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Mates over dates: six pairs of London pals share the secret to staying friends

Written by
Kate Lloyd

This Valentine’s Day we’re ditching the romance and celebrating friendship instead. Kate Lloyd speaks to six pairs of Londoners about their best pals and why they’re worth it. 

Valentine’s Day is nearly here. London’s shop windows are overflowing with heart-shaped balloons and pink confetti. Come the weekend, every restaurant in the city will be packed with couples holding hands and reminiscing about the good times. 

The thing is, our recent City Living Survey revealed that Londoners value good friends over true love. It’s not surprising. London is full of single people. The capital is home to more unmarried folk than anywhere else in the country. We work longer hours than anyone else in Europe. We struggle to make time to go to the gym, let alone fall head-over-heels for one another. 

For many of us, dating has been reduced to swiping right on an app. We switch partners regularly, we see more than one person at the same time and often the people we’re having sex with aren’t necessarily the people we love the most. We’ll cancel on a date before cancelling on a friend; and, thanks to online dating, the stories behind how we met our mates have become, in some ways, more romantic than the starting points of our actual romantic relationships.

You could argue that friendship is becoming more superficial – many of us have hundreds of ‘friends’ on Facebook – but research tells us that all it takes is three real friends to make us happy. Over the next few pages we talk to six pairs of Londoners who tell us why real friendship is so great, from work pals to life-long besties, teen chums to friends in their nineties. Real friends are pretty damn special – let’s celebrate them this Valentine’s Day too.                                                  

The neighbours

Pamela, 82, Chelsea and Rita, 89, Chelsea. Both retired. Friends for 30 years.

Rita: ‘I met Pamela when I moved into my apartment in Chelsea. She lived upstairs. We became close when my husband died.’ 

Pamela: ‘I still live literally around the corner. So I phone up and we make plans. Rita’s the most divine cook and I’ve had the most fabulous meals at her house. We also go to lots of events in Chelsea.’ 

Rita: ‘For my ninetieth birthday I’m having a meal with my family then an old-fashioned cocktail party, with a cocktail-maker. Pamela will be there of course.  I might stipulate that everyone must wear little hats.’ 

Pamela: ‘And gloves!’ 

Rita: ‘Whenever I open the door to Pamela she always says: “You do look nice.” It’s lovely to hear that instead of: “You’re looking terribly tired – are you feeling your age?” That has me rushing to the mirror.’ 

Pamela: ‘We’ve never had an argument. I know that Rita will always listen and she’s very kind and sympathetic.’

Rita: ‘It’s nice to have a friend living nearby. I have other friends, but they’re a long way away and most of them are now in a wheelchair or their memory’s going. Last year I had three friends who died one after the other. Old age can bring joy, but it does bring a lot of sadness.’ 

Pamela: ‘You feel like you’re losing part of your past when you lose a friend because they know all about you.’ 

Rita: ‘It makes our friendship even more special. I think that’s why we have what I call a close gentle friendship, nothing dramatic but very sweet.’ 

Pamela: ‘When you get older, friends sometimes become even more important than relatives. You can tell friends things you can’t tell relatives because relatives immediately say: “I don’t think you should do that.”’ 

Rita: ‘People are always saying “You’ve got to be careful now because of your age.” And I feel like saying “For goodness’ sake! I know I might look old, but I don’t feel old!”’

Tip for staying friends: ‘Respect, a sense of humour and love.’ 

The musos

Anant, 27, Brixton, digital editor at the National Union of Students and Tim, 36, Crouch End, product manager for digital marketing conferences. Friends for four years

Tim: ‘We both used to post on a music forum called Dancing Jesus, but we didn’t really know each other [at that point].’ 

Anant: ‘Then the band Summer Camp put a status out on Facebook that they were looking for extras for a video, so we both volunteered ourselves. That’s where we met.’ 

Tim: ‘We both got cut out of the video so we bonded over being rejects on Twitter. We were like “Let’s go for a drink and drown our sorrows.”’ 

Anant: ‘I remember, a few years ago, Tim posted this Facebook status like “Three years ago I went to a video shoot and met Anant and now he’s one of the best friends I have.” It was really nice, but then he commented on it a few days later with “Fuck, I forgot I wrote that.”’

Tim: ‘I was high on painkillers. It was too nice.’ 

Anant: ‘We both like burgers, beer, football and music. We’ve been to Primavera in Barcelona and Pitchfork Paris together.’ 

Tim: ‘My girlfriend and I are planning to move to Lisbon over the next couple of months. We’ve already organised that Anant’s going to come and stay after a festival in Portugal this year.’ 

Anant: ‘I’ve booked the flights. So if Tim doesn’t move after all this, that’s when our friendship will end.’ 

Tip for staying friends: ‘Don’t move to Lisbon! Organise the simple things, like just hanging out at each other’s house.’ 

The business partners

Laura Harper-Hinton, 37, Kensal Rise and Miles Kirby, 42, Homerton. Co-founders of Caravan, with Chris Ammermann. Friends for 21 years.

Laura: ‘We met working at a restaurant in Wellington, New Zealand, when we were in our teens. Miles was the chef, I was on the door as maître d’ and Chris, my partner, was on the bar.’ 

Miles: ‘It was a crazy time. The owners encouraged us to stay out all night and have fun. There’s a gaping hole in my memory of my early twenties.’ 

Laura: ‘Then, when I was working as a photographer in 2000, Miles and I toured around Europe in a caravan. I was taking loads of food shots. Miles wrote about the food in a journal.
It was a dream.’ 

Miles: ‘We’d be like: “We need to add Champagne to the list of places.” And we got paid for it.’ 

Laura: ‘It wasn’t until 2010 that we opened Caravan with Chris. It was something we’d been talking about for ten years.’ 

Miles: ‘Running a business together does get stressful, but we go over and above to make sure we’re not upsetting the other two with the way
we behave.’ 

Laura: ‘We argue all the time but in a helpful, constructive way. Sometimes you can be too personal, but we totally trust each other.’ 

Miles: ‘We still meet up outside of work. We’ve both got two boys each now and they’re friends. Our friendship has strengthened since having kids. The nicest thing Chris and Laura ever did was making me godfather of their child. That made me feel amazing.’ 

Tip for staying friends: ‘It can be a tough city, so it’s important to stay positive about friendships.’ 

The Instagrammers

Alya, 26, Earl's Court, writer-blogger and Roxanne, 28, Fulham, jewellery designer. Friends for two years.

Alya: ‘I added Rox on Instagram because I was obsessed with this ring she designed. It’s a gold burger, and I love burgers. I was like “You need to be my BFF!”’

Roxanne: ‘Then we kept “liking” everything each other posted. It sounds a bit creepy doesn’t it?’ 

Alya: ‘We moved from Instagram to Twitter then we graduated to email. Then, after about six months, we met in real life – over a burger,
of course.’ 

Roxanne: ‘I was a bit nervous when we met. But in seconds, it just felt so normal.’

Alya: ‘I think it’s the nature of the world we live in now. It’s quite a normal thing these days to either make or maintain friendships on social media.’ 

Roxanne: ‘Although we went on holiday with each other last year, and when I told my friends I was going with someone I met on Instagram, they were like “What?!”’

Alya: ‘“Are you sure she’s not going to kill you in your sleep?”’

Roxanne: ‘At our very first meeting we told each other our very deep personal stories that we hadn’t even told our friends. We realised from the beginning that we could talk openly. And that just continued.’ 

Alya: ‘We’re both self-employed, so we’ve started going and finding a coffee shop and spending the day working there together.’ 

Roxanne: ‘We’re equally ambitious as each other. One of us will be like: “I’m so tired.” And the other will reply: “Get out of bed right now!” We even have synched diaries in our iPhone calendars.’ 

Alya: ‘We take a lot of photos for each other. I do quite a bit of blogging, meaning Instagram quality is really important, so I’ve become one of those really annoying people who’s like “Can you just stand up on the chair and take a picture from this angle?”’ 

Roxanne: ‘Alya taught me how to Instagram properly. I’d never taken a selfie before I met her…’ 

Alya: ‘Every time she takes one now, I’m like: “Yes!” I take it as a personal achievement.’ 

Tip for staying friends: ‘Being considerate about the other one being under pressure. Don’t be a dick if someone wants to bail on you. They want to go home and sleep. So do you, really.’ 

The School Friends 

Shannon, 15, Lewisham, year 10 and Ella, 14, Sydenham, year 10. Friends for 14 months.

Shannon: ‘We met at an assembly at the end of year nine. Our year are really bad at lining up so there was a big crowd of people, but I could see our teacher had come down with a new girl. It was Ella.’

Ella: ‘I was petrified.’ 

Shannon: ‘My first impression was: Oh my God, she’s so tall! I’ve grown a bit since then, but she was towering over me. She seemed funny, though, so I thought she’d get along with my crazy friends.’ 

Ella: ‘The two of us are like Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp, always trying to out-weird each other. Shannon always wins.’ 

Shannon: ‘I make up weird words like “irrelevate”: it’s like “You’re irrelevant to the situation so you need to evacuate.”’ 

Ella: ‘We don’t actually have any classes together. We just hang out at break and lunch. School can be a bit bitchy. I love hearing rumours about myself. There was this one going around the school that I was pregnant!’ 

Shannon: ‘The pregnant thing is [said about] everyone to be honest.’ 

Ella: ‘We stand up for each other. I think Shannon just defends me by ranting at people then being like “I’m going to walk away now.”’ 

Shannon: ‘We’re friends on Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat. Lots of people in our year use Instagram loads.’ 

Ella: ‘Instagram’s just about the likes. People think you must be really unpopular if you don’t get many. There are people at our school who’ve got 3,000 followers.’ 

Shannon: ‘Ella and I chat all the time on social media. When it comes to homework, if it’s something easy for me, like maths, I can just be on the phone and doing it.’ 

Ella: ‘The longest we’ve ever gone without messaging each other is…’

Shannon ‘I mean, we have to go to bed at some point.’ 

Tip for staying friends: ‘Don’t ignore each other. If you don’t want to talk, give a reason.’ 

The BFFs

Miles, 27, South Norwood, continuity announcer and Jess, 26, Stoke Newington, radio plugger. Friends for 16 years

Jess: ‘I’ve known Miles so long my mum calls him her son.’ 

Miles: ‘We met when we were ten. We used to go to saxophone lessons above this music shop in Harrow.’ 

Jess: ‘The stairs were so narrow that you could only go one at a time, so I used to battle other people to get up them first. Not Miles, though, because he looked cool.’ 

Miles: ‘Then my boys’ school had a disco and invited Jess’s school to come. We’ve been best mates ever since.’ 

Jess: ‘People used to think we were a couple. It’s because we were always together when we were teenagers.’ 

Miles‘And in the past my girlfriends have thought we were too close. They’d always ask if something had happened in the past.’ 

Jess: ‘When we went to uni there was a danger of us drifting apart. Miles got a “uni Jess” and I was jealous.’ 

Miles: ‘Everyone makes loads of mistakes when they’re young. If you grow up differently, you grow away from each other, but we grew together.’ 

Jess: ‘The most difficult thing now is that we’ve moved from living five minutes away from each other to living on opposite sides of London.’ 

Miles: ‘We Whatsapp all the time, though, and we have psychic moments. If something’s wrong, we always get a feeling.’ 

Jess: ‘He’ll message me and I’ll be literally typing a message to him.’ 

Miles: ‘The nicest thing Jess has ever done for me was waking me up with a giant teddy when I turned 18. It spoke and it was her voice and it said: “Hey, I’m Miles the bear.”’ 

Jess: ‘And I made a cake. You didn’t like it, though, did you?’ 

Miles: ‘I was eating it out of politeness.’ 

Tip for staying friends: ‘Don’t do any passive-aggressive bullshit.’ 

Grab your mates and make the most of these ace things to do in London this week

Images: Rob Greig and Ben Rowe

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