Nikki Gem­mell Lon­don

WITH LIT­TLE OTHER THAN A WIN­TER COAT AND A MAN­U­SCRIPT FOR HER NOVEL, THE WRITER AR­RIVED AT HEATHROW IN 1997 TO HOOK UP WITH AN EX-BOYFRIEND. SHE MAR­RIED HIM AND THEY NOW HAVE THREE CHIL­DREN.

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - Front Page -

W e live in Not­ting Hill. It’s the Lon­don of my imag­i­na­tion: tall white stucco ter­races, cherry blos­soms in spring, an­tique shops and street mar­kets. But it’s also threaded through with a fab­u­lous Caribbean com­mu­nity that lifts my heart. It has blue plaques on houses stat­ing that writ­ers such as Ge­orge Or­well lived here once – I love all that. The area’s changed a lot in the past few years though. Bankers are mov­ing in and the artis­tic vibe is mov­ing else­where.

I love the glo­ri­ous, frac­tious, ag­gres­sive en­ergy of this city. You wan­der the West End, Soho, Chi­na­town and Covent Gar­den and feel that the whole world is here, peo­ple from all cor­ners of the globe. I love Lon­don’s won­der­fully bold in­sti­tu­tions – the Tate Mod­ern gallery (tate.org.uk), Royal Al­bert Hall (www.roy­alal­berthall.com), the Vic­to­ria & Al­bert Mu­seum (www.vam.ac.uk) – and its quiet ones – the Lon­don Li­brary (lon­don­li­brary.co.uk), the Royal Ge­o­graph­i­cal So­ci­ety (www.rgs.org) and even Sir John Soane’s Mu­seum (soane.org). It’s like play­ing in his­tory over here.

At places like the White Cube Gallery (www.white­cube.com) you might catch an ex­hi­bi­tion by Tracey Emin or Damien Hirst, but the Tate Mod­ern by the Thames is ex­cel­lent for the sheer spec­ta­cle of the build­ing as much as the col­lec­tion. It also has a gor­geous, kid-friendly restau­rant on Level 7, which must have the best view in Lon­don.

The kids adore the Science Mu­seum (www.sci­ence­mu­seum.org.uk); it’s our in­door play­ground. There’s the most fab­u­lous play area in the base­ment in­volv­ing all man­ner of hands-on ex­per­i­ments and live science shows. You can lose a whole day there.

For me, a roam through the deeply ec­cen­tric Lon­don Li­brary in St James’s Square is the quin­tes­sen­tial Lon­don ex­pe­ri­ence. Charles Dick­ens was one of the found­ing mem­bers, T. S. Eliot was a vice-pres­i­dent and Tom Stop­pard is the cur­rent pres­i­dent. Its wood-pan­elled read­ing room is a dream and it’s the only li­brary I know that doesn’t sub­scribe to the Dewey Dec­i­mal Sys­tem. Books on sex are filed un­der “P” for Plea­sure and “F” for Flag­el­la­tion – so English!

One of my favourite lo­cal shops is Rel­lik (rel­lik­lon­don.co.uk), a great vin­tage store on Gol­bourne Road that Kate Moss of­ten vis­its. I also love a rum­mage through Por­to­bello Mar­ket (www.por­to­bel­loroad.co.uk) when all the vin­tage stalls are out in force (fashionistas go to the mar­ket re­ally early, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing Lon­don Fash­ion Week).

It’s hard to de­scribe the sheer bliss of the divine Top­shop (top­shop.co.uk) at Ox­ford Cir­cus. There are clothes, bags, shoes, jeans and home­wares on three mas­sive lev­els plus a lolly bar to stock up on sweets while you roam. I’ve never met a wo­man who hasn’t adored it. And if you’re too busy to go there they’ve got a ser­vice called Top­shop To Go, where a stylist and truck filled with the latest gear will visit your home and kit out you and your friends – a Tup­per­ware party for 21st-cen­tury girls.

The Wolse­ley restau­rant (www.the­wolse­ley. com) on Pic­cadilly is great for star-spot­ting (Jude and Si­enna were both lunch­ing there, with dif­fer­ent peo­ple, dur­ing their break-up pe­riod). It’s al­ways a treat for spe­cial oc­ca­sions when you want to glam up. Equally, you can just pop in for af­ter­noon tea af­ter shop­ping in the West End.

I like to drink at my club, Elec­tric House (elec­tri­c­house.com), a private mem­bers’ club which is the Not­ting Hill branch of Soho House. It also has a lovely brasserie that any­one can go to. If it’s a re­ally spe­cial oc­ca­sion, I like sip­ping cham­pagne in the bar at Clar­idge’s (www.clar­idges.co.uk). Af­ter­noon tea there is divine as well, or at The Ritz ho­tel (www.ther­it­zlon­don.com) on Pic­cadilly.

If you’ve got the dosh, in­dulge in a most Bri­tish way at Fort­num & Ma­son (fort­nu­mand­ma­son.com), be­tween Green Park and Pic­cadilly Cir­cus tube sta­tions. It has a Royal War­rant (which means the Royal Fam­ily uses it) and is foodie heaven on sev­eral floors, all of it exquisitely pack­aged. Af­ter­wards, if you’ve got kids in tow, take them to the Diana, Princess of Wales’ Me­mo­rial Play­ground (www.roy­al­parks.org.uk) by Kens­ing­ton Palace – it’s the best I’ve ever been to. Re­gent’s Park (on the Bak­er­loo Line) is lovely for grown-up pic­nics.

A sum­mer evening on the prom­e­nade out the front of the South­bank Cen­tre (www.south­bank­cen­tre.co.uk), right on the Thames, is a great place to sit and watch the world go by, es­pe­cially if the sky is blue.

Lon­don is at its best at Christ­mas time. Imag­ine fairy lights ev­ery­where, ice-skat­ing out­doors at the Nat­u­ral His­tory Mu­seum (www.nhm.ac.uk), real Christ­mas trees, holly wreaths on doors, vel­vet, se­quins, rosy cheeks, beau­ti­ful carol ser­vices and the pos­si­bil­ity of snow – it’s mag­i­cal.

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