The Mandelson loan: But what's so special about Notting Hill?

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The Independent Online
NOTTING HILL GATE is not quite as hip as it used to be. Peter Mandelson moved there from Clerkenwell at a time when just about everybody in the in-crowd was travelling the other way.

The shabby-genteel, rough-edged nature of Notting Hill, Bayswater, Portobello Road and Ladbroke Grove in which once enabled the well-heeled to be robbed right outside some of the coolest restaurants in London, is now rather more genteel than shabby.

Rocketing house prices, security cameras, residents parking and the bistro- isation of some formerly scary pubs have made it safe for the likes of Mr Mandelson and close friends like Elisabeth Murdoch and Carla Powell.

Trendy galleries and shops including Space, where Mr Mandelson reportedly bought furnishings for his minimalist house, are all within walking distance.

Many of the trendy young things who until recently decorated the streets of the hippest area in west London have forsaken it for north and east London, worried that the influx of City millionaires is changing the area into an overpriced suburb.

The middle class families who once inhabited the mid-Victorian terraces have mostly sold up and moved west, where their money is worth more. The homey street party held annually on trestle tables in Mr Mandelson's street is now something of a star-studded event.

In local restaurants like 192, Damien Hirst's Pharmacy and Anthony Worrall Thompson's Woz, thrusting media turks are losing their tables to their employers.

Other top-drawer residents include the head of Channel 4, Michael Jackson; the BBC director-general, Sir John Birt; Alan Yentob; Chris Evans; both Dimblebys and the media tycoon Lord Hollick.

Stella McCartney and Jade Jagger both have homes in Notting Hill, as do Mariella Frostrup and Robbie Williams. Bridget Jones's creator, Helen Fielding, is a local, as is the Bridget Jones character herself, although how the latter affords it is a bit of a mystery.

The Notting Hill Carnival in August is the largest street festival in Europe, an event so fervently supported by many of the newly ensconced local residents that they actually retreat to Tuscany for the duration.

While the area still somehow manages to maintain a degree of cultural vibrancy and variation, most visitors are generally too busy shopping to notice. Paul Smith's new emporium graces an entire corner building on Kensington Park Road, while Agnes B and Bill Amberg's posh handbag shop do brisk business nearby.

Despite a faint air of menace in its less salubrious quarters, Notting Hill's dangerously trendy reputation is now largely undeserved.

Drug dealing and robbery are slowly giving way to lesser menaces like subsidence and location filming. What remains is quite simply a very nice place to live, at least for those that can afford it.

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