Leona Lewis: Hackney beats Hollywood

She's a sensation Stateside, but Leona Lewis is refusingto swap the East End for the West Coast. Rob Sharp explores her home turf

US chart-topper Leona Lewis says she has no intention of quitting the UK for a sunshine life in Los Angeles. In fact, Lewis is keeping it so real that she's buying the property in Hackney, east London, that she had be renting with her long-term boyfriend, Lou Al-Chamaa, an electrician. "When you're settled it's hard to move," says the London-born singer, "I love the flat – it's private and the neighbours are cool – and it's very close to my mum and dad."

It is not always so. Many British celebrities – Robbie Williams, John Cleese and Ozzy Osbourne among the best known – decamped to America once they earned enough money to leave the gloomy weather. Lewis, thankfully, knows home is where the heart is, and feels that her much-maligned corner of the capital provides more than enough reason to stay in the UK. Indeed, why move to Beverly Hills when you have all of this on your doorstep...


1. Local celebrities

Edgy east London attracts over-achievers from the worlds of arts and politics. Residents include Brit-artist Rachel Whiteread, author Iain Sinclair, fashion designer Christopher Kane, fashion designer Alexander McQueen, Spectator editor Matthew d'Ancona, film director Asif Kapadia, Children's Secretary Ed Balls and his wife, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Yvette Cooper.

2. Night life

Kingsland Road, Stoke Newington and Stamford Hill party into the early hours at cutting-edge bars and clubs.

The Moustache Bar: Located on Stoke Newington Road, this venue gets its name from the vintage posters on its walls – which are adorned with hirsute stickers.

Bardens Boudoir: Bands of the moment rub shoulders with sought-after DJs from across the globe. Venue also has movie nights.

3. Eating out

Forget Ramsay and his twiddly amuse-bouches of Mayfair. Hackney has an excellent range of cuisines on offer, with Asian cooking particularly well-represented.

Evin: Turkish café and restaurant on Kingsland Road has free internet and good coffee.

La Sera: for really fresh seafood, head to this fish restaurant on Stoke Newington High Street.

The Spence: Open since 2001, this Stoke Newington bakery makes all of its products from scratch every day.

4. Outdoor fun

Hackney's urban landscape – and green open spaces – plus local heritage architecture rival anything in London.

Stoke Newington farmers' market: At William Patten School every Saturday, offering a great selection of organic produce.

Clissold Park: Pretty, flat and perfect for jogging, this urban lung lacks the crowds of more centrally located green spaces.

Geffrye Museum: Showcases the changing style of the English domestic interior from 1600 to the present day through a series of period rooms.

Sutton House: Tudor National Trust-owned manor house is the oldest residential house in Hackney. Features regular exhibitions of contemporary art.

5. Entertainment

Refreshingly free of massive multiplexes, Leona's back yard gets its fair share of performing arts.

Rio Cinema: Showcases a mixture of mainstream Hollywood releases and art-house favourites. Located on Kingsland High Street.

Hackney Empire: Everything from comedy and panto to cutting edge theatre projects are shown here. Also puts on theatre workshops for local people.

6. Crime

OK, so the most recent figures put Hackney above the national average for violence, robbery, theft, sexual offences and burglary. The council insists this rather grim record is improving.

7. Transport

The area is served well by bus and overground rail networks, which take commuters directly to London's Liverpool Street. Many local residents believe the lack of Tube access has aided Hackney's sense of community. In other words, once you get there, you want to stay (or have no means of escape). Crossrail and the extension of the East London line will soon change that.

8. Weather



1. Local Celebrities

Legions. But for every Leo DiCaprio there are 15 Cat Deeleys.

2. Night life

Whether it's a spot of rubbernecking at Harvey Weinstein's or low-calorie Martinis with Vicky Becks at Simon Cowell's villa, you're never off-duty.

3. Eating out

Small bits of sushi for when you're "up". Gross-out quantities of burgers for the low moments.

4. Outdoor Fun

Surfing, being chased by paps, driving with the roof down, sunbathing, rollerblading and revving up the Segway Personal Transporter.

5. Entertainment

A few movies are showing now and again. The Kodak Theatre, LA's answer to the Hackney Empire, gets some pretty glitzy audiences.

6. Crime

Crime against taste, decency and normal morality is rife. For the hard stuff, go to South Central.

7. Transport

Car, preferably a Prius, or don't bother breathing.

8. Weather

So Cal's year-round sun has the edge here. Then again, Hackney is free of earthquakes and forest fires.

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