Magazine article The Spectator

Long Life: Alexander Chancellor

Magazine article The Spectator

Long Life: Alexander Chancellor

Article excerpt

Credit: Alexander Chancellor

Although I live in the country in Northamptonshire, I go to London often -- almost once a week -- and I find it more and more intimidating. This isn't just because of the skyscrapers that spring up boastfully everywhere, parading one's own insignificance, but also because of the aura of terrifying wealth that pervades its central area and now even its inner suburbs. Fifty years ago, when I got married, my wife and I bought our first London house in Kensington Park Road, Notting Hill, for £9,500. I wonder how many millions it is worth now. My parents, who were quite well off if not exactly rich, lived in Knightsbridge to be near my father's office in Bowater House, an ugly modern glass block that straddled the entrance to Hyde Park opposite the end of Sloane Street. Bowater House has since been replaced by No. 1 Hyde Park, a Richard Rogers group of apartment buildings described on its website as 'the most exclusive address in the world; a residential scheme whose beauty, luxury and service place it in a class of its own on a global scale'. A flat there sold the other day for £140 million.

London was then a great city, of course, as it always has been, but it was also cosy and modest about itself. Although 'Swinging London' was discovered in the Sixties, the city retained an old-fashioned air in which Harrods, later sold to Mohammed al-Fayed and more recently by him to the Qataris, was a haven in which old ladies with wicker shopping trolleys could take a rest in the great hall of the long defunct Harrods bank. Glamour was something one associated with foreign cities like Paris or New York. London was a city of exciting secrets but one that on the surface appeared rather slow and drab. It was a place where the old could feel quite relaxed and neighbourly. I doubt if that is any longer the case.

Since few normal people can afford to live there any more, at least not anywhere near the centre, the huge influx of foreigners is somewhat surprising. I don't refer to the Russian oligarchs or Middle Eastern billionaires who may be fleeing complications at home or, more often, looking in the London property market for a safe and profitable haven for their ill-gotten gains. Nor do I mean the Poles or other East Europeans who come there to find work as builders and domestic servants to meet their needs. …

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