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You are in: London > People > Celebrity stories > John Hegley interview

John Hegley

Hegley believes poetry is in good health

John Hegley interview

He loves his Highbury manor, wandering around Richmond Park and catching a bit of jazz in Barnes. Read and hear more as the poet and writer talks about the best and worst of London life...

Born in Newington Green and raised in Luton - which accounts for his fervent support for the Hatters - Hegley ranks as one of our finest contemporary poets, both on the page and onstage.

Although his career has involved comedy, singing and performing - his early band the Popticians came to prominence via a John Peel Show session - poetry has always been a constant.

Asked how he prefers to work, he holds up a scruffy piece of paper containing an illegible, hand-written scrawl. "Like that!" he says proudly.

And what of his poetry and its subject matter? The bespectacled, dog-loving Hegley, a London resident for the past 25 years, agrees that his work often seems to be rooted in a gentle Englishness.

"If you think that you might do anything and you bring with it a perspective of good manners," he says, "People will always appreciate it... well, most of the time."

In the course of his conversation with BBC London 94.9's Robert Elms, he also reveals himself to be vigorously upbeat on the subject of poetry's fortunes.

"It's chugging along and always there in our language and in our lives. People are up for it."

Your favourite neighbourhood?

"I like where I live in Highbury. I like Marylebone, there's a lovely railway station there. And Waterloo around Lower Marsh, the river and the South Bank."

Your favourite building?

"There are so many but I do like the Mildmay Club on Newington Green. It's a tardis in there: a 500-seater auditorium, snooker tables, the lot. It's a private members club that local people belong to."

Most hated building?

"Hate is too strong a word. I'm staying in the same area and thinking of the Mildmay Maternity Home, which was knocked down and replaced by a block of flats. Nothing against it, or the people who live there, but I'd like the Maternity Home back."

Wembley Stadium (Action Images / Matthew Childs)

Best view in London?

"The old Wembley Stadium. Luton played there in the Cup a long time ago and the first sight of the pitch and all that green grass was astonishing. I also like the view coming down the steps to the ICA in the Mall with St James' Park in front of you."

Favourite open space?

"For memories, it's Waterlow Park in Highgate, in the grounds of Lauderdale House. There's a great café in the back and they also do cabaret inside. I've played there many times."

Most interesting shop?

"I'm not much of a shopper really. Second-hand book and clothes shops I guess. And in my area there's a little Slovak shop and café that sells chewing gum and pickles and great coffee as well."

Favourite pub, bar or restaurant?

"It'll have to be a pub crawl. We'll start at the Bank of Friendship in Highbury, go up to the Harlequin behind Sadler's Wells, where they do music on a Sunday evening, then the Old Red Lion across the road - it's good for gigs - and then down to the Big Chill House in Pentonville Road. It's a nice bar and another place I've played at, sorry!"

Slava's Snowshow

Memorable night: Slava's Snowshow

Most memorable night out?

"Taking my daughter Isabella when she was eight or so to see Slava's Snowshow at the Hackney Empire. He's a Russian clown, one of the best in the world and it was definitely a night to remember."

How would you spend your ideal day off in London?

"I'd probably go to Richmond Park and wander around, then maybe catch an early set, a bit of jazz, at the Bull's Head in Barnes. Then a curry say, in the Blackstock Road - after a drink in the Bank of Friendship of course!"

Where would you take a visitor to London?

"I'd stay local and go to the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art in Canonbury Square, Islington. There's a lovely garden there and they serve coffee and food. It gives you the idea that London is full of culture and a bit of greenery in the most out of the way places."

Estorick Collection garden

The Estorick Collection garden

The worst journey you've had to make in London?

"Coming back home from the airport once in a cab at 7am was the worst. I travel a lot on trains and buses and the occasional taxi, and you have to have an attitude of being alright with it or you'd be miserable."

Your personal London landmark?

"There's a tower in Notting Hill, I think it's a water tower. A strange thing... ah, it's that weird thing on the big Shepherds Bush roundabout. I was filming there once with a mate and we were dancing with paper bags, as you do, and we were warned off it by a copper."

Your favourite fictional Londoner?

"I'm not sure. I love Graham Greene's End of the Affair for its evocation of Clapham Common after the second World War. But I'd say the playwright Christopher Marlowe, as depicted in the book A Dead Man in Deptford by Anthony Burgess. Again a great evocation of a particular time."

Favourite London film, book or documentary?

"I remember asking my Mum about this. Was there ever a film about London AND football? There was one, she said, called Murder at the Arsenal Stadium... (The Arsenal Stadium Mystery, injects Robert here), which I've never seen but I hope to."

Which time period in London, past or future, would you like to go to?

"I think I'd go back to that pub in Deptford and warn Marlowe not to go there!"

last updated: 04/06/2008 at 16:44
created: 25/06/2007

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