50 people making London awesome
Actor, DJ and Hackney hero
This East End boy-turned-acting god recently paid homage to his London roots with his directorial debut ‘Yardie’, a film that honours soundsystem culture, and returned to DJ at a festival in Stratford over the summer. Elba’s also spoken out against cuts to housing benefits for 18 to 21-year-olds, calling the housing crisis in the UK ‘bullshit’. He might not be James Bond (yet) but he’s a hero to us.
Club Mexicana founder
London has gone vegan crazy, and in the vanguard of this tofu-fuelled movement is Meriel Armitage with her restaurant Club Mexicana. She tackles snobbish preconceptions about vegan food by pumping it with big Mexican flavours. Think cashew cheese jalapeño poppers and barbecue pulled-jackfruit tacos. It’s working, too: Club Mexicana’s three spots – in Camden Town and Shoreditch plus at the The Spread Eagle pub in Homerton – are so hot that even diehard carnivores are fans.
Writer and actor
Michaela Coel’s play-turned-TV series ‘Chewing Gum’ was a revelation. She told stories about the London she grew up in with a lived-in authenticity. Heartwarming and hilarious, it put her on a global stage. And she’ll be back in the spotlight again when her movie ‘Been So Long’ comes out next month. The musical, set in Camden, is believed to be Netflix’s largest acquisition of a UK film in its history.
Royal Court artistic director
When the sexual harassment allegations against Harvey Weinstein and former Old Vic artistic director Kevin Spacey were made public, Vicky Featherstone was one of the first major players to acknowledge the issue. She spent a day listening to accounts of such harassment from 150 victims, then drew up guidelines for the Royal Court and theatres in London and the UK. She’s a force for good.
Ever since moving to London in the 1960s, Ansel Wong has been advocating for black people in the UK. He has set up theatre groups and helped form the Elimu Carnival Band, which has performed at Notting Hill Carnival since 1980. Wong also chairs the advisory council that organised this year’s event. Along with his NHC work, Wong helped set up UK Black History Month in 1987. A change-maker through the ages, he deserves far more attention than he gets.
Women of the World festival founder
Picked by Katie McCabe, Time Out Events editor
Back in 2010, feminism was more of a murmur than a roar in mainstream media. Articles asking ‘Are women funny?’ were treated as legitimate debate, while identifying as a feminist made you the exception, not the rule. Jude Kelly was working at the Southbank Centre, and feeling disillusioned. As artistic director, she was curating an extremely male canon of culture. Her response was a festival of ideas – Women of the World – a paean to the achievements of women. It wasn’t just about discussing, but doing feminism. You could create protest art in the morning, and hear Angela Davis move a packed hall to tears after lunch. It has become the biggest and most accessible feminist event in London ever, and has sparked copycats all around town. Recently, Kelly was criticised for poor representation of women of colour. Instead of bristling, she listened to the criticism and made real change. It’s these moves that make WOW vital.
Street food pioneer
The director of Kerb introduced street food curation to our city. She doesn’t just give Kerb spots to anyone who has the money, she handpicks the tastiest ones (and markets around the city have started to follow suit). Now, eight years and nine market spots since she first launched, Kerb even offers an ‘InKerbator’ programme to nurture new foodie talent.
If you want to hear what living in London in the social media age sounds like, listen to Rina Sawayama. Her music plays out like the pop she listened to as a preteen growing up in the capital, but her lyrics are a snapshot of life for young people in London right now, spanning browser windows, social anxiety and pansexuality. It’s like overhearing the conversations of a group of twentysomethings having brunch in Hackney – but music.
Illuminator of London
This January, flamingos floated over China Town and lights cascaded across Granary Square. Lumiere London transformed the city. At its heart was founder Helen Marriage. Also co-founder of arts organisation Artichoke, she has a track record of unleashing radical projects on the capital. (In 2006, she produced a show with a 42-tonne mechanical elephant – the largest piece of free theatre ever staged here.) Her work has no entry fee, no boundaries: it’s a reimagining of what London can be.
Nuno Mendes knows a thing or two about catering for the stars, with everyone from Katy Perry to Bill Clinton popping in to taste his signature crab doughnuts (not a euphemism). But it was Mendes’s work as founder of The Loft Project – one of the earliest (and best) chef supper clubs – that truly changed London. Our flourishing supperclub scene has a lot to thank him for.
UK Black Pride co-founder
This year’s UK Black Pride was the jewel of London’s Pride weekend crown and that’s thanks in part to Phyll Opoku-Gyimah. Nicknamed ‘Lady Phyll’ after she rejected an MBE in protest at Britain’s role in spreading anti-LGBT+ legislation across the empire, she has given voices to marginalised individuals as the co-founder and executive director of UK Black Pride. As a queer Ghanaian woman, she has raised awareness of the inequalities faced by LGBT+ people of colour in London and across the world, discussing the intersections of race, sexuality, social class and gender.
Picked by Chris Waywell, Time Out associate editor
While half of London was wallowing in the nostalgic sumptuousness of ‘The Crown’, Shabaka Hutchings’s Sons Of Kemet were declaring ‘Your Queen Is a Reptile’ on their 2018 album. Rewriting the rules of jazz and monarchy, Hutchings delivered a series of tracks named after female icons: alternative ‘queens’, from Harriet Tubman to Angela Davis. Bypassing jazzy self-indulgence for a full-on assault that takes in afrobeat, dub and grime, Hutchings has helped define
a new London musical voice. His 2018 Brownswood compilation ‘We Out Here’ opened up the scene, but Hutchings sits apart from straight jazz, always restlessly inventive. In his mass of influences and unwillingness to conform to musical and cultural pigeon-holing, he’s defiantly London.
Picked by Laura Richards, Time Out Drink editor
Chicken bones, beeswax, concrete… these are just some of the unlikely flavours brought to the fore in cocktails by Ryan Chetiyawardana (you can call him Mr Lyan). Although in person he’s modest as hell – and a bit of a science geek – he’s a force to be reckoned with on the global drinking scene. These days, you’ll spy his madcap flavours at his two London bars, Dandelyan and Super Lyan. More than that, though, Ryan C and his team have been instrumental in putting sustainability on the everyday punter’s agenda. Yes, he once used his cat Batman’s poo to make a delicious drink. But no, his approach isn’t always that radical. Last year he launched restaurant Cub in the space above Super Lyan, where you can chow down on life-changing dishes made from produce destined for the bin – all washed down with those tipples, of course.
Stripping back the organs and huge choirs, Florence + The Machine’s fourth album ‘High as Hope’ honours their leader’s south London roots. On the track ‘South London Forever’ she pays homage to Camberwell, name-dropping The Joiners Arms and her exploits on the roof of the Horniman Museum.(Sadly no mention of the walrus, though.) It’s proof that no matter how bright your star burns, London will always run through your veins.
A north Londoner and London College of Communication graduate, Juno Calypso is a product of our city – and all that’s good and bad about it (even its current pink obsession). Her much-celebrated self-portraits are beautiful at first glance, but become sinister explorations of desire and sexuality, or the fetishisation of beauty and youth, as you get closer – whether she’s covered in turquoise paint or posing in a bunker that was last used by a cult in the ’70s. She’s one of the most exciting artists to come out of the capital in ages.
Actor, rapper and activist
Not content with being an internationally recognised acting talent, having starred in films such as ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’, ‘Four Lions’ and TV drama ‘The Night Of’, Riz Ahmed has also created his own BBC drama, ‘Englistan’. That’s on top of his rap career in the Swet Shop Boys, raising money for Syrian refugees and talking in the House of Commons about the need for more cultural visibility for British Muslims. Not bad for a boy from Wembley.
Back in 2009, these three BFFs established London’s first traditional copper gin distillery since 1820: Sipsmith. It wasn’t easy. They had to convince the government to change legislation that forbade small-batch distilling to get there. And let’s thank the juniper gods they did. The arrival of Sipsmith’s craft gin sparked a London obsession with mother’s ruin. We’ve even got a gin-themed hotel now. The company’s influence lives on in microdistilleries across the city.
NTS Radio founder
London’s independent and online radio scene is thriving and Femi Adeyemi is the one ripping up the radio rulebook. That’s why, if you log on to NTS Radio online, you’ll hear anything from debates and spoken word to a diverse collection of music all celebrating London’s creative underground scene. NTS now broadcasts live 24/7, with studios dotted around the world. And all this from a radio station that started off in a shack in Dalston.
The reigning queen of the club scene has yet to be usurped. At 58, Princess Julia is every bit as iconic, influential and exquisite as she was during the Blitz Kids-era of shoulder pads and New Romanticism. For 42 years, she has played a part in every creative scene, and still cuts a regal figure by DJing and performing spoken word, showing that nightlife ought not to be just a young person’s game.
Actress and writer
Before Phoebe Waller-Bridge wooed the world with her TV series ‘Killing Eve’, she was our ‘Fleabag’. She wrote and starred in the play about a very angry Londoner trying to cope with life in the city. It became a TV show, blew up and sold out at the Soho Theatre in just ten minutes in 2016, becoming the venue’s quickest seller ever. PWB might be on course for superstardom, but she’ll always belong to London, okay?
Tony Conigliaro has a rep as the Heston Blumenthal of cocktails. As if to prove it, he’s just teamed up with ex-El Bulli chef Rob Roy Cameron to open Gazelle in Mayfair, a restaurant where you can order drinks made out of chalk and clay. That might sound more like a shopping list for a primary school craft club than a showstopping cocktail, but the results are hyperbole-worthy.
MC (and legend)
From a council estate in Tottenham to posing on the cover of British GQ with Naomi Campbell, Skepta has more than earned his status as a London icon. Thanks to him, grime saw such a resurgence that Drake and Kanye West are now fans. In 2015 he basically shut down Shoreditch with an impromptu gig in Holywell Lane Car Park, and his 2016 album ‘Konnichiwa’ was the first grime album to win the Mercury Prize in 15 years. Legends only, tbh.
Arty party collective
Originally, BBZ (Bold Brazen Zamis) was a way for co-founders Tia Simon-Campbell and Naeem Davis to find themselves a community. Through raves, installations and exhibitions, they’ve created a space for queer women and non-binary people of colour to embed themselves in. This year, BBZ hosted an alternative graduate show at Peckham’s Copeland Gallery, in a bid to showcase the work of queer people of colour without prejudice or the othering of their identities. All that and they throw a great party too.
World music don
With east London-based Worldwide FM, Gilles Peterson is continuing what he’s done his whole career: sharing underground music from all corners of the earth. While he has a global outlook, he’s still an advocate for arts in our city: his label released London jazz compilation ‘We Out Here’ and he’s been announced as one of the first DJs to play new venue Evolutionary Arts Hackney.
Singer, songwriter, producer
Picked by Nick Levine, Time Out acting Music editor
MNEK is a London success story. He grew up in Catford, and now lives and works – prolifically – in Shoreditch. Though he’s still only 23, he’s already co-written and/or produced bangers for Madonna, Beyoncé, Christina Aguilera, Dua Lipa, Zara Larsson, Kylie Minogue… the list goes on. I hate to think how many times I’ve listened to the first big hit he worked on, ‘All Fired Up’ by The Saturdays, but I know it still goes off every time it’s played at We Love Pop and Push the Button. It’s awesome to see MNEK really making his mark as a solo artist, too. As a black gay guy who really understands the mechanics and aesthetics of great pop and R&B music, he’s giving us something we haven’t really had before. He’s also a super-nice person: at UK Black Pride in July, he had time for everyone who wanted a selfie or a chat with him. And most excitingly of all, this is all just the beginning of his musical journey; I can’t wait to see his star rise further in the coming years.
Young Vic director
Picked by Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out Theatre & Dance editor
Born in Hillingdon, Kwame Kwei-Armah is a boy done good, and then some. His first big break came in his thirties: he landed a long-running role in the Beeb’s ‘Casualty’. But he always had bigger things on his mind, and in 2005 his play ‘Elmina’s Kitchen’ – set in a West Indian restaurant on Hackney’s Murder Mile – opened at the National Theatre and transferred to the West End: the first ever play by a black British playwright to do so. A few plays later, Kwei-Armah headed off to the US, to serve as artistic director of the Baltimore Center Stage theatre. Now, finally, he’s back. Kwei-Armah’s just become the new Young Vic boss – the first ever black artistic director of a major London theatre. He’s not done much yet, but the two major shows he has announced look mouthwatering: a community-driven version of ‘Twelfth Night’ and a production of Danai Gurira’s ‘The Convert’ with a cast to die for. We hope he’s home for the long haul.
Once it seemed like pop stars were made in America, while London pumped out guitar bands in hats. Now London is becoming a hive of Very Good Pop. Our new queen? Dua Lipa: the Brit Award-winning, most-streamed woman in the UK last year (according to Spotify) who grew up in our city – and worked on the door of a Mayfair club before her big break. Her ‘New Rules’ are now so well known one day they’ll probably be chipped on to stone tablets.
Es Devlin has set the stage for some of our city’s biggest cultural moments: from the 2012 Olympics Closing Ceremony to Stormzy’s water-soaked performance at the Brit Awards and Beyoncé’s ‘Formation’ shows at Wembley Stadium. She’s known for creating magical moving sculptures, and this weekend she’s unveiling her most iconic London work to date: a glowing scarlet lion that will sit in Trafalgar Square and quote poetry provided by the public.
Black Girl Fest founders
After realising that young black women didn’t have a space dedicated just to them, these friends went about rectifying that. In 2017, they crowdfunded and hosted the UK’s first Black Girl Festival, an event to empower and champion the talents of all black women while also providing a safe space against sexism and racism. This year’s event sold out in just five days.
Sink The Pink party-starters
We can thank these two for raucous, rebellious drag night Sink The Pink, where even the most timid of us can feel free to celebrate our differences (while wearing a big fabulous wig, obvs). The parties now sell out huge venues like Brixton Academy, but they remain home to a family of LGBT+ folk and outsiders. RuPaul might have mainstreamed drag but Sink The Pink have caused a gender-queering drag revolution.
Mayor of London
During his two years in the role, Sadiq Khan has made a conscious effort to protect culture in London. He’s overseen the arrival of the night tube, brought in Night Czar Amy Lamé and launched the London Borough of Culture initiative. Plus the introduction of the Hopper fare has made bus travel across the city a tad cheaper. So we can get out and about for less. Good one, Sadiq!
Picked by Tania Ballantine, Time Out Food editor
I’ll never forget my first Ottolenghi. I’d moved to a new flat in Islington and had woken up with a stinking hangover. Off I crept in search of a bacon sarnie nearby. No joy on the sandwich front, but the cheery staff at Ottolenghi’s clean-lined deli insisted I try a box of salads. It blew me away. These were take-no-prisoners flavours that I knew from my travels but had rarely tasted in London: pomegranate molasses, tahini and zhug. Then the cookbook came out and you couldn’t go for dinner at someone’s house without eating from it. Because the beautiful thing that Jerusalem-born Yotam Ottolenghi and his co-founders have done for London is to bring Israeli food into the mainstream. Which has paved the way for places like Honey & Co, The Palomar and, my personal fave, The Barbary to thrive. For that, I’ll always be grateful.
It’s almost a cliché to call Novelist the poster child of the grime generation now, but the 21-year-old really is a leading Gen Z voice. The Brockley boy put out his self-written, self-produced debut album, ‘Novelist Guy’ this year. That’s after being Deputy Young Mayor for Lewisham. Novelist for PM (or at least the Mercury Prize).
‘Beavertown’ might sound like a kids’ TV show, but it’s actually the brewery that helped kickstart London’s craft beer movement. Founded by Logan Plant (son of Robert), Beavertown’s known for its seriously good brews with less-than-serious cartoon-covered cans and names . Anyone for a Smog Rocket?
Artist and filmmaker
There just isn’t enough space here to reel off Steve McQueen’s achievements. Let’s just say that as the first black filmmaker to win an Academy Award for Best Picture, a recipient of the Turner Prize and one of Time magazine’s Most Influential People in the World, he’s a bit of a Big Deal. The west London-born artist, director and screenwriter has a new heist movie, ‘Widows’, coming out in November. It’s already attracting every drop of hype going.
Actor, activist, landlord and national treasure
Currently starring in ‘King Lear’ at the Duke of York’s Theatre, Ian McKellen has played more iconic roles than London has hot food trucks. Not content with saving Middle Earth in Peter Jackson’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy, McKellen’s also a staunch LGBT+ activist who co-founded gay charity and lobbying group Stonewall. He even finds time to co-own and help run classic Limehouse boozer The Grapes. Sir Ian is every bit as powerful as Gandalf.
Choreographer, dancer and composer
If you’d gone looking for Hofesh Shechter in August, you’d have found him in the tunnels beneath Somerset House. No, he didn’t get lost on his way to an exhibition. That was where Shechter’s dance company put on ‘Underground’, an anarchic performance that was lauded by critics as yet more proof that he is London’s most vital choreographer right now.
Only in London would one of the world’s most exciting sustainability schemes be found at a rooftop pop-up. The GrowUp Urban Farm box sat sandwiched between a batting cage, a pizza truck and rollerskating rink at Roof East in Stratford last summer. The boxes use fancy aquaponic technology to provide local, sustainable sources of fish and salad. Founder Kate Hofman’s hoping to use the project as a launchpad, opening more farms in London and in cities around the world. She’s a green visionary.
The Glory founder and drag superstar
When it seemed like east London’s LGBT+ venues were on the verge of extinction, Jonny Woo came along and opened The Glory in 2014. Half pub, half queertopia, the venue epitomises the impact that Woo’s creativity has had on London, putting performance art, cabaret and drag at its heart. And next month he’ll host his third ‘Un-Royal Variety’ show at the Hackney Empire. London life without Woo is simply life not worth living.
If anything weird ever happens in London, these likely lads are almost certainly at its heart. A climbing wall made of models of boobs and dicks? A sausage seance? A museum of ice cream? Sushi served on a hairy dude’s stomach? You know who’s to blame. Now they’re creating the world’s biggest gin cloud (which you can catch at the epic Time Out 50 event on September 29). They take your breath away.
While Twitter timelines are packed with jokes about Trump and Brexit, Nish Kumar has offered educated opinions and an impassioned rage about the current state of the world. The BBC’s ‘Mash Report’ is a hit, largely thanks to the Wandsworth-born comic’s sharp-witted hosting skills. But after calling Piers Morgan ‘what would happen if someone injected a gammon steak with white privilege’, Kumar would’ve become a star whatever. Ben Williams
For 50 years, Gilbert & George have been the rebels of art. They believe in saying what they bloody well like, thank you. In fact, despite the Tate hosting a retrospective of their work in 2007, the pair have decided to open their own gallery this year. Their argument? The Tate never shows their work. Never afraid to kick up the dirt, Gilbert & George – with their weekly visits to Mangal 2 in Dalston – are part of the fabric of London.
Art Night founders
Picked by Eddy Frankel, Time Out Art & Culture editor
This list of things we have to be thankful to the French for is long. I mean, where would we be without the word ‘restaurant’? Just pointing at eating establishments and grunting, that’s where. We can add Art Night to that list now. Inspired by the French Nuit Blanche festival and founded by two Parisian imports, Ksenia Zemtsova and Philippine Nguyen, Art Night is London’s first all-night art party. It stumbled a little a first, only managing to stay open until 2am, which is nowhere near any real party hound’s bedtime. But this year – its third – it hit its stride. Combining unusual locations and major art stars, Zemtsova and Nguyen have managed to create a festival that’s free, open to all and properly accessible.
The most thrilling moment in music this year came at the Brit Awards. After picking up the gong for British Album of the Year, and standing in a shower of water, Stormzy delivered a rap calling out the government’s failures over the response to Grenfell, the hypocrisy of politicians and the plight of black people in Britain. Since then, he has set up his own imprint of Penguin Random House to champion young writers and launched a scholarship at Cambridge University for black students. A real over-achiever.
Picked by Phil de Semlyen, Time Out Film editor
I’d happily take a tranquiliser dart for Paddington. The little bear appeared in cinemas three years ago and showed us all our best sides – and our city’s best side, too. Now, approximately a zillion pounds’ worth of box office later, he probably has people to do that kind of thing for him, so I’m transferring the love to Paul King, the writer-director who made it possible. The adopted Londoner made the wonderful ‘Paddington’ in 2014 and then somehow topped it with ‘Paddington 2’ last year. I visited him on the set of the first film, a night shoot at the Natural History Museum. Paddington’s stand-in that night was a bear’s head on a stick. To be honest, it didn’t seem like a hit movie in the making. But King nailed it. And he did it by honouring the optimism of Michael Bond’s little Peruvian immigrant and celebrating London’s inclusive spirit. Thanks for looking after our bear, Paul.
Five years after Lolly Adefope started performing on the capital’s comedy circuit, the south Londoner has appeared in most recent British sitcoms and starred alongside Tom Cruise and Mila Kunis in summer blockbusters. Still, Adefope’s remained a distinctive and very silly voice on the alternative circuit. Proof that the dingy pub basements that make up London’s comedy scene are still producing the next megastars. Ben Williams
Artist, sculptor, founder of Alternative Miss World
Back in the ’70s, Andrew Logan put on a party that was Crufts for humans. The Alternative Miss World pageant was all about transformation, with contestants judged on the dog show’s categories. More than 40 years later, the event is still running. And Logan’s still a joyful presence – most recently staging a vibrant jewellery parade through Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre at the height of the debate about it getting pulled down.
Actor and Star Warrior
Having seen him in his most famous role, FN-2187 (aka Finn) in the ‘Star Wars’ sequel trilogy, one thing we know about John Boyega is that he isn’t great with a lightsaber. Not that he has to be, because he’s a dab hand at acting. The Bafta-winning, Peckham-born star has appeared in so many blockbusters he could revive the defunct video rental chain. He hasn’t forgotten his roots, though: from bringing his whole family to the premiere of ‘The Last Jedi’ to taking Harrison Ford for jollof rice at Peckham joint 805.
Founder of Soft Opening
Think of cool, innovative galleries and you might imagine trendy warehouse spaces. What you might not think of is the rotunda of Piccadilly Circus tube station. But this is where you’ll find Soft Opening, founded and curated by Antonia Marsh. The 24-hour space gives a platform to under-represented voices, while making the edgier end of contemporary art accessible to the masses. It’s no surprise Marsh is regarded as one of art’s boldest new voices.
DJ and venue owner
As the owner of Dalston Superstore, Voodoo Ray’s and the now closed Dance Tunnel (RIP), Dan Beaumont knows how hard it is for late-night London venues to thrive. He’s one of the city’s most vocal advocates for protecting our night economy. Plus, amid all the stories about east London’s nightlife dying, he opened a drag karaoke bar. This man is basically trained in party CPR.
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