London Belongs to Me
Name me a great metropolis which has a museum mentioned in a classic love song, more parks and green areas than any other major city, a fashion scene which gave the world the mini skirt, a pop scene that launched The Beatles and a delicious, dizzy blonde on a bicycle for mayor.
Fabulous Boris Johnson. All wacky hair and personality sums up today’s London. He’s enough of a toff to be on chatting terms with the Queen, enough of a campaigner to snort derisively at the idea of a mayoral car and hop on his bike and enough of an eccentric to understand London and us Londoners.
There is nothing, literally nothing you can’t do in Boris’s London. You can have tea at the Ritz and you can picnic in Richmond Park. You can see Shakespeare at The Globe and you can be part of the play at the Roundhouse. You can visit Buckingham Palace or consider living on a barge in Little Venice. It’s only 10 minutes from the heart of the West End. You can shop till you drop at Fortnum’s or Harrods or Selfridges or you can seek out a vintage boutique in what has been dubbed the new ‘hipsturbia’ – the trendy, edgy East End of London.
You can get to know our parks. They were created by those excellent, philanthropic Victorians who believed that Londoners were entitled to a bit of fresh air. Rather like Boris. There are deer in Richmond Park where Henry VIII used to hunt and there are white pelicans in St James’s, not to mention literally thousands of birds, bees and creepy crawlies that would seem to have no role to play in a major city.
Museums? They are not creaking mausoleums in my city, they buzz with life. The grand-daddy of them all, The British Museum, immortalized by Ira Gershwin, should never be attempted in one visit. Just treat it like a much-loved elderly relative whom you go to see for an hour or so and then come back another time.
Take a child with you to the Science or Natural History Museum and use their imagination to fire your own. Or there’s the Victoria and Albert, known by us all as the V & A. In one room you can see the lavish style of Tudor dress, featuring pearls the size of pigeon eggs; in another section there’s the life and times of David Bowie. We play and watch all sports, and now with the legacy of last year’s Olympic triumph, we’ve got the stadia to really wallow in it. You can skate at Somerset House, you can go boating on the Thames, and you can even swim in the Serpentine, if you’re mad enough to join the intrepid 6am squad who’ve been diving in since 1864.
The National Art Gallery is almost as well known as Buckingham Palace and visitors flock there in their millions. But we have so many smaller, innovative galleries waiting to be explored. The Courtauld in Somerset House, with a fabulous permanent collection of Impressionists is a revelation. Especially now with their ‘Becoming Picasso’ Exhibition. Graham’s Gallery in my neighborhood is another eye-opener featuring new and exciting artists. And you don’t have to be a sheik or an Oligarch to pick up something beautiful here. I also like to drop into Gladwell and Patterson in Knightsbridge to see their collections of living artists. There is something very special about buying a work from someone who is going to celebrate that event with his family and friends and toast your fine eye and generous spirit.
You can even learn how to ski on proper snow in London. Well just outside, to be honest, near St Albans. But what a great way to spend a morning with youngsters who long for the slopes but can’t get mum and dad to pay for the air tickets. I took my two grandsons and they couldn’t believe their luck. Or how quickly they could learn to ski in their own backyard.
Yes, we have history and tradition in spades, but what makes them work is that they’re alive. Things happen in London. Me? I wouldn’t live anywhere else.