I blame Hugh Grant, Richard Curtis and Julia Roberts. Although the rot of gentrification had been setting in for some time, it was the 1999 film Notting Hill that dealt the fatal blow to the eponymous district's street cred. A cabbie, hounded out by house prices, was definite: "Certain parts of it have become poncified, if you ask me, since that film. They've completely destroyed the character of the area."
Just as the latter-day Glastonbury festival – which at one time channelled the Notting Hill spirit for three days every year – is a sanitised shadow of its former self, so London W11 is like an old rocker who's cleaned up his act and become an interior design consultant. All Saints Road is full of shops selling wedding dresses and bathroom fittings; Portobello Road is stuffed with expensive tat; All Saints Hall, where Pink Floyd unveiled their singular brand of space rock, is an old people's home.
In The Other Notting Hill, former denizen Don Letts was more concerned with celebrating the bohemian past than bemoaning the Chelsea-tractor present: there was Powys Square, where Performance, Mick Jagger and all, was filmed; the Sarm West studios on Basing Street, opened by Island and later the place where "Do They Know It's Christmas?" was recorded (and where your intrepid reporter was once mistaken for Trevor Horn); Vivienne Westwood's flat in Ladbroke Grove where Johnny Rotten, Chrissie Hynde and Neneh Cherry, among others, all lived at various times; Alice's Antique Shop at 61 Portobello Road, where the Beatles got the coats they wore on the Sergeant Pepper cover; the Portobello Hotel, where another Alice, Cooper of that ilk, kept his boa constrictor in the bath ....
It was inevitably an orgy of name-dropping. I could have done with a bit more social history, but then this was Radio 2, not Radio 4; and a couple of people were good value. The old Clash bassist Paul Simonon, who went to school next to Trellick Tower, recalled the day when bits of it started to fall off and everyone thought it might collapse: "We were hoping it was going to fall on the school."
The ghosts of Simonon's old band dominate the place, the colossi of W11. As Chris from Rough Trade records observed, "The Clash seem to engulf the whole area. Someone should put up a statue to them."
Simonon later collaborated with Damon Albarn in The Good, The Bad & The Queen, and the Blur frontman feels deeply indebted to the area, whose giddy cultural mix "completely fuelled and informed my musical output ... I've been here 20 years now and I really wouldn't live anywhere else in London." Then again, unlike the cabbie, he can afford to.
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