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London Calling

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Roger Mosey | 12:33 UK time, Thursday, 10 December 2009

This week's travels were to Newcastle, a city I really like, for the final stop of the BBC Olympic roadshow before Christmas.

The usual mix: a session with the staff from BBC North East, an interview on Radio Newcastle - and then a meeting with local opinion-formers from councils, arts organisations and newspapers.

Central to the discussion: how we make the whole of the United Kingdom feel part of the 2012 experience, which is a touch easier in Newcastle given it has an Olympic venue at St James' Park.

But in all our discussions, and as we've touched on before in this blog, we also recognise the central, unavoidable fact: the Olympic host city is London.

The Games are awarded to a city not a country. So London is at the heart of 2012, and the theory is it's better for everyone if we can spread the experience and celebrate the diversity of the UK as well as the uniqueness of its capital.

bridge_getty595.jpgThis week the BBC team visited Newcastle upon Tyne

And 'unique' is the right word. It's not just about the Tower of London, Changing The Guard, red buses, Big Ben and Wembley. London is very different from the rest of the country. You may have spotted that I like statistics, so here are a few to make that case.

London has less than 1% of the UK landmass, but it has 13% of the UK population.

It represents 19% of the UK's economy, and with eight million inhabitants it would be in its own right the 10th biggest country in Western Europe.

But alongside wealth, there's poverty: three of the Olympic boroughs - Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Newham - are in the list of most deprived local authorities in England. In 2004, 47% of children in Tower Hamlets were in families dependent on benefits.

The people living here represent 180 nationalities and they speak more than 300 languages - which points to another key difference from the rest of the UK.

30% of London's population is non-white, whereas only 7% of England's population outside London is non-white.

61% of England's black population live in London, and Londoners are five times more likely than the rest of the UK to have been born abroad.

It's a city where more people are single or live alone than anywhere else in the UK, though only Brighton in the UK has more same-sex partnerships per capita.

It has a population which is more transitory too: half of all Londoners would like to live in another part of the UK at some point, whereas only 8% of the rest of the UK fancy a move to the capital.

So the conclusion from this? Part of the job in 2012 is introducing London to the rest of the country, as well as infusing the spirit of the UK into London.

tube_bbc595.jpgCrowds on London's Underground system can be off-putting for some visitors

Because the emphasis in recent years has been on devolution and better representation of the UK, it will be fascinating to look at the capital in a fresh light when it's the centre of world attention.

Not everyone will like what they see.

As someone who lives in London, I know it can feel maddening, crowded and chaotic - and that's only the Central Line in the rush hour.

But the city has an amazing story: through history and in the present day, and especially in the lives and experiences of Londoners.

It would be daft for us not to use the opportunity to share that more widely.


  • Comment number 1.

    Thanks for the blog Roger - as a born and bred Londoner, I love (most) of this city and what it has to offer. I have been lucky to travel the world extensively and almost without exception, people have always expressed a desire to visit or live in this city. Unfortunatley the one exception to this is the rest of the UK! Whatever reasons people have, there seems a jealousy of London and the Olympics just developed that further. Hopefully the Olympics and in some small part your roadshow will let the rest of the UK realise that London truly is one of the great cities of the world and not something to be envied, but something to be cherished! Bring on 2012!

  • Comment number 2.

    Hifirob - I am looking forward to the Olympics as much as the next Non-Londoner, however i disagree that it is jealousy that people have of London. More a frustration with government policy and media being very London centered. An informative and interesting blog and on a topic that the whole nation is excited about as the income generated from the games will filter out to us away from the capital

  • Comment number 3.

    I don't think anyone in the country is jealous of London! I don't envy London at all. I like where I live.

    I do quite like London though, it's an amazing world-class city, but the idea that non-Londoners are jealous that we don't have the Olympics or something is a bit silly.

  • Comment number 4.

    hifirob - I think your comment really sums up the why in not the what behind the rest of th country's dislike/disinterest in London. The fact that you state that the rest of the country is jealous of London is precisely the attitude that puts the rest of us off !!! In simple terms, my honest reaction was - Jealous ?? Jealous of what ?? Typical southerner.

    Now I admit that reaction shows my own shortsightedness in generalising all people form south of the Watford Gap together, but as Roger points out above - 87% of the UK population DON'T live in London and are rightly proud of the rich culture and local history of the regions that they hail from - that's not jealousy, that's local pride.

    One of the things that frustrates me the most is when you talk to people from abroad and one of the first things they say to you is "Oh, you're English - I'd love to visit London" . . . does the rest of the country not exist ??

    Personally, for me it is imperative that the 2012 Olympics celebrates the rich fabric of our COUNTRY not our capital city - I'm proud to be British and I'm proud to be English - but I'm also proud to be a Yorkshireman and proud to be from Sheffield.

    London isn't better than my home city, any more than Sheffield is better than Nottingham, Derby, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow, Cardiff, Swansea, Newcastle, Sunderland, Leeds (debatable ;) ) or any of the other cities in the UK you care to mention - it's London, warts and all, but it is part of our nation and should be celebrated as part of a much bigger whole, not a seperate entity !!

    Rant Over . . .

  • Comment number 5.

    Well, I grew up around London and have lived and worked in many UK cities, so here's a few thoughts about London vs other places.

    1. In London, there are multiple places where different things happen. In almost all other cities, there's ONE centre with the shops, restaurants etc. In London, there's many. So it would be easy for visitors to try different parts of the city each day for either a long weekend or a week. If they know where to go.
    2. So, for shopping you could go to Oxford Street/Regent Street; Knightsbridge; Westfield Centre; Kings Rd etc. You can go to about 10 football clubs in the upper leagues, in all parts of London;.Concert halls are in South Kensington (Albert Hall), the South Bank (Festival Hall), central (Wigmore Hall), north (Barbican Centre). Pop concerts might be at Wembley in the NW or the O2 in the SE. And parks exist everywhere from Greenwich (SE), Wimbledon (S), Hyde Park (SW), Regents Park (NW) and Hampstead Heath (N). If you've not been to London before and fancy seeing it, there's a great vantage point on Hampstead Heath looking down to the City and the Centre.
    3. Another key is knowing how to use the transport system effectively. Glasgow has one circle line, Manchester a few tram lines, Newcastle the metro. Nothing to compare to London's tube network. A few little known nuggets include: the North London line; Thameslink from Bedford to Brighton going under London; the Chiltern Line which whistles you in to Marylebone from the edge of London in about 20 minutes; and the system of night buses, so useful if you've decided to have a night out in Soho. The buses in particular aren't well showcased or advertised - something to improve perhaps?
    4. London is very like Glasgow in terms of having very distinct communities on the North and South sides of the river. I've not seen anywhere else in the country like that, although they may exist. There's nothing like the old sectarian divides in Glasgow though....
    5. The sheer number of places to eat out in London is phenomenal and for many, that should part of the joy of a trip to the city. Hopefully imaginative marketing will get visitors to venture beyond Soho??
    6. The number of other places you can get to within an hour or so is phenomenal. Oxford and Cambridge are accessible, as is the South Coast if a day at the beach is on the agenda. All kinds of golf courses up to championship quality are around about - Woburn, Wentworth, Sunningdale being but three and I guess Sandwich if you're really keen. The rowing at Henley and the racing at Ascot.
    7. All kinds of markets exist if that's your interest - Camden Lock, Borough, Covent Garden, loads more probably.
    8. One thing about London is that its HQ for far more things than any other place in the country, so you do get a lot of folks used to running things, which means the overall impression people may get of Londoners is a more reserved stuffiness. There's an element of truth to it, particularly if you try and talk to someone on a Tube, but it's just a function of the sorts of things people do and the sorts of characters who are good at doing it.
    9. One thing that keeps bringing me back to London is the architecture. I don't have a clue who did it, what period it is or anything like that, but the sheer understated grandiosity of much of the central buildings is quite striking to those who notice it. Just as Manchester's bold angular designs leave a strong impression for better or worse, London's is likely to leave you unmoved or subtly interested. Not for everyone, but a joy for many.
    10. Londoners are most interested in the ideas of others in the shires, especially if they can see how to make money from it. Caveat emptor is my advice to budding entrepreneurs wishing to share their ideas....but getting Londoners on your side in a way which allows you to make money is a very sensible thing to aspire to.
    11. For all those cities who think they've had to regenerate and London hasn't, think again. London's Thames Gateway project is probably the largest this country has attempted. My experience of London is that it cogitates for longer than anywhere else, but when it pulls the trigger, watch things change. Whether you like that or not, it's probably London's way. Simply because it's so much bigger, the implications so much weightier, the cost of failure so much greater.

    Enjoy your whistlestop tour of the Shires and say hi to all those who took such close interest in me and my muses in Manchester and Leeds!

  • Comment number 6.

    Interesting thoughts. To my mind, you can't beat London, but I'm also a massive fan of Sheffield, Manchester and Birmingham - each of which has its own unique style and feel.
    I think the most fundamental point is the horrendous barrel over which the IOC has every potential bidding city around the 'compactness' of bids.
    It is a very sad truth that unfortunately the IOC (and international committees and federations) are predominantly concerned with very small, very focused bids, with a central village, media, and as many venues as is physically possible. (Look at how upset the International Badminton Federation is about moving to Wembley if you need an example).
    Olympic bids are judged on being compact, so it is simply not realistic to think that bids with venues dotted around the place (no matter how sensible, allowing benefit to a wider region) will win.
    The primary objective is to make things very easy for athletes and paying attending spectators. If the London team had dished all the venues out around the rest of the country during the bid, we'd all be having to worry about taking the Eurostar (rather than the tube) to watch the Games in 2012.

  • Comment number 7.

    I am not from the UK but have been there several times and visited some of the cities including London, Manchester, Liverpool, Portsmouth and Leeds. As a visitor, there is no doubt that London provides the most enjoyable experience due to its wide range of shops, restaurants and entertainment venues. As mentioned earlier in the comments, most of the other cities have a few areas where there are large shopping malls etc. but in London you can find them everywhere.

    London is also near a lot of other nice places to visit, so frankly I don't see why anyone would be surprised at a visitor wanting to visit London. Visitors to the U.S. mainly want to see New York and LA, they don't really care about other cities like Memphis or Dallas.

  • Comment number 8.

    The comments are really interesting, as ever. They confirm my view that this is about BOTH London and the UK - marking what's best about both, and recognising the differences.

    What I'm absolutely convinced about having been around the country much more than usual in recent weeks is that the appetite for being involved is massive - and many people in Newcastle or Bristol or Glasgow will feel disappointed if they don't get something out of 2012, just as most Londoners have high expectations.

    BensDad in #4: I'll be in Sheffield for Sports Personality on Sunday so looking forward to that, though as a Bradfordian I've always found South Yorkshire slightly foreign territory...

  • Comment number 9.

    I've been London a few times and its ready for the big showpiece event.
    Yes it does from time to time get a few quid more then the rest of the Country but its need a few Quid more for the next few years to get this all set up.
    Seb Coe set up a vision for an Olympics that would change the UK and London.
    He has done all that...all we want now is a brilliant games, the Union Flag flying around all the areas of the Games and the BBC to bring it to us..and to leave the Legacy that Seb Coe stated he will leave.
    Its a 2012 Games for the UK, not just for London.

  • Comment number 10.



    Only just noticed this comment due to having to walk the long way round into work every morning (I work bang next door to the arena) due to that dirty great big white tunnel that seems to stretch halfway accross Attercliffe - I hope the irony is not lost on you ;)

    Have to admit I was a little surprised that SPOTY was in Sheffield this year - but going back to my earlier comments maybe it shows an increasing desire, on behalf of the BBC at least, to engage and invest in the rest of the country - couldn't be more welcome !!

  • Comment number 11.

    Perhaps that's why BBC Sport is being relocated to Manchester. Should increase the overnight subsistence as numerous BBC journalists trudge down to London to cover the footie, cricket, tennis, boat race..................


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