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Twenty 21 year old portraits
Image: Time Out / Orlando Gili

Meet the future: 20 21-year-olds on life in London now

The city’s newest adults talk life, the universe and their city in 2021

Edited by
Kate Lloyd
Written by
Kate Lloyd
,
Isabelle Aron
&
Chiara Wilkinson
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What were you up to in the year 2000, eh? Enjoying the fact you could still smoke in pubs? Rocking out to Queens of the Stone Age (with no support) at Camden Underworld? Basking in the afterglow of a cool school trip to the Millennium Dome? Using a Jane Norman carrier as a handbag? Getting a roll of film developed? Buying the ‘Thong Song’ on CD?

Well, while you were doing all of that, this lot were busy being born. London’s freshest generation of adults slid out of birth canals in Y2K, turned 16 as Britain voted to leave the EU and graduated from teenagehood amid the fucking pandemic. What the hell does all that do to a person? That’s the question we were so desperate to find an answer to that we set out to interview a whopping 20 21-year-olds from across the capital about their likes, dislikes, hopes, fears and ambitions. 

What we discovered is a generation who are in some ways exactly how society imagines them (politically astute, social media-obsessed, career-hungry, isolation-exhausted) but who are also full of surprises. Take TikTok, it makes them feel old too. Or partying. Yes, they are into it, despite all the stories about them being non-drinkers and club avoiders. Or London. Sure, some young people might have fled to the coast and countryside over the past year but at least four of our interviewees moved to the capital within the past six months and all of them say they plan to stay.

Maybe you’re 21 and currently dismissing all of this as ‘very bait’, to which I say: ‘Sometimes your brain gets a bit slow when you’re old, sorry.’ But if you, like me, are heading rapidly towards middle age, please take the next pages as a proper, comprehensive guide to London’s youngest grown-ups, all in their own words. Kate Lloyd

Here are some brilliant things to do in London this weekend.

Check our the best music festivals in London this year.

On growing up in London

Callum
Orlando Gili

Callum

Hampstead Ponds lifeguard, Dalston

‘I live in Dalston. I’ve lived here my whole life. I’ve kind of seen it go from undesirable, and, you know, quite a dodgy place, to being hipster central. And that’s all happened within my lifetime. It used to be a lovely mix of everything, and everyone rubbing shoulders, and now it feels very much as if there are distinct subsects within. Our neighbours have now been shunted out because the rents are too high.’

Jade
Orlando Gili

Jade

Content creator and radio producer, Lewisham

‘When I say I’m from Lewisham, people are like “Oh, that’s a bad area. A lot of knife crime happens there.” Like, I know it does. And we can’t ignore the facts and figures. But at the same time, there are a lot of us that live in areas like this that are just trying to make it out, and sometimes having those things stereotyped on you is hard. In job interviews, me saying I’m from south-east kind of puts a thing in interviewers minds, like: Oh, have you been involved in any criminal activity? For example, I’ve been in interviews where someone has said: “Oh, you have a really, you know, English name,” and “We weren’t expecting you to be from this area.” And I’ll be thinking: Whoah, you just know my name, you can’t “expect”.’

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Oliver
Orlando Gili

Oliver

Fashion student, Shoreditch

‘At school, I was more into art than academia. And, because of that, they ruled me out as misbehaving. That caused problems for me. The government need to create more opportunities for families from council estates. Growing up in Hackney and Harringay, I don’t think there were enough opportunities, and we didn’t get to see outside of that space. I’d put together a programme that lets them see London in its entirety.’

On work

Stafi
Orlando Gili

Stafi

Photographer and casting assistant, Bermondsey

‘Before the pandemic I was doing so much, like a ridiculous amount of jobs. I’ve been working as freelance photographer since I was 16. It meant I missed out on normal teenage life. Now I’m trying to take a step back and actually enjoy myself rather than feeling in a rush to get somewhere. In fact, I saw a video the other day where these young people, who were like 16 or 17, were saying “If you’re our age and you don’t have a job: what are you doing?” And I was like: Sorry, what? You should really be enjoying life. You shouldn’t be forced to “hustle”.’

Ameena
Orlando Gili

Ameena

Theatre producer, Islington

'In December of last year – so right in the midst of the pandemic – I became the youngest producer in the West End, with a show called “Death Drop”, which was a drag murder mystery. I think, in my industry, the pandemic has kind of opened doors for younger people. Like, my West End debut wouldn’t have happened had there not been nothing on in the theatre, because there was no other show that would work with social distancing.’

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Omar
Orlando Gili

Omar

Architecture intern, Notting Hill

‘I was in the middle of an architecture degree when the pandemic hit, I started thinking a lot more: Am I actually enjoying this? You know, we have had more time to be introspective. And I’ve started to realise that it possibly isn’t really the route I want to go down. Maybe I want to do something different? So I’ve come back to London and we’ll see.’

On having fun

Isaac
Orlando Gili

Isaac

Student and volunteer ambassador for youth LGBTQ+ charity Just Like Us, St John’s Wood

‘Right now, because of the pandemic, you feel like you’re missing out on what was supposed to be, I guess, the wildest years of your life. I came from a Muslim family – I’m not Muslim myself but that’s my background – so I didn’t do any of that fun stuff up until 18, when I could go out with my friends and go to nightclubs and be away from my family. So now it just feels like I only got a little taster of that life for like a year and a half, and then it got pulled away again. I worry about missing out.’

Daisy
Orlando Gili

Daisy

Bar staff and food bank coordinator, Hackney

‘Smoking areas in clubs are just such a social space, and I think that’s one we’re all glad to have back now: those random “Can I borrow your lighter?” moments, you know, that turn into a chat and then you get a number and then a “I’m going to this event tonight, are you going to be there” the next week.’

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Somriddho
Orlando Gili

Somriddho

Activist and model, Marylebone

'I have been using Bumble BFF recently to meet new people because I just moved to Marylebone and I don’t really know many people in the area. Like, two hours ago I met a guy who literally lives 100 metres from me. And we just clicked immediately.'

On money

Mickael
Orlando Gili

Mickael

Model, King’s Cross

‘I invest in stocks and cryptocurrencies. I’m trying to build up my portfolio in terms of Bitcoin and Ethereum. I want to get into being able to sell some sort of artwork that I’ve made online, so like with NFTs.’

Izzy
Orlando Gili

Izzy

Drama school graduate, Mill Hill

‘I’ve just graduated from uni and I’ve moved back in with my parents. I obviously really want to move in with my friends, but it’s genuinely impossible to afford after three years of uni. All my friends are in the same boat. Obviously, it’s not what I want. I think what I fear is that I might get in the habit of being at home and not end up moving out for ages. But hopefully, you know, jobhunting and all that stuff will get me something.’

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Monnae
Orlando Gili

Monnae

Youth support worker, Tottenham 

‘My big worry during the lockdown was my rent: just the worry of going into arrears and how to get out of it, that sense of debt. I want to be a teacher but when the pandemic hit I lost motivation. That’s back now. A charity called Beam helped me get a youth worker role. It’s just mainly helping people find something to do in the summer holidays, not them being on the streets and finding trouble.’

On perceptions of their generation

Bella
Orlando Gili

Bella

Vaccination volunteer, Wandsworth

‘I’m halfway through my medical degree and I’ve taken this year as a gap year. I’ve spent it as a volunteer vaccinator. I think young people, in general, have felt isolated, especially last year, because everyone was kind of blaming the twentysomethings for the rises in Covid cases. I think young people did take on a lot of the bad parts, like having to quarantine and follow all the rules, even though it wouldn’t necessarily impact them as much if they did catch it.’

Oceanne
Orlando Gili

Oceanne

Marketer, East Dulwich

‘Older generations think we’re all antisocial and just want to stay on our phones, and that social media is all that matters to us. But I feel like it’s more that we have a different way of communicating and connecting with other people to them.’

On moving to London

Dan
Orlando Gili

Dan

Hairdresser, Ealing

‘I recently read a book about being a Virgo. I am one so it resonated. And I’m quite a typical Virgo as well: perfectionist and rebellious. I grew up in Somerset in a really, really small, little countryside village. But I always knew that I wanted to move to London, and then when the pandemic struck, I sort of had that “it’s now or never” kind of feeling. I’ve been here for six months now. I like the fact that in London you can be whoever you want to be, because I don’t really feel the pressure to fit into society. I think Virgos can be quite strong characters like that.’

Ruby
Orlando Gili

Ruby

Chef at Hot 4 U, Hackney Wick

‘When I moved to London in January, I was like, “God, what am I doing? You can’t go anywhere.” It was a bit random but I don’t regret it. I feel like there’s still opportunity here. Even though hospitality is on its knees, everyone’s coming together to help each other through the next few months.’

On lockdown

Pippa
Orlando Gili

Pippa

Social worker, Clapham

‘I was on a uni placement in a care home during the second wave. That was pretty intense. We lost quite a lot of residents, and I had built relationships with these people. It made me appreciate lives a lot more because I was seeing how quickly they can be taken.'

Elliot
Orlando Gili

Elliot

Poet and student, Finchley

‘I think people tend to, as they grow up, be more okay with being alone, like they’ve already done, you know, everything else. But the social isolation, at this age, just feels very daunting. I have a lot of friends who are struggling with it more than I am, too. That feels very daunting.’

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Ed
Orlando Gili

Ed

Rugby player and intern, Shoreditch

‘I like the gym. I like going for a few beers. But one good thing that’s happened, because of bars and clubs being closed, is it has brought my friendship group together better. We have spent more time face-to-face talking to each other than we would in clubs. I’ve had conversations I wouldn’t normally have with people.’

Marino
Orlando Gili

Marino

International student, Pimlico

‘I’m from Berlin and, when the pandemic hit, I was originally going to stay in my uni halls. When I decided to fly back, there was this mad rush. I had to pack up everything in my student accommodation room in less than a day. I ended up back there until mid-September. I’m an introvert, so I don’t mind being alone, but I’ve found, on the education side of things, it’s been quite difficult. There hasn’t been support from either the university or the government.'

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