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: Gail Haslam

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.

Gail Haslam

Gail Haslam is a writer, editor and blogger who also tries to fit in crafty endeavours when she has time, or the supplies threaten to take over the house again. At the moment she’s a social media consultant for a chocolate company, and does realise how lucky she is.

LLO: How long have you been in London, where are you from originally and what brought you here?
GH: I’m originally from Ireland. Almost straight after university I travelled around Australia for a year and then thought I’d spend six weeks in London, until Christmas. That was thirteen years ago, almost to the day.

LLO: One of the main topics on your blog, One Million Gold Stars, is food. Where are a few good places in London to pick up ingredients if you’re looking for something unusual?
GH: I’ve been cooking a lot of Mexican food lately and I’ve been buying all my dried chipotles and ancho chiles from Casa Mexico in Bethnal Green.  They also do a fine line in Mexican pottery and Day of the Dead dolls, if you’re so inclined.
I’m a bit intimidated by the packed-to-the-rafters Vietnamese supermarkets on Mare St but Uyen from Fernandez and Leluu has volunteered to take me shopping and show me what’s what.

My boyfriend and I share the cooking in our house, but my favourite hobby is baking. I’m always on the lookout for supplies and tools. The Make Lounge, a creative workshop centre in Islington, carries ‘essentials’ like edible glitter and good quality paste food colourings.

LLO: I’m in London for one night only and need a good food and drink recommendation away from the tourist trail. Where would you send me?
GH: If you can get a table, I’d try Namo on Victoria Park Road and try the Ga hap la chanh – steamed chicken in lime leaves with ginger and lemon. So simple yet so good.  Then on to Hemingway, further up Victoria Park Road towards Mare St.  Enjoy a tipple while marvelling at the taxidermy.

LLO: If you’re out and about on a rainy winter day, where’s your favourite place to pop in and cosy up with a warm drink?
GH: I’ve a long standing affection for the the Cafe in Foyles on Charing Cross Road and fond memories of their hot chocolate. I’m lucky to have a great selection of cafes locally – the Pavilion in Victoria Park and a new addition, Amandine. Not only do they source ingredients like eggs from the Deli Downstairs, a few doors down, they even grow some of their own ingredients.

LLO: When you’re looking for a bit of Irish food or culture in London, where do you go?
GH: Ah – I’d have to admit that it’s not something I’ve ever looked for – too many other cuisines to explore here. I did have excellent soda bread at Corrigan’s recently (laced with molasses for a very defined sweetness) and it’s one of the things I do miss from home.

LLO: If you’ve had a long day so you’re not in the mood to bake, but you’re craving something sweet, where’s your favourite London bakery?
GH: Arianna Halshaw is probably my favourite baker.  I’ve always ordered cupcakes and her infamous Rice Krispies marshmallow directly from her but I understand she’s now supplying cupcakes to The Espresso Room.  Otherwise I’m rather partial to a cupcake from Ella’s Bakehouse in Covent Garden. Peanut Butter please.

LLO: What has been your most unusual eating experience in London?
GH: The ‘March Madness, April Fools’ themed night at Trail Of Our Bread, a local supperclub.  It involved rabbit, absinthe jelly and the best surprise birthday cake I’ve ever had. It was shaped like a flowerpot, complete with crumbled Oreo “soil”. 

LLO:Which area of London are you most familiar with and what’s the best part about it?
GH: East London, I’ve lived around here for ten years, gradually drifting from Shoreditch to Bow to Victoria Park. I love the park itself, and the fact that you can head out one gate and make your way to the Counter Cafe after a wander around Hackney Wick, or head around the perimeter and down the canal to visit Broadway market. Or venture right into the east side of the park and go and visit the deer. (Yes, really).

LLO: Tell us about a memorable moment that could only have happened in London.
GH: On Millennium Eve, we stood on Victoria Embankment, directly opposite the Oxo Tower and watched fireworks going off over three bridges, up and down the river. It was beautiful.

LLO: Best London discovery you think other people should know about?
GH: Wilton’s Music Hall.  It’s the oldest operating music hall in the world, and it’s run by a very small but incredibly dedicated team who are determined to preserve this atmospheric, magical building for generations to come. As well as reviving old style vaudeville, it also stages productions for other larger theatres as well as live music and also acts as a film location.  Visit for one of their monthly free cinema nights, to see archive footage of London through the ages.

Thanks Gail!

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