Shami Chakrabarti. Photo by Gurjit Nahal
London People: Shami Chakrabarti
Interviews with people, who live, or work, in London who have made an impact on the city; each in their own way. And their relationship with London.
by Sarah Kinson
Shami Chakrabarti is Director of Liberty, a London based organisation that aims to ‘protect civil liberties and promote human rights’.
When did you first arrive in London?
15 June 1969 at St Mary’s, a maternity hospital near Hampstead Pond that no longer exists. At least that what my parents told me!
Where did you grow up?
Harrow in North West London. Perhaps I have a rose tinted view of things but I don’t think there was the fear there is today about letting even relatively young children play outside. I walked to school and back by the age of nine or 10. And I have vivid memories of standing on street corners gossiping to friends, having spent all day chatting to them at school! There was a lot of hanging around. So I do resent the idea that kids just hanging around and not doing anything wrong, is always a menace.
Have you ever moved away from London?
No, I’ve always lived in London. I didn’t even move away to go to college. I do love London and it’s hard to think of many places that I’d rather be. I am definitely a city person and so the only time I had dreams of leaving was perhaps when I was younger and I thought about going to New York – so if it wasn’t going to be London, it was going to have to be an even more intense city!
What parts of London have you lived in?
First of all, in Harrow, where my parents still are. Then, when I was a student, I lived in a bedsit in between Golders Green and Cricklewood. Golders Green was an incredibly special place. It represented cosmopolitan London to me. It had all the comfort of North West London; the trees and parks, but it also felt like it was much closer to the action. There was a very well established Jewish community, and a burgeoning Asian community. There were generations of new migrants coming in and out and rubbing along all really well with each other. Then I lived in Stamford Hill in Hackney, before I moved to where I live now.
Where do you live now?
In Lambeth, where I have been for about 17 years. It is very painful for me to admit, but I am a South Londoner now. It was my husband who tempted me over the river and I have to tell you that it is a very big deal for me. To call myself a South Londoner, is a very odd thing. Whether you were born in London, or whether you come to London, there is something very special about where you start. And it is very unusual for people, I believe, to move across the river.
What is it like?
Lambeth is a mixture of very posh, grand, Victorian and Edwardian houses over looked by grim looking tower blocks. There is wealth and poverty; cheek by jowl. More positively though, you generally see people of different races all rubbing along together, whatever the bad press says. But clearly there are worries, and as the mother of a growing boy, I do worry what it will be like for him when he is a teenager.
What do you like about it?
I grew up in the suburbs, where you don’t get the benefits of living in the country. Yet at the same time, you are tantalised by knowing that there is all this exciting stuff just a few miles away, and as a kid you can’t always afford to get there. So, now I enjoy being so central that I can walk to the river, and into central London, if I want to.
Is London a good place to bring up children?
Yes, whatever the fears and problems, it’s still a fantastic place to bring up children. There is so much there to share with them, and they can meet people from all different races and faiths. If the world were more like London, the world would be a better place.
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