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

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 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:

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:

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Listen to a Londoner: Mohammed A.

Listen to a Londoner. This is a weekly post where people who live (or have lived for a while) in London answer a few questions about the Big Smoke. If you fit the bill and want to be interviewed, give me a shout at Always looking for new victims volunteers….

Mohammed AMohammed A., 30

Mohammed is working on finishing the editing of his debut novel, hastily recording a home-made album and trying to preach that sun avoidance is actually bad for you (but don’t get him into that or he won’t stop…)

LLO: How long have you lived in London?
I was born here, so all my 30 years.

LLO: Where are you (or your family) from originally if not London?
My parents are from Pakistan. And I went there (to Lahore and Islamabad) for the first time ever in early October.

LLO: Best thing about London?
Has to be the diversity.

LLO: Worst thing about London?
People being too self-absorbed.

LLO:  North, south, east or west?

LLO: Best restaurant?
Gifto’s Lahore Karahi in Southall.

LLO: Best shop?
I have had a fondness since childhood for the now gone Woolworths, especially my local one.

LLO:  Best place to escape the city?
Primrose Hill…You don’t quite escape it, you just appreciate it from the outside.

LLO: 2012 Olympics – stay or go?
I wasn’t fond of us hosting it, but I am now interested to see all the pomp we’ll get.

LLO:  How do you spend your time on the tube?
Looking at my own reflection on the glass…There are better faces to see, but my own saves me from looking into others’ eyes (I suffer from ‘eyes down syndrome’ like most).

LLO: Most random thing you’ve seen in London.
On Golborne Road there’s a series of pictures along a wall, of a life-sized doll laying on top of said wall and people looking up at it. Some sort of art experiment.

LLO: Best place to catch a gig?
Shepherd’s Bush Empire, just for the intimacy.

LLO: Best local band?
That surely has to be my own, though we won’t be gigging for quite a while yet (shameless plug:

LLO: Favourite book, song or film about London?
The song ‘Forces Of Viktry’ on Linton Kwesi Johnson’s ‘Forces Of Victory’ album (a great one). It documents the Notting Hill Carnival. LKJ in general is an essential Londoner, a great poet.

LLO: Favourite London discovery?
Hampton Court Palace. I thought it would be boring, but it was ace and the staff are really friendly and interactive in a non-patronising way. My ex-girlfriend made me go.

LLO: Best place to spend a Sunday afternoon?
If it’s sunny, Holland Park is good to lounge around in.

LLO: Best museum or gallery?
Natural History Museum.

LLO: Favourite market?

LLO: Most influential Londoner?
Michael Caine. For two reasons: Not only is he one of the finest British actors ever, his recent speech about alienated youth turning to crime in regards to his latest film Harry Brown was spot on.

LLO: Best London magazine, newspaper or website?
Transport for London’s (; sums up London, image-wise, the best.

LLO: If you were to dress up as one of the tube station names for a costume party, which would you be?
Bank…Although in the current economic climate, maybe not such a good idea.

LLO: Best time of year in London?
Autumn. Can’t beat the sight of fallen bronze leaves.

LLO: Best place for a first date?
Oxford Circus at night once the Xmas lights are on. Loads of nice places to eat, and when you’re tongue tied you can suggest she looks in the shops.

LLO: First place to take a visitor?
The London Eye seems the accepted cliche now.

LLO: Favourite place to be on a Saturday night?
Catching a film at the Electric Cinema.

LLO: Best and worst things about tourists?
Flattering most seem to ask me for directions in a big crowd, but am irritated at how slow they walk when I’m just trying to get my groceries home.

LLO: Boris is……
 … a good London mascot, as was Ken. I truly think the mayoral role in London is just about being a sort of teddy bear figure.

Thanks Mo!

Diwali in Southall

K and I went to Southall last night in search of a good Diwali atmosphere and we certainly found it. I was surprised that my Indian boyfriend had never celebrated the holiday there, so it was a new experience for both of us which made it even better.

All we did was wander down different streets, but everyone was out in their front gardens lighting off fireworks in the streets. Stepping out of Southall station, you are on top of a hill and surrounded by firework displays in every direction. Incredible. If you closed your eyes, it was easy to picture yourself in the middle of a war zone…. and some of the streets we walked down felt like one too! Here’s a photo of a gorgeous temple and below some videos that don’t quite capture the full magic of it, but they’re an idea.

Diwali is called the Festival of Lights. It’s meant to signify light overcoming darkness in different religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, jainism, Sikhism, etc. Of course, like most holidays, it’s a time when people get together and socialise and eat. It’s more religious for some people than others. Diyas, which are small clay pots filled with oil and a long lit candle wick are lit, or just candles. In Hinduism, the lights are a reminder of the story of Rama, an exiled deity who returns to his home along a lamplit pathway….There’s a lot more to it, but that’s the gist of it.

Vibrant, Vivacious Southall

Gill and I decided on an adventure yesterday. We took the train five minutes south to a different world.

Southall is one of regions in London most famous for its large Asian population. 55% of the population is Indian or Pakistani but there is also a large community of Somalis who live there. The result: a colourful, vibrant area with cultural differences woven intricately throughout. The signs at the train station are even bilingual in English and Gurmukhi.

As Gill pointed out, being blond and American, I was overwhelmingly outnumbered, but it wasn’t a place that makes you feel like you stand out.

It was quite a fascinating little venture. The McDonalds is halal. There is a pub called the Glassy Junction which accepts rupees as payment (300 = 1 pint of beer). It has churches, temples and mosques. You can buy little cups of “magical corn” along the roads set up in front of rows and rows of shops. Bend It Like Beckham was filmed there.

We went into a little jumble of a shop that sells everything from rolls to bubble wrap to states of Ganesh, to Jesus and Mary dinner trays to sex toys to children’s toys to kitchen ware and hardware. The goods were dirty and tumbling off the shelves. It was an array of treasures that required some digging, but if you needed a light bulb, an old cassette a giant stuffed tiger or a spin-the-wheel-strip-tease game, that’s the place to go.

There were gorgeously vivid fabric shops, sari shops and jewellery shops, lots of phones and DVDs, loads of curry restaurants and market food lining the streets, vegetables and fruits I’ve never seen before in my life. We bought some lychees and some sweet noodles called Noogdi to munch on.

We poked and prodded various bags of spices and rice and lentils, examined sauces and unfamiliar snacks. And then, with a craving for Asian food after all the spices wafting through the Southall air, we went home and cooked a giant pot of chicken biryani.