29 September 2016

What's on in London this autumn and winter 2016

I send out a seasonal newsletter 4 times a year to subscribers and my blog readers can enjoy it here.  There is always so much going on in London that's it's a tough job to pick out a few highlights but I've had a go and I hope you find some stuff you will enjoy. I know I'm looking forward to a busy autumn and build up to a London Christmas.  


OCTOBER  This is a big month for film and art with major events for both creative industries. The 60th London Film Festival is a showcase for Hollywood stars and block buster films and yet still finds space for first time directors and documentaries.  Frieze Art Fair brings the art world to London and takes up residence in Regents Park showcases top galleries and there is a whole range of other shows around London offering some pieces at more affordable prices.

NOVEMBER The week of the 5th sees firework displays all over town as we mark Guy Fawkes Night when a group tried, but failed luckily, to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605.  It’s a great month for jazz fans when the London Jazz Festival brings top names to London’s famous night spots like Ronnie Scott’s. As winter is chilling the temperatures, you’ll see ice rinks opening all over town at great venues such as the Tower of London and the Natural History Museum. The Lord Mayor’s Show will delight the crowds as it has since 1215!

DECEMBER The build up to Christmas is in full flow with all the famous lights decorating the streets of London with their best festive look. Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park offers a fun fair and a large Christmas market offering something for all the family. Look out for the famous, tall Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square, an annual present from the people of Norway in memory of Britain’s help during the 2nd World War where carols are sung each evening – a magical sound to put you in a festive mood.


  • October   Shakespeare’s 400 continues with The Merchant of Venice at the Globe with Jonathan Pryce as Shylock. By contrast The Boys in the Band at the wonderful Park theatre stars Mark Gatiss and explores more contemporary themes at a party of gay friends. Lots of publicity ahead of the opening of The Dresser at the Duke of York’s theatre starring Kenneth Stott and Reece Shearsmith.  The ever popular ‘Goes Wrong’ team have a new play ‘Peter Pan Goes Wrong’
  • November Back to her acting roots after over 20 years in politics as MP, Glenda Jackson jumps right into the tough stuff in the Old Vic’s production of King Lear, as King Lear! Another star of the cinema, Ed Harris, makes his West End debut in Sam Shepherd’s Buried Child at the Trafalgar Studios. The highly acclaimed Stephen Daldry production of An Inspector Calls returns to the London stage at the Playhouse Theatre
  • December It’s taken 35 years for the award winning musical Dreamgirls to come to London as it opens at the Savoy Theatre, starring Amber Riley from Glee.  Shakespeare continues his presence in London as the Royal Shakespeare Company put on Love’s Labour’s Lost at the Theatre Royal. As it’s the festive season, we have Christmas classics such as Cinderella at the Palladium which will feature great casting such as Paul O’Grady as the wicked stepmother.  A fairy tale continues the festive theme as the Hans Christian Anderson inspired The Little Matchgirl and Other Happier Tales opens at the Sam Wannamaker Playhouse.


  • October  A Rodin exhibition opens at the Courtauld Gallery entitled Rodin and Dance: the Essence of Movement, these works made in the latter part of his career have not often been seen on display. The National Gallery brings us Beyond Caravaggio, exploring his work and his influence on his contemporaries and followers. Picasso Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery is billed as one of the shows of the year, with work spanning his whole career, and, as I am a huge fan of his work, I’ll be heading there as soon as it opens.  Paul Nash opens at the Tate Britain and a new turbine hall installation arrives in the Tate Modern from Philippe Parreno.  Frieze Art Fair in Regents Park is huge marquee featuring many of the top galleries from across the world and attracts hordes of art lovers.
  • November The Tate Modern has a modernist photographic show of work from the collection of Sir Elton John called The Radical Eye, he has one of the world’s greatest private collections. Over 70 artists feature and early 150 rare vintage prints make up this unique show. Also opening at the Tate Modern is Modigliani, a comprehensive survey of his work in his short career. Talking of the Tate Modern, don’t miss the last month of Georgia O’Keeffe, as none of her work on public display in the UK this is your one chance to see her wonderful paintings.
  • December It’s a busy season at the Tate Modern, still celebrating the opening of its new wing, as they are showing Robert Rauschenberg, the first retrospective of his work since his death in 2008. A pop artist who worked with Andy Warhol he experimented throughout his life and even created a work out of his bed, way ahead of Tracey Emin! The National Gallery bring us the first UK exhibition to focus on Australian impressionism, a significant and distinctive movement, little known compared with the European movement.


  • October  London Chocolate Week has events all over town from a chocoholic show at Olympia to themed cocktails at the best bars, they offer the chance to ‘learn’ about chocolate, I hope that’s code for ‘eat’!  Real Food Markets continue even tho the summer has gone, each weekend at the South Bank and the Slow food market at the Rosewood Hotel every Sunday. Don’t forget London’s regular markets: Portobello on Saturdays, Spitalfields biggest on Sundays and Camden all the time.
  • November Christmas markets are popping up all over town from the South Bank to Kew Gardens and the huge Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park is full of chalet style stalls. The Spirit of Christmas Fair at Olympia is packed full of present ideas, and some for yourself of course! 
  • December  The Christmas lights will all be on now and London’s shopping street look at their festive twinkly best. Don’t miss Regent Street, Oxford Street, South Molton Street, Covent Garden, Carnaby Street and the beautifully decorated shop windows including John Lewis, Liberty’s, Selfridges, Harrods and Bond Street’s top end shops. Don’t forget that all the museums have great shops which are excellent places for top quality present hunting.


  • October The British Museum’s latest exhibition is South Africa: The Art of a Nation which explores the history of South Africa through its art from man’s early rock art through to cutting edge contemporary work. The last weekend in October brings us the annual Museum Nights when the public can enjoy a festival of late openings across London. This includes the major museums but also some smaller ones, and as this covers the Halloween weekend, expect some spooky-ness! At the V&A is the Opus Anglicanum: Masterpieces of English Medieval Embroidery, showcasing an art which England excelled at from the 12th to the 15th centuries. These ancient elaborate, luxury embroideries, with their exquisite craftsmanship, will be displayed alongside contemporary works to give them historical context.
  • November See the Museum of London Docklands in a new light, or rather a dark light as they launch a series of late openings, tours and chilling tales in haunted sections of the museum. The Museum of Childhood, part of the V&A, brings us a big dose of nostalgia with their Game Plan exhibition, where over 100 old board games are looked at, their history, design and influence, many well-known names but others which have perhaps been forgotten.
  • December The British Museum are getting all festive with a one off production of Charles Dicken’s Christmas Carol. Opening in November but feeling more of a December event is the Geffrye Museum’s annual Christmas Past exhibition where each period room is decorated as it would have been, spanning the last 400 years.  You can see how far back your favourite Christmas traditions go. In a surprising but welcome move, the Bank of England are running Crafty Christmas and Creative New Year events at the end of the month, where you can try your hand at making Bank inspired items such as gold money boxes (no gold supplied unfortunately) 


    October   Fucina opens in Marylebone, a modern Italian with separate shop and a fire pit, and is from the man who brought us Chotto Matte, Kurt Zdesar. Margot in Covent Garden is headed up by the former Maitre D’ at Bar Boulud, Paulo De Tarso, expect rustic Italian. Bar Douro opens in Elephant and Castle where a lot of redevelopment is happening, offering Portuguese small plates to tempt us. A 3 storey creperie called Mamie’s Creperie opens in Covent Garden with a basement bar dedicated to cider. One of my favourite restaurant groups Salt Yard brings us Veneta, all day Venetian in newly developed St James’s Market.
      November Victoria has been a building site for a while so it’s good to see new places opening – Rail House Café, from the Riding House Café people – will be a large site offering all day dining and bar and some outdoor space. The Hart brothers are famous for Barrafina and now they turn their attention to Mexican food, opening El Pastor by London Bridge. Another opening in the St James’s Market development is Aquavit London, their New York restaurant is a Michelin star winner so expect top end. Neil Rankin is due to open Temper on Soho, expect a meat based offering. A busy month for openings, this is just a small selection of ones that caught my eye.
  • December The Spirit Show in Islington promises to be the ‘ultimate tasting event’ if you need a break from shopping. This is its first appearance and my guess is it will be popular…  Restaurant wise, several have are listed as opening ‘late 2016’ it seems best to put them in my December section. The Tandoor Chop House in Covent Garden will mix British chops and Indian spices. Ole and Steen are Danish bakers and will also be opening in St James’s Market with soups, stews, and of course breads and sandwiches. The amusingly named Dumpy Lynn will have dumplings on offer in the City, brought to you by the people behind Egg Break.


  • October Greenwich Park is holding a harvest festival with stalls and talks including bee experts. Regent’s Park hosts the enormous marquees of Frieze Art Fair and Frieze Masters so expect lots of very fashionable arty looking folk in the park. Kensington Palace are holding an Eerie Evening on Halloween and I’m sure they have plenty of tales to tell!
  • November   Ke w Gardens put on a big show at Christmas with their Illuminations Trail, a one mile sparkling path around the gardens including dancing illuminated fountains It’s very popular so book early!
  • December  Hyde Park hosts the huge Winter Wonderland event which has stalls selling food and gifts, a seasonal fun fair and even its own ice rink and ferris wheel.  The ice rinks will be open at Hampton Court Palace and the Tower of London.  The annual Peter Pan swimming race will take place on the Serpentine in Hyde Park on Christmas morning, an annual event for the very hardy since 1864! The Royal Palaces all have festive events and fairs and don’t miss the BBC Good Food Festival Festive Fayre at Hampton Court Palace. 


  • October The NFL rolls back into town with 3 matches between the Indianapolis Colts and the Jacksonville Jaguars, followed by the New York Giants versus the LA Rams at Twickenham and the 3rd game where the Washington Redskins play the Cincinnati Bengals at Wembley.  There will be a fan rally in Regents Street if you can’t get to the games. World Cup qualifiers see England play Malta at Wembley, after the Iceland game in the Euros nothing can be taken for granted!  In a complete contrast, the International Ballroom Dancing Championships take place at the Royal Albert Hall and we are all experts now thanks to Strictly.
  • November The Autumn Rugby Union Internationals see the 4 Home Nation teams of England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland take on the best of the southern hemisphere including Australia, S Africa, NZealand, Argentina and Fiji with a Barbarians match thrown into the mix. Matches are across the UK with Wembley and Twickenham hosting for London. The ATP end of season tournament takes place at the 02 where the top 8 men’s players battle to be World Tour Tennis Finals champion.
  • December Tennis greats bring their skills and loads of fun to the Champions Tennis tournament at the Royal Albert Hall, they are just as competitive but hide it well! The London International Horse Show at Olympia is always popular but even more so in Olympic and Paralympic year as we’ve all marvelled at their skills and loved the medals they bring home.  The Mosconi Cup sees the world’s top pool players at Alexandra Palace when Team Europe play the USA. 


  • October The end of year burst of shows kicks off. An old favourite Jean-Michel Jarre will play his new album at the 02 in a sound and light spectacular. Michael Kiwanuka, who I saw this year at BST supporting Carole King, is recommended so try to catch him at the Shepherds Bush Empire, also there is Lapsley with her debut album as is Aurora with her debut album. Rumer’s first show for 2 years is at the Cadogan Hall, also there is Suzanne Vega.  The Christians are on their 30th anniversary tour at the 02 Islington and other blasts from the past include Lindisfarne playing Under the Bridge and Level 42 at the Apollo Hammersmith and Heaven 17 at the Empire Shepherds Bush.
  • November The 10 days of the London Jazz Festival deliver a world class line up of over 2000 artists playing in 50 venues around London. Outside of that it’s the usual eclectic mix of music in London with Paul Simon at the Royal Albert Hall and Sleaford Mods at the Camden Roundhouse. Jools Holland and his band at the Royal Albert Hall and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra will be playing Elvis songs with him ‘live’ on the big screen. The Undertones celebrate 40 years (!) at the Forum and Mercury Prize winners GoGoPenguin play the Roundhouse.
  • December  The original line up of Culture Club will bring back the 80s to the SSE Arena, Wembley in their only UK appearance on this tour, supported by Kid Creole and the Coconuts. Pete Tong presents.. Ibiza Classics at 02 Arena, Skepta plays at Alexandra Palace, Soul ll Soul are at KOKO, Status Quo at the 02, The Human League at the Royal Festival Hall and there is a silent disco underneath the Cutty Sark


*All listings correct to the best of my knowledge but exact details should be checked with each venue.

1 September 2016

Notting Hill Carnival 2016 was a hot and sunny one!

The last 2 years at Notting Hill Carnival were rather hard work in the rain and the chilly temperatures but 2016 saw blue skies and a full burst of summer.  It's one of London's great events and a major feature in our diaries. 

I was taking a couple of guests around and they loved the sights, the sounds and the food. We saw the parade of costumes and floats which had more emphasis on samba than I've heard before, so was great for dancing.  We ate jerk chicken and saltfish with ackee on the kerbside, danced to the sound stages and got caught up in the raving crowds by Rampage but escaped intact! My guests loved it and thought it was an amazing to experience this side of London's culture but were glad to dive into the wonderfully calm Commander Bar afterwards to recover...

Here are a few photos to give you a feel of how much fun it is to spend a few hours in the carnival spirit.

My favourite carnival band are Batala. You hear them coming streets away with their incredible loud and fierce rhythmic drumming.  

How do they keep so cheerful, it's such a long day of dancing and smiling?

New this year - composting toilets - remarkably good....

I love the inclusiveness of the parade:

A hint of panto with this one:

Another marching band:

She matched the sunshine with this amazing head dress:

Not sure what the references were here but lots of green was fun:

Always lots of dancing at carnival:

I just had to include this one!!

It gets busy....

Getting covered in paint or chocolate is a favourite look.  These folk were trying to persuade me to join in with this group and be in the parade next year. Who knows...

It's called 'wining' not twerking and there's a lot of it going on...

Anything for the best view and to be seen...

In case you were not sure, Red Stripe is the drink of carnival

Many residents head to the country when carnival weekend hits the streets but others set up a rum shack and have fun

This truck wanted to dress up too: 

Very happy to pose in her great costume

Covered in chocolate and having a great time.  

So there you are, another Notting Hill Carnival is over and we're looking forward to 2017 already!

Bye for now,

8 August 2016

Fire! Fire! Explore the 5 days in 1666 when London burned down.

350 years ago London was devastated by the The Great Fire of London. Fires were commonplace in London as the city was full of wooden buildings on narrow streets,  but this one was a disaster of major proportions when 13,200 houses and 87 churches were destroyed and around 100,000 people were made homeless. 

The Museum of London has a great exhibition called Fire! Fire! which takes you through the 5 days of the fire and its aftermath through quotes from those caught up in the fire, original objects, paintings, interactive displays, films and original illustrations, all with the sounds of fire in the background 
Welcome to the exhibition!

It all started early in the morning of 2nd September 1666 when Thomas Farriner, a baker living in Pudding Lane, woke on this Sunday morning to a fire in his downstairs bakery. He escaped with his family and their neighbours helped to try to put the flames out However, London was dry after a period of drought and the winds were picking up from the east so the fire began to spread. 

Samuel Pepys the famous diarist of the age was woken with news of the fire and soon realised it was serious so he went to see the King.  A wonderful timeline takes us through the events of the next 5 days. Pepys had a great deal of foresight and here, in one of the many wonderful quotes that bring this exhibition to life, he warns the King of the dangers ahead. 

Follow the fire hour by hour on the timeline 
Pepys is off to see the King on 2nd September 

Next we see a large block shaped like a loaf  graphically showing the fire spreading through the a map of the city, blotting out in streets and homes as it goes. 

4 days later, the city has burned to its edges 
A small black area on the morning of 2nd September

As the fire takes hold on the 3rd of September we see dramatic painting showing flames engulfing everything, both by unknown artists The sounds effects get loader and the quotes more concerned! 

As the flames gather strength people are grabbing what they can and even treasured items are caught in the fire before they are rescued.

The burnt edges of a family bible.

The main exhibition room is well designed to add to the atmosphere:

Valiant efforts to extinguish the fire ranged from huge fire poles to pull down buildings, fire squirts (like a big metal syringe) , very small buckets filled with water and gunpowder used to create fire breaks to halt the spread of the fire. An interactive game gives you the chance to try these different methods and see which works best. 

Interactive fire fighting game!

Fire buckets far to small for the job
Fire buckets in use, but fairly useless!

Fire pole 

Fire squirt

The King, Charles ll, and his brother were busy helping the fight, having travelled from Whitehall into the scene of the fire - perhaps he had learned from his father's death that he needed to be seen to be involved in the people's problems! 

Luckily, the winds died down, changed direction and the fire-fighting efforts began to pay off and on Wednesday the fire was conquered, with that man Samuel Pepys in the thick of the action again on the Thursday, claiming the last fire!   Embers must have burned for days and can you imagine the smell of charred London? 

About a quarter of London was in ruins after the fire and tens of thousands of people were living in temporary camps, tents and sheds on the hills around the city.  The King sent money to buy them bread but their situation must have been desperate. Thoughts turned to how to rebuild this great city. Firstly however the blame game started and the 'usual suspects' were under suspicion: Catholics, and foreigners, particularly the French and the Dutch. Or was it an act of an angry God?  Sinful Londoners perhaps brought it on themselves? Pie Corner is a memorial to that theory. 

The inevitable crime wave followed and the King intervened to legislate that items stolen should be returned and we can read his proclamation against 'imbezzell'd' goods:

The good news was that surprisingly few people died, officially fewer than 10 but it is thought that others many have died and been buried in burned out buildings as record keeping was not good back then.

We learn about the rebuilding plans, including information that Sir Christopher Wren had, rather amazingly, completed a plan ready to show the King just 6 days after the fire. Now, that seems a bit quick to me or am I being too suspicious?  Much of the planned schemes did not happen as there was not enough money and the decisions took too long, so the new city grew up mostly around the old street layout albeit with wider roads in many places to reduce the fire risk. It took about 40 years for a new, largely brick city to emerge including a brand new St Paul's cathedral thanks to Wren.  London was ready to face its future:

One fun game before you leave, lets you design your own version of London after the Great Fire using a range of wooden blocks:

Build your own London 

For full information about opening hours and ticket prices check the Museum of London's website

Disclosure: as is customary in this industry, I was offered a complimentary ticket to see this exhibition. This has not influenced what I have said and I would happily pay my own money to see this show.  


2 August 2016

Check out 90 years of the Queen's style at Buckingham Palace

Where ever the Queen goes she is always a focus of attention, so whatever she wears is going to be talked about; remember the fuss over her rather bright green outfit at this year's Trooping the Colour?  When you visit Buckingham Palace this year, you can enjoy their special exhibition which traces her fashion choices during the 90 years of her life. 

Buckingham Palace, one of the great symbols of London, is open to the public each summer when the Queen goes to Scotland for her holidays. You can explore the many state rooms with their sumptuous decor, furnishings and works of art and learn about the history of this grand building.  Each year they put on a special exhibition and this year's is called: Fashioning a Reign:90 Years of Style from The Queen's Wardrobe, and I'm going to give you a peek inside!. 

We see her how her outfits have changed over the years to reflect fashion and the first room you visit has a piece from each of her decades including matching outfits that the Queen and her younger sister wore to the coronation of George Vl,  a dress worn when she met Marilyn Monroe (or rather the other way round!) and culminating in the wonderful pink dress worn for the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony and the film of her greeting James Bond and 'jumping' out of the helicopter.  This last dress illustrates the level of planning involved in working on the Queen's wardrobe as the video was made in March so the outfit had to be agreed back then for the event taking place at the end of July. What a memorable moment from London 2012. A second dress was made for the stunt jumper but we are assured this is the one worn by the Queen.

** Dresses and coronets  worm by the Queen and Princess Margaret to their father's coronation 1937

** A Norman Hartnell dress for the 1956 film premier with Marilyn Monroe

The 'Olympics' dress of 2012 by Angela Kelly  
In her younger years we would often see the Queen on horseback, riding side saddle in stylish military outfits, cut away from the waist to accommodate this strange riding position. She was the first female monarch to serve in the forces when in 1945 she served in the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Army) and we can see her own uniform. It's hard to imagine Her Majesty doing car maintenance but those were tough times for the country and she wanted to do her bit. 

Queen's ATS battle dress

We see her wonderfully tailored jackets, one of which has a flexible beret which gives the option to change the plumage to reflect the regiment she was representing or inspecting. 

The Queen has kept faith with a few top couture designers, namely Normal Hartnell and Hardy Amies and has added Stewart Parvin and Angela Kelly among others . Her unswerving support for British fashion has helped promote London's place as a world fashion capital. This has included a small coterie of hat designers and a gallery of hats showcases a few of these. 

The famous Hartnell wedding dress from 1947 is on display with its 9 foot veil and shoes. It was a triumph as it needed to fit this historic occasion and yet Britain was still subject to rationing so care had to be taken to not overplay the luxury element - he succeeded! The theme was renewal in the post war period so springtime flowers can be seen in the embroidery. 

A wedding dress fit for a Queen
By the time of the coronation in 1953 Hartnell had a freer hand and his design looked back at the wedding dress but features much more elaborate embroidery with symbols of the 4 UK nations and the Dominion nations  The Queen was closely involved in its design and had considerable input through series of 8 reworked sketches. 

The coronation dress

Embroidery detail from the wedding dress

The Queen has many roles: head of state, head of the armed forces, head of the chivalry orders as well as a member of a family with lots of events and need outfits for each of these. Those worn on her state visits were really interesting as we saw how symbols of the country being visited were incorporated into day and evening wear. 

In this photo we can see a pink cherry blossom decorated dress worn to China next to a blue and cream dress with maple leaves along the colour join for a visit to Canada, and the yellow dress was worn to Australia giving a nod to their national colour. 

This dress was for Her Majesty's visit to the Olypmics in Montreal in 1976 so it incorporates the Olympic rings. 

What I really liked about this section was the chance to see the dress on the mannequin alongside a photo of the Queen wearing the dress during the official visit. Firstly you can see the outfit Her Majesty wore to Saudi Arabia in 1979, being sure to cover up to respect Saudi customs. 

Here the dress for the visit to Nigeria in 1956 features a neckline which echoes African tribal necklaces. 

And finally on our mini tour of the exhibition, the green outfit Her Majesty wore for the 2016 Trooping The Colour. It was not nearly as bright as it appeared on the TV. The Queen wears bright colours so that people can see her in a crowd, especially as she is quite short (just 5ft 4in) but this year's green must have been the brightest yet - not bad for a 90 year old. 

2016 by Stewart Parvin 

One more photo I couldn't resist showing you because it shows the Queen during various ages, always smiling and waving to the crowds who have come out to see her as she wants to make their day. 

There is a lot more to see in the full exhibition and of course there are the wonderful rooms of the Palace to enjoy.  Don't miss the cafe for good snacks and the shop 'where the corgis hang out' (!) and the wonderful gardens on the way to the exit. 

For more information about visiting Buckingham Palace and Fashioning a Reign, visit their website.

Photo credits: starred photos (**) are courtesy of Elizabth Hawksley for which many thanks