London is a State of Mind

With my two year anniversary approaching, I can safely say that I am not yet tired of London. Too bad its so darn expensive!

London Times, March 15 2007
Tired of London? Then you’re tired of life: discuss
Our correspondent provoked a global debate with his claim that London is the capital of the world. Here he stands by his view, and leading expat London residents give theirs
James Harding
It was a perfect spring morning yesterday and, after being bashed about the ears for meekly suggesting that London is the greatest city on earth and gingerly calling for a unilateral declaration of London’s independence from the UK, I got up early and went for a jog in the park. (One of the wonderful things about London is that there are countless parks. Sorry, fans of Tokyo.)
When I got to the top of Primrose Hill, I was reminded of a story told to me by a respected historian. At a bleak moment during the Second World War, when the city was under heavy bombardment and the mood in the country was heavy with doom, Winston Churchill took a walk up Primrose Hill. He returned to the Commons and declared what he had found: “I looked out over London,” he said, “and I found it was still there.” The House erupted in cheers.
Well, for all the grumblers who responded to my love letter to London by saying that Zurich is better, Cambodia is sunnier, Shanghai is growing faster, New York is cheaper and London is a dirty, hoodlum-ridden “hell hole”, here is the bad news: it is still there. In fact, judging by the building cranes that poke up across the skyline, it is only going to get bigger, brasher and more obnoxious.
And, I guess, that is the point: the response made me realise that London is not only a fact of life, but it is a state of mind.
The people who love London seem to love the same things about it: the sense of possibility, the openness to the world, a culture and an economy that looks in all directions — backwards, inwards, outwards and to the future.
The piece also hit a nerve with provincial grumblers, people who do not like the city. They dislike London because they dislike city life: for them it is too busy, too noisy, too dirty. They are tired of it.
And as we all know, when a man is tired of London he is tired of life, for, as the great Dr Johnson concluded, there is in London all that life can afford.

SIR STELIOS HAJI-IOANNOU
Founder of easyJet
I was born in Athens but gained my higher education in London, at LSE and City University, before basing my business here. I agree with James Harding when he says that London is now the capital of the world: for me it has been so for some time, both financially and culturally. When I decided to start my own air-line, I looked at a map of Europe and chose to base it in London. This was first a business decision and then a cultural one: I struggle to think of another European capital that would welcome a Greek-Cypriot with an unpronounceable surname into local competition and the local community.
Thanks to Margaret Thatcher, London led the way in redefining aviation policy. By issuing private licences to aviation companies, she got rid of the national monopoly of the skies, opening the way for myself, Richard Branson and others to base our businesses here. Though the rest of Europe followed in the 1990s, the US still remains closed to foreigners when it comes to aviation.
VICENTE TODOLI
Director, Tate Modern
I have lived in London for four years. I usually don’t like big cities. I grew up in rural Spain and don’t like to feel claustrophobic but I love London. It’s my favourite city. It feels global and local, it has an ability to make you relate to history but also feel alive. It is big but has a human scale. It is a series of villages, each of which retains its character. I lived in New York — there you just felt like you were going from A to B but the unique layout of London means you are always discovering something new. It is a city which welcomes people. That’s what makes it a true metropolis. I live in Covent Garden and walk everywhere. I love the parks and food markets such as Borough, and restaurants such as St John and Yauatcha. The only thing I don’t like is being underground so I usually take a bus or taxi.
ALINA COJOCARU
Principal dancer, Royal Ballet
I can’t say that London is the best city in the world but I can say that I love London and I think it’s a great place to live and work. Whatever you feel like, there’s something: a great choice of theatre, ballet and opera, restaurants and, of course, shopping. I’ve lived here for six years and I feel like I’ve only seen about about a quarter. I first came here when I was at ballet school, aged 17. I never pictured myself living in a particular place but then I joined the Royal Ballet company and every time I came back I would say, it’s nice to be home. It did feel a bit overwhelming at first. Sometimes I had to go into a quiet street so I could breathe. But then I got to know the other parts of London which are not tourist attractions but are so beautiful, like the parks and the places where more local people live. I live in Clerkenwell: quiet, but trendy, and I can walk to work at the Royal Opera House.
JUDE KELLY
Artistic director, Southbank Centre
My office is a glass cube overlooking Hungerford and Waterloo bridges and the River Thames. Every day I consider the thousands of people who stroll, sail, and weave between the two riverbanks. It’s a microcosm of the human vista that has become London — a true world city, and one where the creativity has found the space and encouragement to develop.
In 1951, Southbank Centre was the ground on which the Festival of Britain made its postwar commitment to the human imagination. The festival’s success rested on its belief in the power of multiple creative voices and a love of variety and cultural expression. Many of the artists who contributed were refugees — and their legacy is the great South Bank cultural quarter. When I went to Singapore with the Olympic Team, we bid for London’s right to host the games because we said we wanted to host the whole world. Every sector — galleries, museums, theatres, dance spaces, literature centres, music and festival venues — now knows it forms part of this creative enterprise.
For thousands of years, London as a port city was a community for all-comers. By acknowledging this unique strength, the capital has become an unrivalled cultural heartland.
CARLO BRANDELLI,
Creative director, Kilgour
I have been saying for the past five years that London is the capital of the world. It has acquired a “cool” tag that it just can’t shake off. This started in the 1960s with the music scene, the Rolling Stones, minis, E-type jags, Michael Caine, and those images have stuck in people’s psyches. Now, every decade something comes along. It happened in the 1970s with David Bowie and Roxy Music, then in the 1980s with new romanticism. The 1990s was about Britpop and Brit Art , culturally significant moments. The important thing in this decade has been the explosion in design — furniture, architecture, fashion and cars. It’s also a great place to work. The atmosphere is intense but that positive pressure is good for creative people. There are three basic needs for people — food, clothes and entertainment, three things that score very highly in London.
GAUTAM MALKANI
Author of Londonstani
No other city has as much of an identity. There’s so much pessimism world-wide about the failure of multi-culturalism but London has succeeded in a way nowhere else has. Being a Londoner transcends ethnic boundaries because ethnicities can feel at home. It’s actually not even a national identity, which is a positive thing, because saying that you’re a Londoner seems less aggressive than saying you’re British. If you go into Leicester Square or a sports stadium, you see more integration now than ever, and more than in other cities. In the Eighties, an Indian boy like me couldn’t walk into a bar without getting hassled. Now I feel much safer. I have family in Paris and it’s not like that there.
What London does better is subcultures. It’s a hub: the punk movement, rock movement, new romantics, even house. They all rub against each other and help and inspire each other. London is the capital of pop culture and that makes young groups mix well, which has created much of our identity. Other cities just haven’t caught up yet.
‘It’s a city to make your own’
JAKE ARNOTT
Author
The centre of London is a working city, not a tranquil, beautiful place. Anywhere else they wouldn’t let them build those ugly buildings, particularly around St Paul’s – there would be gardens and piazzas. But I like it for its hidden qualities – the little bits that you find, the secret alleyways and courtyards. It’s a city to make your own in a way like no other.
ED VICTOR
Literary agent
London has the geographical edge: it is the centre of the world. I can fly around two hours and be in Rome, while if I fly about the same time from New York I will be in Cincinnati.
tired of London he is tired of life, for, as the great Dr Johnson concluded, there is in London all that life can afford.
SIR STELIOS HAJI-IOANNOU
Founder of easyJet
I was born in Athens but gained my higher education in London, at LSE and City University, before basing my business here. I agree with James Harding when he says that London is now the capital of the world: for me it has been so for some time, both financially and culturally. When I decided to start my own air-line, I looked at a map of Europe and chose to base it in London. This was first a business decision and then a cultural one: I struggle to think of another European capital that would welcome a Greek-Cypriot with an unpronounceable surname into local competition and the local community.
Thanks to Margaret Thatcher, London led the way in redefining aviation policy. By issuing private licences to aviation companies, she got rid of the national monopoly of the skies, opening the way for myself, Richard Branson and others to base our businesses here. Though the rest of Europe followed in the 1990s, the US still remains closed to foreigners when it comes to aviation.
VICENTE TODOLI
Director, Tate Modern
I have lived in London for four years. I usually don’t like big cities. I grew up in rural Spain and don’t like to feel claustrophobic but I love London. It’s my favourite city. It feels global and local, it has an ability to make you relate to history but also feel alive. It is big but has a human scale. It is a series of villages, each of which retains its character. I lived in New York — there you just felt like you were going from A to B but the unique layout of London means you are always discovering something new. It is a city which welcomes people. That’s what makes it a true metropolis. I live in Covent Garden and walk everywhere. I love the parks and food markets such as Borough, and restaurants such as St John and Yauatcha. The only thing I don’t like is being underground so I usually take a bus or taxi.
ALINA COJOCARU
Principal dancer, Royal Ballet
I can’t say that London is the best city in the world but I can say that I love London and I think it’s a great place to live and work. Whatever you feel like, there’s something: a great choice of theatre, ballet and opera, restaurants and, of course, shopping. I’ve lived here for six years and I feel like I’ve only seen about about a quarter. I first came here when I was at ballet school, aged 17. I never pictured myself living in a particular place but then I joined the Royal Ballet company and every time I came back I would say, it’s nice to be home. It did feel a bit overwhelming at first. Sometimes I had to go into a quiet street so I could breathe. But then I got to know the other parts of London which are not tourist attractions but are so beautiful, like the parks and the places where more local people live. I live in Clerkenwell: quiet, but trendy, and I can walk to work at the Royal Opera House.
JUDE KELLY
Artistic director, Southbank Centre
My office is a glass cube overlooking Hungerford and Waterloo bridges and the River Thames. Every day I consider the thousands of people who stroll, sail, and weave between the two riverbanks. It’s a microcosm of the human vista that has become London — a true world city, and one where the creativity has found the space and encouragement to develop.
In 1951, Southbank Centre was the ground on which the Festival of Britain made its postwar commitment to the human imagination. The festival’s success rested on its belief in the power of multiple creative voices and a love of variety and cultural expression. Many of the artists who contributed were refugees — and their legacy is the great South Bank cultural quarter. When I went to Singapore with the Olympic Team, we bid for London’s right to host the games because we said we wanted to host the whole world. Every sector — galleries, museums, theatres, dance spaces, literature centres, music and festival venues — now knows it forms part of this creative enterprise.
For thousands of years, London as a port city was a community for all-comers. By acknowledging this unique strength, the capital has become an unrivalled cultural heartland.
CARLO BRANDELLI,
Creative director, Kilgour
I have been saying for the past five years that London is the capital of the world. It has acquired a “cool” tag that it just can’t shake off. This started in the 1960s with the music scene, the Rolling Stones, minis, E-type jags, Michael Caine, and those images have stuck in people’s psyches. Now, every decade something comes along. It happened in the 1970s with David Bowie and Roxy Music, then in the 1980s with new romanticism. The 1990s was about Britpop and Brit Art , culturally significant moments. The important thing in this decade has been the explosion in design — furniture, architecture, fashion and cars. It’s also a great place to work. The atmosphere is intense but that positive pressure is good for creative people. There are three basic needs for people — food, clothes and entertainment, three things that score very highly in London.
GAUTAM MALKANI
Author of Londonstani
No other city has as much of an identity. There’s so much pessimism world-wide about the failure of multi-culturalism but London has succeeded in a way nowhere else has. Being a Londoner transcends ethnic boundaries because ethnicities can feel at home. It’s actually not even a national identity, which is a positive thing, because saying that you’re a Londoner seems less aggressive than saying you’re British. If you go into Leicester Square or a sports stadium, you see more integration now than ever, and more than in other cities. In the Eighties, an Indian boy like me couldn’t walk into a bar without getting hassled. Now I feel much safer. I have family in Paris and it’s not like that there.
What London does better is subcultures. It’s a hub: the punk movement, rock movement, new romantics, even house. They all rub against each other and help and inspire each other. London is the capital of pop culture and that makes young groups mix well, which has created much of our identity. Other cities just haven’t caught up yet.
‘It’s a city to make your own’
JAKE ARNOTT
Author
The centre of London is a working city, not a tranquil, beautiful place. Anywhere else they wouldn’t let them build those ugly buildings, particularly around St Paul’s – there would be gardens and piazzas. But I like it for its hidden qualities – the little bits that you find, the secret alleyways and courtyards. It’s a city to make your own in a way like no other.
ED VICTOR
Literary agent
London has the geographical edge: it is the centre of the world. I can fly around two hours and be in Rome, while if I fly about the same time from New York I will be in Cincinnati.

1 Comment
  1. London is #1 on my places to visit list. I just think it would be cool to wander down the street then bookstrore-pub-bookstore-pub – oh look, some history! Snacks, then another pub or bookstore. I’m expecting at the moment so it will have wait a little while, but I’ll get there eventually. I’m sure it will be one of those trips that lives up to my expectations. So much to do, so little time.

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