complain that I never bring them cupcakes so I should probably get baking before they start a mutiny.

LLO: I’m in London for one night only and want to get off the tourist trail. Where would you recommend I go to eat and drink?
DC: La Porchetta in Chalk Farm produce delicious pizza and pasta in a lovely setting. I was taken there for Valentine’s Day a while ago and keep meaning to go back! Alternatively, the Pizza Express in Kentish Town is in the most incredible Art Deco building, with a floor to ceiling mirror design and wide, sweeping features. I think they have planning permission to tear it down, which would be a disaster as it’s the most beautiful building in the area. The best place for drinks is FiftyFive Bar, down the road in Camden. They serve 180 different cocktails and have a 2-4-1 offer from 6-8pm on Monday-Saturday. Definitely get there before 7pm, though, because it get seriously busy at the bar! If only it didn’t clash with my netball league, I’d also be there every Monday for ‘Mojito Madness’: 2-4-1 on all 12 Mojitos. Genius.

LLO: Best London discovery?
DC: My boyfriend keeps nagging me to get a bike so we can cycle the Regent’s Canal from Camden Lock to Limehouse and the Thames. The path is a bit narrow at Regent’s Park but it’s almost a direct route to the Primrose Bakery – result!

Thanks Daisy!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.

Listen to a Londoner: Colleen Wagner

Listen to a Londoner is a weekly interview post with people who live (or have lived for a while) in London. If you fit the bill and want to be interviewed, give me a shout at littlelondonobservationist@hotmail.co.uk. Always looking for new volunteers.

Colleen Wagner, 33

Colleen moved to London for her husband’s job three months after getting married in 2008.  She’s a high school English teacher who is at present working part-time for a London relocation agency rather than duke it out in the city schools (hey, it’s not like she didn’t give it a try…), and while she wouldn’t recommend undergoing three major life changes in one summer to even her worst enemy, her and her husband have come to truly, ecstatically enjoy their new life together in London.  

LLO: How long have you lived in London?
CW:
A year and a half.

LLO: If not London, where are you from? 
CW:
Chicago, Illinois

LLO: What is your favourite London discovery?
CW:
Brompton Cemetery, a 40-acre plot of solitude among Victorian graves.  I almost don’t want to promote it, as I’d hate for it to become too populated with the living…

LLO: Where in London do you go to get a taste of “home”?
CW:
Partridges on Gloucester Road provided us Stove Top stuffing on Thanksgiving Day.  Also picked up some Kraft Mac-n-Cheese and Golden Grahams–basically, a 10 USD box of cereal, but worth every darn pence.

LLO: What’s the coolest part about living in your postcode?
CW:
On the SW10 / SW5 border, the Troubadour is ideal for coffee or cocktails and live music in the club downstairs (Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Paul Simon, and Joni Mitchell played there in the ’60s).  We attended the BRIT Awards last week just a 10-minute walk from home, and my bookish self particularly adores that Beatrix Potter lived only a few blocks away * sigh *

LLO: Heard about any interesting places you’d like to check out but haven’t had the chance to yet?
CW:
After going to Proud last Saturday, I’d like to revisit the Camden Stables Market in the daytime.  Otherwise, after reading the book Longitude, my inner dork would really like to see the sea clocks at the Maritime Museum in Greenwich.

LLO: If I had one day in London and wanted to go “off the beaten path”, where would you send me?
CW:
I would send you first to one of my trusted pubs like the Drayton Arms on Old Brompton Road for a proper English Breakfast.  Then, so you can get at least one London museum in, you’re off to the Cabinet War Rooms–its right by Westminster and St. James Park, but its low profile renders it easily overlooked by other tourists.  If you’re thirsty, I’m sending you deeper into the city to at least gawk at St. Paul’s Cathedral from the outside before you wander over to the hidden shops and pubs around Bow Lane and/or to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese tucked away off Fleet Street (during the day, though, before the work crowd filters in).  Or, if you’d prefer a quiet, leisurely day, scrap all that and head to Hampstead for the village atmosphere and rolling heath.  Regardless of the daytime itinerary, by night you are being sent to Edgware Road for Middle Eastern cuisine and shisha.

LLO: Favourite London shop?
CW:
Zara, but for non-high street shops, the stalls at Portobello Road Market.  

LLO: Tell us about the most random thing you’ve seen in London.
CW:
Feathers stuck to my store-bought eggs, as though straight from the chicken’s va-jay-jay.

LLO: Best place to try to meet new people if you’ve just moved to London?
CW:
[insert shameless plug here]  Why, the new London Living social network at http://www.londonrelocation.ning.com!

Thanks Colleen!

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Fleet Street: Dundee Courier Building

I walked down Fleet Street this weekend, infamous for its alcohol-loving journalists who produced some incredible work in their day. This is number 186 where Sweeney Todd worked and killed as a barber to become the number one serial killer in British history.

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