To celebrate SW resident’s 25th anniversary, Location Location Location star Phil Spencer reveals his favourite restaurants, shops, streets, pastimes in Wandsworth, Battersea and neigbouring areas
Isn’t it wonderful just to see Battersea Power Station used,’ declares Phil Spencer as he takes on the role of Guest Editor as part of our 25th anniversary celebrations. Phil was the perfect candidate for the job, having featured in SW resident several times over the years (as cover star, lead interview, contributor and property expert) and having been a resident of South West London for over 20 years himself. In 1989, as the first ever issue of SW resident (then known as SW Magazine) hit the printers, Phil – originally from Canterbury, Kent – was gearing up for a move to the Big Smoke.
His first London home was in Brixton, and he lived there for one year while studying towards a four-year degree course in General Practice Surveying at Southbank University. ‘When I was 23 I moved to Lynette Avenue in Abbeville Village, and I shared a house with five friends. We had an absolute ball and we’re still all friends now,’ says Phil.
After meeting Fiona, his now wife, Phil rented a one-bedroom flat on Abbeville Road. It was from here that he set up Garrington Home Finders, a company he was at the helm of for the next 12 years. As a professional home search and buying agent, it’s little wonder that his first step on the property ladder was a savvy one. ‘I got involved in a development deal and bought a four-bedroom flat on Wandsworth Common North Side, which looked over Spencer Park, for £160,000,’ he says. ‘I converted that flat into two, and sold one while living in the other. The Battersea market at that point went through the roof. I sold half of that property, which was now a two-bedroom flat, for £165,000 and I lived in the other half for five years – and that was my first-time buy! I’ll never do another deal like that. It allowed me to take two steps up the ladder.’
Phil proposed to Fiona and together they moved to a property on Coleford Road, in the sought-after area of Wandsworth known as The Tonsleys. Once married, they welcomed their first son Jake, now ten, into the world and when their second son, Ben, now eight, ‘was on his way, we bought where we are now, in the Toast Rack,’ says Phil.
The Location, Location, Location star is an advocate of staying put in properties you own for as long as possible. ‘Aside from actual house prices, the associated costs of buying and selling are so high; these need to be taken into account like other generations haven’t had to. It’s high now and it quite possibly could get even more expensive to move,’ he reflects. ‘I talk about the housing ladder as like a game of Snakes and Ladders. In the game, the person who throws the dice least between the bottom of the ladder and the top of the ladder always wins the game. I believe the housing market is very similar, the fewer times you have to move to get from your first house to your last house the better because of the costs of moving.’
In the space of 20 years Phil has moved up the property ladder just three times, all the while in Wandsworth – from Wandsworth Common to The Tonsleys to the Toast Rack. He sees South West London as a wonderful place to grow up in. Areas such as Clapham and Balham appeal to young professionals, who settle down in neighbouring Abbeville Village and Between the Commons, which has earned itself the nickname Nappy Valley in recent years. ‘The green spaces and schools [in Wandsworth] are first class,’ says Phil. South West London’s enviable location is another reason why it gets the Phil Spencer seal of approval. ‘The access in and out of town is great, you’ve got the A3, straight into the countryside and equally we’ve got overland trains and tubes, buses and cycle routes. Nowadays cycle routes into town are excellent.’
Phil is a keen cyclist, and joined 120 Wandsworth residents on a charity bike ride this summer. ‘We rode 300 miles from Cornwall back to Wandsworth, it took three days,’ he says. Phil likes to head out on his bike on rides around Surrey Hills, choosing to avoid Richmond Park on a Saturday morning – ‘too many bikes and too many cars’. He recommends The London Cycle Workshop on St John’s Hill for ‘friendly advice’ and repairs, and often pops to the Birdhouse café next door for coffee. He also recommends Skylark Café on Wandsworth Common and The Breadstall on Northcote Road. When not wishing to pedal, Phil likes to travel around London on his Aprilia Leonardo scooter.
When not away filming, Phil can also be spotted jogging or kickboxing on Wandsworth Common, where he walks his dog, a Cocker Spaniel called Jessie. Or, when they have more time (usually on Sundays) the Spencer family take Jessie out for long walks on Wimbledon Common. ‘It is by far and wide the best place to walk a dog in London,’ says Phil. ‘You can get lost in Wimbledon Common – and that’s a good thing. You can’t get lost in Richmond Park.’ To warm up (during winter) and to refuel, Phil and his family often go to the The Fox and Grapes pub for a top quality Sunday roast.
Phil is a fan of English traditions. ‘I have always relished the fact that Wandsworth is very traditionally English and I like that. If you go over the river…Chelsea’s international; Belgravia’s on another planet, Notting Hill is flash – it’s lovely, the houses are beautiful, but Kirstie [Allsopp] lives in Notting Hill and I go around to hers regularly and feel like I ought to dress up. I don’t feel like that in Wandsworth! I like that it’s a bit more relaxed. It’s not showy, it’s not bling, it just does the basics extraordinarily well.’
Back on the subject of Battersea, an area that has changed a vast amount since Phil first arrived in South West London ‘it was the back of beyond, taxis wouldn’t go there’, he says. He’s enthusiastic about the changes afoot with redevelopment of the Power Station and the relocation of the American Embassy to Nine Elms. While he wasn’t tempted to buy one of the new apartments, he believes the future is bright for SW8. ‘I think it’s only when you get up really close to it that you realise how enormous it is. Having hotels, theatres, cinemas there – it’s going to be great.’
A new prime-time series of Phil Spencer: Secret Agent (Channel 4) is due to air this autumn