I work as a freelance diary writer for The Evening Standard’s, Londoner’s Diary section. Here is a selection of my work so far:
Is London’s most famous jazz club in danger? As controversy rages over the Government’s revaluation of business rates, which has seen the bills for many small businesses soar, fears have been raised for the future of Ronnie Scott’s.
Nestled in the heart of Soho on Frith Street, the club has hosted, among many others, Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone since it opened in 1959. It counts Kate Moss, Adele and Cara Delevingne among its regular punters. But with the increased business rates set to take effect in April, could it be the next Soho landmark to close?
Simon Cooke, managing director of Ronnie Scott’s says: “It’s just another way of chasing people out of bricks and mortar and putting businesses online. Soho has lost a lot of its smaller record stores and cafés; the bigger groups are coming in and the independent operators are struggling to make it all work. This is just another wallop.”
Speaking to West End Extra, Cooke voiced scepticism about Mayor Sadiq Khan’s business strategy. “He makes a lot of noise about protecting the night-time economy and appointed a ‘night czar’. They want a night-time economy. They are running a Night Tube, they are building Crossrail and bringing in 10 million people, so you have to make sure the businesses are there on the other side.”
The Londoner called City Hall for reassurances regarding the impact on our favourite jazz spot. A spokesman defended the Mayor. “Sadiq Khan has been lobbying the Government for more generous transitional arrangements that will phase in the impact of this increase in London more slowly — but despite limited concessions made by the Chancellor in the Autumn Statement, many businesses will see huge increases within the next few weeks.”
Time to face the music.
TO THE Bulgari Hotel in Knightsbridge last night, where the Newport Beach Film Festival toasted Brits who’ve made an impression across the pond. Charles Dance was among those to receive an award — between roles, he is an avid climate change campaigner. What does he think of Trump’s dismissal of the issue? “You couldn’t print what I think of Donald Trump,” he replied. “It would be full of absurdities.” of not campaigning strongly enough during the referendum. The heady early days of the Varoufakis/Labour Party romance seem a long way off. Will we ever see the two astride a stage to rapturous applause again?
Pro-Romaine Lords upset leaf agenda
TO THE House of Lords last night, where talk of vegetable rationing was on the agenda. Baroness Jones spoke of the “restricted availability from Spain and other European countries” causing chaos for lovers of courgette and iceberg lettuce.
Lord Gardiner responded by describing native cos as “even better” than iceberg. He reminded the House that alternatives could be found outside Europe, and “goods from other sources of supply, such as the Americas, are coming in”. This seemed to placate the house, which balked at the idea of a “crisis”. He then continued by suggesting home-grown veg was the answer: “I was pleased only this morning to hear that cauliflowers from Cornwall are coming on to the market.” Sticking to our roots?
Froggy Boris croaks at the Reform Club
TO THE Reform Club in St James’s last night for a night of fundraising for charity Classics for All. Boris was in attendance but it wasn’t our Latin-loving Foreign Secretary: a frog by the name of Boris Batrakhos was introduced as the initiative’s new learning tool. Batrakhos, ancient Greek for “frog”, was thought up as an educational aid by classics teacher Clare-Marie Roxby.Geoffrey de Jager, chairman and sponsor of the dinner, described his excitement at the charity’s progress with “nil adhuc vidistis” — that’s “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet” to English-speakers. Boris would surely respond with a resounding “brekekekex koax koax.” That’s Latin for “croak”, apparently.
How Toby got spooked
Earlier this week Ewan McGregor let his feet do the talking, leaving the Good Morning Britain studios ahead of an interview on the show when he heard that Piers Morgan would be involved.
Toby Young can sympathise. “I had a similar experience about five years ago when [Spooks actor] Matthew Macfadyen pulled out of an interview he was to do with me,” Young writes in this week’s Spectator, recalling his time at John Lewis magazine. “Like McGregor, he said he wouldn’t have agreed to it in the first place if he’d known the journalist in question was a Right-wing bastard — or words to that effect.” After the snub, Young was promptly fired. That’s one way to lose friends and alienate people.
All sunny smiles under the Moonlight
To The Soho Hotel last night, for a special screening of Oscar frontrunner Moonlight, where Alex Hibbert, 12, from sunny Miami, and Naomie Harris, 40, from less sunny Islington, were both there.
Harris recently added an OBE for services to drama to her trophy cabinet but she may need to make room: she missed out on a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress but is nominated for a Bafta.
In Moonlight, Harris plays drug-fuelled single mum Paula, raising her son in a rough neighbourhood. Bleakness aside, it was all smiles from the pair. Sometimes you’ve just got to leave the drama on the set.
Meanwhile, the original Erotic Review is gasping for a good review. Writing for The Times Literary Supplement, Eimear McBride was not aroused by Desire, the Erotic Review’s book of “sexy stories”. Editor Mariella Frostrup took to Twitter to vent. “Surprised Eimear McBride finds no difference between real human misery on dark net and pick ’n’ mix fiction in Desire!” But The Erotic Review fits in praise from The TLS after all. The book’s Amazon page took a line from the paper’s editor’s letter, which outlined McBride’s take on Desire and mentioned the “elite selection” of writers including DH Lawrence and Anaïs Nin. From the jaws of defeat…
Akala’s offbeat book deal
Unusual beats from Akala, the hip-hop artist from Kentish Town. The MOBO award-winner is releasing his debut children’s book. Titled Hip and Hop: You Can Do Anything, the book follows the adventures of a cool hippo named Hip and his pal Hop. Throughout the stories the adorable pair rap inspirational messages.
The book will be released by Oxford University Press. At first glance, hip-hop and picture books seem like strange bedfellows but on closer inspection they have a lot in common. Pete Marley, editor of children’s books at OUP, said: “Both forms use rhythm, rhyme, and repetition to engage their audiences.”
Akala announced the move on Twitter: “Yo Peeps! I wrote a children’s picture book with @OUPChildrens it comes out in July!!” CBeebies stardom must only be a step away.
Tate takeover – Maria Balshaw to succeed Sir Nicholas Serota
It has been the most hotly contested seat in the art world: who is to become the next director of the Tate, after Nick Serota stepped down after 30 years in the job. The Londoner has been tipped the wink: it is almost certainly Maria Balshaw, with an announcement imminent.
Sir Nicholas had looked like he would never step down from running the group, which includes Tate Modern, Tate Britain and its two regional outposts, but when he was offered the esteemed role as chair of Arts Council England in September last year, he ceded his throne.
Among those tipped to take over have been Alex Beard at the Royal Opera House and Julia Peyton-Jones, formerly at the Serpentine, but Maria Balshaw has always been the front-runner.
Heading the Manchester art scene for more than 10 years as director of the Whitworth Art Gallery at the University of Manchester and Manchester City Galleries, Balshaw attracted the attention of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which put her on the board of the Arts Council.
Balshaw has had an endorsement from the Queen, after being awarded a CBE at the Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to the arts in June 2015.
The Londoner called the Tate this morning to see if they might crack and admit it but got the inevitable “no comment”.
One detail which will be intriguing is the seating plan at the Arts Council. Balshaw’s term on the board is due to end in 2018 while Sir Nick gets his feet under the table next month. Plenty of time for them to exchange tips as they sort-of exchange jobs.
Art applauds May’s style
A good review for Theresa May’s leather trousers last night, as the alternative art world gave its verdict.
Artist Patrick Brill, who goes by the pseudonym Bob and Roberta Smith, said that although the £1,000 trousers were overpriced, the Prime Minister wore them well. “On aesthetic grounds I think she looked good in them, old May,” he said.
Brill was speaking at the premiere of his Letter to Michael Gove with The Apathy Band, played for the first time at Bethnal Green’s Essential School of Painting. The piece tackles Gove for his harsh arts policies as Education Secretary. As the former minister couldn’t attend the performance, Brill invited him for painting lessons. “I would give him a discounted rate,” he joked.
Is the Lolita effect lost on Angel?
Flicking through the London Review of Books, The Londoner alighted upon a charming but bizarre poem dedicated to Mitzi Angel, head publisher of fiction and non-fiction at Faber & Faber.
The poem In Late December is written by award-winning American poet Frederick Seidel, and addresses a young woman described as having a “crazy smile pickled in brine”.
Angel, who had been vice-president at Farrar, Straus & Giroux in New York, was enticed back across the pond last year by Faber, which publishes Seidel.
“The man using the pay phone on Wall Street/ His back to you, is using it as a urinal/ And urinating — only logical!/ Our degradation is complete/” he writes.
The 80-year-old poet goes on to describe the young woman reading a copy of Lolita while “Cross-legged on the sidewalk in a T-shirt that says TOMORROW/ Holds a sign telling her sad story/ She’s reading a paperback of Lolita, stealthily, behind the sign.”
Seidel, who once inserted a minor correction to Ezra Pound’s translations of Confucius without a full grasp of Chinese, is clearly bold. “She could be you/ Stranger things have turned out to be true/ He could be me —/ Don’t rule out the possibility”.
Angel sadly hasn’t picked up the phone today to return the tribute.