Twin peeks at London's trendiest area

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The Independent Online
It Is a tale of two neighbourhoods. Last week the BBC World Service announced that it is to launch a twice-weekly soap opera, Westway, which will bring the events of a multi-cultural area of west London to a worldwide audience of 35 million listeners.

This follows the announcement that the sequel to the hit film comedy of bright young things, Four Weddings and a Funeral, is to be shot in the same area of west London and has provisionally been called Notting Hill.

The radio series and the film are likely to reveal that the area contains parallel, and radically different, worlds

Westway, which begins in November, features a health centre and focuses on its doctors and their patients. "It's a vibrant multicultural series. We're not interested in the luvvies of Notting Hill but we will have the rich rubbing shoulders with the less advantaged groups," said a spokesman.

"It's a litmus test of how life is lived in the UK as we approach the Millennium. Notting Hill has an international feeling. We will have people coming in from abroad and working in some of the many embassies in the area."

While a large chunk of Notting Hill has a cosmopolitan and ethnic feel, Westway will encompass areas on its borders: West Kensington, Shepherd's Bush and Goldhawk Road. This is an area of rich ethnic mixes, to the north of which runs the Westway, or A40.

Alert to the fact that many World Service listeners - and perhaps some inhabitants of the "other" Notting Hill of literary types - may not understand all the vernacular and idioms employed by ethnic-minority characters, an English-language teaching programme, Westway Access, will provide linguistic and cultural contexts for the show.

The producers expect that the multi-ethnic scriptwriters - who come from Jamaican, Bengali and council-estate backgrounds, among others - will strike a chord with an international audience.

"We are sensitive to the fact that we may offend some people by portraying some habits that other cultures may find offensive - such as pubs - but we are dealing with the nitty-gritty of inner London and we have to present it as such," the spokesman said.

The other, wealthier, Notting Hill has more in common with the richer characters in Four Weddings and a Funeral. A two-bedroom flat here will set you back pounds 350,000, according to Rupert Fisher, manager of Foxton's Estate Agents. "Property prices have gone up by 60 per cent in two years. A four-bedroom house will fetch pounds 2.5m. Many people have been squeezed over to North Kensington."

The area is the stamping ground for the Portobello Princess, the successor to the Sloane Ranger, the idle rich young things who draw on their inherited wealth to pass the time of day.

The Working Men's Club, on Kensal Road, is a late-night watering hole for local members, such as Jade Jagger, Honor Fraser, Rifat Ozbek, Malcolm McLaren and Emily Lloyd. It has always had a Bohemian tinge: the Mangrove restaurant was the meeting place of John Profumo, the War Minister, during his affair with Christine Keeler in the early Sixties.

Actors and media stars abound in this version of Notting Hill. Sean Connery, Jarvis Cocker, Emily Lloyd, Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan, Ruby Wax, Elizabeth Shue and Terence Stamp have been identified as inhabitants of this area.

It is also a haven for people who work in the media. Jonathan Dimbleby, Michael Jackson, Dominic Lawson, Clive Hollick, Jeremy Paxman and Alan Yentob all live there.

Notting Hill the movie is being written, like its predecessor Four Weddings, by Richard Curtis, and is expected to be released in 1999. Julia Roberts has been lined up to star alongside Hugh Grant.

It is intended to be "Four Weddings in spirit", according to an insider. Like the original, it will follow the lives of bright young things in London, but the romantic comedy will have a different plot, involving an American film star who falls in love with a seller of second-hand books (played by Grant) who has a shop in Notting Hill.