Could Islington be the UK’s City of Culture? It may not be so far-fetched, says journalist, broadcaster and Islington resident, Rosie Millard
Everyone who knows me is aware that I am a big cheerleader for the city of Hull, which is of course the UK City of Culture in 2017. Go up and see what’s going on; it is going to be wonderful, and you won’t be disappointed.
However, when I meet people who have never been to Hull (and there are a fair few), they often say: ‘Ooh, how big is it? Is it near Newcastle? How many people live there?’ To which I usually say: ‘It is not very near Newcastle. It has a population of 250,000. Which is about the same as Islington.’
Now, since I actually live in Islington, I have been wondering what one could celebrate here if it were to receive a similar accolade. The event would have to be scaled down, of course. We are expecting a million visitors to Hull in 2017. Plus, the fabric of N1 is more modest. Yes, it is. I know Islington is on the Monopoly board, but it is not a city with a Royal Charter. There is a river, but the New River is hardly the magnitude of ‘tidal Humber’ (I will send a prize to anyone who can correctly identify that phrase). There is a bridge, but the railway stretch over the Cally is not in the same category as the suspended majesty of the giant Humber Bridge.
So alright, let’s give Islington a figurative month of cultural jamboree. What would I choose to highlight? The Almeida Theatre, definitely. Little Angel Theatre, ditto
So alright, let’s give Islington a figurative month of cultural jamboree. What would I choose to highlight? The Almeida Theatre, definitely. Little Angel Theatre, ditto. But are they essentially OF Islington? Could they thrive in any other London village? I would say perhaps they could. The Tower Theatre in Canonbury, however, with its band of enthusiastic amateurs, probably couldn’t, and neither could the neighbouring Estorick art gallery with its penchant of showing art born via a quirky brand of aesthetic socialism.
Equally, the Screen on the Green, which once held court to the Sex Pistols, is absolutely a local treasure and should certainly be celebrated, perhaps by a visit from J. Rotten himself and certainly with a concert from Spandau Ballet, some of whom went to the original Pistols gig and all of whom were born and bred in the area. It ought also to hold a week-long retrospective of movies directed by the cinematic master that is Alan Parker, who was raised just off Cross Street and educated at William Tyndale, followed by Dame Alice Owen’s.
You see? Once you get going, there’s no stopping. Yotam Ottolenghi, who has encouraged the nation to eat groovily, but who has long catered for diners from his Upper Street restaurant, could have a Vegetarian Feast running down the entire length of the street, helped with the crockery at one end by the Islington institution that is Frederick’s and the other by relative newbies Trullo.
The multitude of hacks who live in Islington could do the programme; Michael Rosen could dedicate a special poem to the place and local thespian Charles Dance, in one of his perfect suits, could lead guided historical tours around the Islington Squares.
Would you go on a guided tour of the area if it was led by Charles Dance? Are you crazy? Don’t forget, the event has to inspire and engage locals as well as visitors, and we have to have something to look forward to in these uncertain times. I bumped into him the other day at Criterion Auction Rooms and it was a cultural moment, believe you me.