Boris Johnson’s mailshot urging me to vote him in again as Mayor of London couldn’t have come at a more apposite moment. Walking back to Bloomsbury Towers from my art director Pete’s studio in Bermondsey I happened to glance up at the turrets of the White Tower. As you know, the Tower of London is my favourite sight in London third only to the dome of St Paul’s and the wine list at J Sheekey’s. So sad to see the Tower aspect besieged by South Bank skyscraper the Shard. I’ve got nothing against modern architecture except for a sneaking suspicion that the Gherkins, Shards and Headlamps rapidly forming a ring of high rise glass and steel around the City of London are edifices built by greed, hubris and back handers.
High rise properties in London have never been popular. Johnson will do to remember that nobody thanked previous mayors for Centre Point, the Lloyds Building, Millbank, the Park Lane Hilton or King’s Reach Tower on the South Bank: monstrous carbuncles one and all. I don’t think any of us object to Canary Wharf. Like Dubai, it is fine in principle as long as one isn’t expected to visit.
I worked briefly in Canary Wharf Tower first at the Telegraph and then (for my sins and for one week only) The Sunday Mirror as PA to then editor Amanda Platell. Canary Wharf was my own personal Truman Show. It is like an Eden Project designed to cultivate money-making drones. Spend enough time in Canary Wharf and you start to doubt there is a life beyond the pristine, artificial and entirely soulless ‘spaces’ as architects with comedy glasses insist on calling buildings. As the Gulf States are learning, you can’t artificially inseminate a city. It just doesn’t work. London is built on layer-upon-layer of history and humanity. It’s what is under foot and in the past not overhead that makes London great.
As you know Rowley, all of my books are thinly disguised billets doux to London. Even Fashion at Royal Ascot was essentially a celebration of London society en fete in Berkshire. The Perfect Gentleman is as much a history of gentlemen’s’ shopping habits in Mayfair, Piccadilly and St James’s as it is about the craft of British bespoke. It has been an absolute joy taking the smaller detail photographs for the book; my favourite being a single pane of glass in a Georgian bow-window at the top of Haymarket. The sign for royal tobacconist Fribourg and Treyer is the last remnant of a firm that supplied snuff to Queen Charlotte, the Prince Regent and the Beau. How Westminster Council allowed it to become a tourist tat shop called Fancy That is quite beyond me.
I was considering the artistry of such old signage when ambling in the Chelsea & Westminster hospital on Saturday (annual MOT, clean as a whistle, can’t make it up) and came across a laminated sign above an open microwave oven next to a wall of vending machines. The sign began ‘if you have an issue with the vending machine…’. Excuse me? An issue with a vending machine? You can just imagine some great big fat biffa with a Croydon facelift on the Jeremy Kyle Show nursing a burn on her bingo wings yowling about her ‘issues’ with the offending appliance. Whatever next? ‘If you’ve got issues with this SatNav go immediately to Shyster, Shyster & Flywheel and coin it in on the tax-payer’s expense for whip lash’, that’s what.
If you didn’t laugh at the bloody nonsense we all have to deal with in public life you’d crawl into a Slanket and commit voluntary euthanasia. I’m still smarting over that ignominious appearance on ITV being asked to comment on a four-foot high icing sugar monstrosity shaped like HM The Queen. Was it a suitable tribute to Her Majesty’s 60-years on the throne? About as appropriate as a fart at a funeral service. Anyway, I digress. Much excitement today because – drum roll, cue heavenly choir, load the silver paper into the glitter canon, cancel my reservation at the Dignitas Clinic – we’re seven days away from finishing The Perfect Gentleman. Principal photographer Andy Barnham shot the last pictures at Asprey on Friday including the cover.
I can’t send you the cover shot until it has been approved by Thames & Hudson. Suffice to say I think it is a beauty and my art director Pete agrees. It nods to the Savile Row cover while not copying it. Now that the light is visible at the end of a tunnel that would have done The Great Escape proud, lessons are to be learnt. I think I forgot the golden rule that nobody really wants to hear your sob story when you’re up against it and struggling to finish an opus. It is like the prima ballerina stopping the show after Act II of Swan Lake, marching to the footlights and telling the audience about her callouses. So do forgive me Rowley if I’ve chewed the scenery a tad while polishing off The Perfect Gent.
So by this time next week with The Perfect Gentleman finished I’ll have to find something new to carp about. Now, where to start…