Within hours of his reelection being confirmed, London’s Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan was back doing what he does best, extolling the virtues of the city he represents. On the stage of Shakespeare’s Globe on the banks of the Thames, he officially signed up for his second term, then launched a huge new £6m campaign aimed at boosting London's culture, hospitality and retail economies. Let’s Do London harnesses the talents of major London arts and culture institutions with the mantra ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’.
We get to speak exclusively to Khan on the rain-lashed terrace of the Globe (hey, it’s nearly summer!) about where he sees London heading in the future and the specific goals of this initiative. ‘Let’s Do London is the biggest tourism campaign our city has ever seen,’ he says. ‘The reason it’s so important is that the last 15 months have been incredibly tough for us. But I also recognise not just the intrinsic enjoyment we get from retail, culture and hospitality, but that one in five jobs in London are in those areas. We’ve got to make sure that we bounce back as quickly as possible to avoid mass unemployment, leading to a massive recession.’
International tourism to London fell by a reported 90 percent in 2020. This year looks like being the same, so a vital part of Let’s Do London is attracting UK visitors to the capital as the roadmap out of lockdown permits more domestic travel. ‘This will probably be the only year in our lifetime when there won’t be international tourists in London,’ says Khan. ‘It’s an opportunity to have fewer people in queues and to do the things which you wouldn’t otherwise do. To discover why London is the best city in the world and to rediscover why you fell in love with London. It’s about attracting people from across the country to come to London for overnight stays and attracting Londoners to have day trips across their city.’
Alongside this opening up of the capital is the parallel need to restore a better quality of life for Londoners, who have been deprived of their city during the pandemic. ‘I think we’ll appreciate each other’s company more,’ says Khan. ‘I think we’ll appreciate interaction more. I think younger Londoners in particular have really missed out on the way of life we had. Not just work, but lunch with your mates, a drink after work, going to a gig or a pub or bar or restaurant. That’s really important. I think also that people have realised that some things don’t matter. There will be less focus on material things and more enjoying each others’ company. I think it’s made us realise how much we rely on each other for our mental fitness.’
The key to the campaign is the focus on those things that we all love about living in London: arts, culture, food, drink, going out. ‘I recognise that many young Londoners work in these areas,’ says Khan. ‘So Let’s Do London is about bringing all the key players in London together: the Globe, the National Theatre, the Southbank, the V&A, the O2, great chefs, great artists like David Hockney, great live music venues, pubs, bars and restaurants. We want to make sure that this summer is the best summer we’ve ever seen.’
Let’s Do London will also see a focus on the capital’s many fantastic outdoor spaces, which have been such a saviour during lockdown. Many will be transformed by artists including Yinka Ilori and David Hockney. Khan wants to see ‘more walking, more cycling, more pedestrianisation’. ‘We want to avoid at all costs a car-led recovery,’ he says, ‘because we don’t want London to be gridlocked. Having more walking and cycling is also good for business. We’re very good at public spaces in London, and how we use them. So what you’ll see across London is displays of public art; not hidden away in the lobbies of buildings. When you go to Piccadilly Circus tomorrow, you’ll see some works by David Hockey and other artists. What this pandemic has reminded people across the world is the things they enjoy the most. And one of the things they enjoy the most is people.’
The campaign promises a rejuvenated sense of what this city does well, and how living here might be improved for everyone. We've collectively been waiting so long for our city to be given back to us. As Khan says, ‘I think our city reopening will allow us to get our mojo back.’ Here’s hoping…
Find more details about the 2021 Let’s Do London campaign here.