It was too shabby for Nigella, who famously got out the moment she had the cash, and even less well-heeled Londoners — those, for example, from nearby Kensal Rise — look down on us. ‘You haven’t even got any coffee shops,’ sneered my friend the novelist Tim Lott, using the most damning insult he could find. And on the face of it, the scoffers are right about my hood: Shepherd’s Bush looks to the casual observer like nothing more than a solid line of fried-chicken outlets (I counted 12 in a half-mile stretch, including Sammy’s, Sam’s, Rooster’s Grill, Chicken Valley, Chicken Cottage, Tennessee Fried Chicken, KFC and the upmarket Nando’s), broken only by the odd pawnbroker or halal butcher. When residents refer to the area as ‘Chez Boo’, or themselves as ‘the Bush-eoisie’, it’s never without a trace of irony.
For a long time, Shepherd’s Bush was where you went if you couldn’t afford Notting Hill. But things are changing. First off, what normal person would want to live in Notting Hill these days? The vast mountains of money that have poured into the area from around the world have sucked all the life out of it and it’s now dead as a doornail, a resting place for black Range Rovers, and the only people you see on the streets are servants accompanying little children in 1950s prep-school outfits. The bohemian types have left. I know: I have been running a bookshop and event venue there for five years, and our shop has become markedly less busy over the past year or two. Seems the new rich don’t buy books.
Walk down Uxbridge Road, on the other hand, and all life is there, thanks largely to the immigrant populations. There are always people on the street. Jamaicans laugh and shout outside the betting shop. Burka-clad young mums chatter into their phones. Syrians and Lebanese pour out of the mosque. Indians sit at mobile phone top-up counters and beer-bellied Brits take fag breaks outside the pub. We have two Middle Eastern supermarkets, the legendary Damas Gate and the newer Al-Dimashqi. We have Ochi, a superb Caribbean take-away. And alongside all of that, there is the bohemian culture: Bush Hall hosts indie bands and Bollywood film shoots. The Bush Theatre pumps out a consistently high standard of drama and its café is a sophisticated little Groucho Club. There is the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, where I saw Wilko Johnson play the other day. And now the ‘white middle class’, as we are labelled by teachers at the local comps, even have our own trendy coffee shop on the Uxbridge Road, the Hummingbird Deli.
And, of course, at the other end of the Uxbridge Road we have Westfield, London’s largest shopping centre. I still haven’t adjusted to the presence of Prada and Tiffany in Shepherd’s Bush — it just seems wrong — but Westfield has been open since 2008 and there’s no doubt that it has boosted the local economy, providing employment to plenty of Bush residents.
If it’s something a bit more hip you’re after, pop-ups in car parks are also beginning to appear in the Bush. I used to think that pop-ups were not for us. They were for the citizens of Hackney, Peckham and Walthamstow. I would probably go to my grave never having been to a pop-up in a car park. But every weekend this summer, there have been food stalls and DJs on the roof of BBC Television Centre. It’s nice to see that Shepherd’s Bush can host rooftop yoga sessions, large sofas and street art.
The pop-ups have been organised as way of promoting Television Centre’s forthcoming transformation into a ‘creative hub’, to use the correct term. Yes, White City is getting the Shoreditch treatment, though a highly planned and well-financed version, backed by a gigantic Canadian investment firm called AIMCo. The unbelievably clever Soho House chain, who never seem to get anything wrong, have chosen Television Centre as the site of a hotel and club. Independent restaurants, cinemas and shops are also promised. What’s more, Imperial College is also planning to extend its operations in the area, so there will be some real actual young people.
Opposite Television Centre is a Nineteen Eighty-Four-type office block called the Ugli Building. It’s like Brick Lane’s Truman Brewery: a collection of small offices. I had a look around the other day. It is full of start-ups. Rather like pop-ups, I never thought start-ups would come to the Bush. Makes me want to launch my own start-up. If I do, I’ll consider renting some space in the Ugli Building, and I’m definitely considering opening a bookshop and event venue in Television Centre or nearby. It would be nice to be in a creative hub. Notting Hill these days is neither very creative nor much of a hub.
Let’s just hope the rents are affordable, that’s all. The artists went to Shoreditch in the Nineties, as they did to Notting Hill in the Seventies, because they could afford it. When the artists leave an area, the soul leaves with them.