“There are little nods and big gestures to Cruella throughout the afternoon tea,” explains Annabel. “Cruella is very Vivienne Westwood – 1970s punk rock and anarchy. She’s a super chic sassy gal with anarchic attitude. It’s all rock and roll and a little bit mad.” The egg and cress mayonnaise sandwiches and mint yoghurt and cucumber filled may be classics but they are placed alternatively on the plate with white and dark bread. The striped effect is of course inspired by Cruella’s two tone hair. All very Daphne Guinness.
Every plate is full of devilishly delightful signature pieces. “The Lanesborough is very dog friendly,” praises Annabel P. “When I arrived a bed with a couple of treats was set out for Winne my mini wire haired dachshund. “I’m sure Cruella would approve!” This season is all about reinvention of the A line and afternoon tea. And killer heels of course. It’s all brilliant, bad and more than a little bit mad.
In the land of champ and Portavogie scampi and pasties (Ulster not Cornish) and soda farls and wheaten bread and dulse and Tayto crisps and fifteens and rocky roads and yellowman there’s something new and exciting to go and explore for a wee dander. The original house at the heart of the Culloden Estate – the Bishop’s Palace – may be 145 years old but Art and Soul, the Holywood International Art and Sculpture Fair filling its grounds and interiors, is very much a meantime use.
Dr Howard Hastings, Managing Director of Hastings Hotels, explains “At Hastings Hotels, I believe that we can distinguish from our competitors by highlighting the local culture and heritage surrounding our hotels. One way we do this is by focussing on our own locally grown produce in our menus. At Culloden Estate and Spa, another way we achieve this is through the artwork on display throughout the hotel. Some of these paintings were acquired by my father, Sir William Hastings. He selected paintings he liked and which he thought were in keeping with the Bishop’s Palace setting. More recently we’ve concentrated on supporting our local artists, many of whom have international reputations, yet still live and work in Northern Ireland.”
Over the last while, swimming against the tide, we have been consumed by a tsunami of beach huts from Bexhill-on-Sea, Cooden Beach and Eastbourne to Hastings, Littlehampton and Westbrook Bay. And Deal of course. But we never quite expected to be breezily coasting along to face seaside exposure in… Knightsbridge. Shedding any retro rusticity never mind dodging budgie smuggling by the bucketful, primary colours afloat, The Berkeley offers sophistication in spades while flying the flag for its coastal theme. When the chips are down, it’s time to head for the beach huts at your local five star. Talk about drowning in a new strand of luxury. Life’s beachy. Over to Gertrude Stein in her 1914 classic Tender Buttons: “A winning of all the blessings, a sample not a sample because there is no worry.”
Our hut is full of the haves and the have knots. HMS Bon Voyage is plain sailing thanks to the crew on board this afternoon. We’re feeling somewhat nautical and rather nice, ready to learn the ropes. Fortunately all hands are on deck to deliver service with platefuls of smile. Ship ahoy! We’re all awash with admiration for this full throttle experience. Our table might be a cacophony of firm but feisty first world orders but we’re not feeling fishy so dive straight into the off menu on zeitgeist in vogue vegetarian range (we don’t want crabs or the £128 tomahawk steak). Nothing tastes as good as skinny fries. Or baked artichoke, grilled tenderstem, courgette and tomato. Or even charred asparagus, carrots, radish and truffle goat’s curd. Not forgetting lemon drizzle bites washed down with British sparkling Gusbourne Blanc des Blancs. Somebody give that vintner a knighthood! Gertie again, “Nearer in fairer sea, nearer and farther, show white has lime in sight, show a stitch of 10.”
There are five huts: Whitstable (lobster red and white stripes); Southwold (ocean blue); Walberswick (sandy orange); Deal (seagrass green); Padstow (surf blue). As for the experience – it’s a micro break good enough to write home about or at least to send a postcard. Everything is shipshape although it’s not like we’re here to rock the boat, more like rock the casbah! Late afternoon is all about topping up our monokini ready spring tan on The Berkeley’s terrace. Bronze is the new gold. Who’d have thought? We’ve never had such pun. Seamen’s paradise. We just don’t wanna leave but hang on, mixing our drinks with our metaphors, someone’s commanding doors to manual. Best not catching cabin fever. Waving goodbye, we’re all washed up but in a good way, heading across Wilton Place to the local Nag’s Head just in time to catch sunset. Life’s peachy. And finally Ms Stein: “A cool red rose and a pink cut pink, a collapse and a sold hole, a little less hot.”
The restaurant’s airy interior is eclectic industrial with white painted exposed ceilings and polished concrete columns. It’s several times larger than the petite Dairy. A variety of tables, banquettes and bar seating is complemented by mismatched crockery. There’s a central tiled bar and metal framed kitchen hatch. The industrial chic reaches a zenith in the unisex bathroom with trough basins and factory taps.
Robin and Sarah’s aim is “to create memories” or sometimes “to create memory loss”, the latter presumably depending on the volume of Pebble Dew sauv blanc consumed. Their goal for The Dairy was “to create an experience as close as possible to dining by a farm or coastline a in central London with direct relationships to our beloved purveyors from the land and sea”. The same goal applies to their new establishment. The word “larder” has a comforting old fashioned feel to it, but while the duo’s is clearly well stocked, this is cutting edge cuisine.
Statues have become something of a fraught subject of late in London but one deserving gent of yore is commemorated in Victoria Embankment Gardens. This linear stretch of rich greenery and extraordinary multicoloured bloom is one of the Capital’s less obvious open spaces, sandwiched between the 19th century embankment along the River Thames and the elevated built form of The Strand. It’s Victorian with a vengeance, viscerally exhilarating and visually rewarding.
The Victorians loved a philanthropist and they don’t come much better than Robert Raikes. This turn of the 19th century journalist and hospital and prison reformer is best remembered as the founder of Sunday schools. Noting the unsupervised behaviour of children on Sundays in his home town of Gloucester, he engaged local women to teach them reading and church catechism. The experiment was so successful he reported in his paper the Gloucester Journal that the town had become “quite a heaven upon Sundays”. The movement spread across the country and in 1785 the Sunday School Society was formed. Robert Raikes’ statue, sculpted by Thomas Brock in 1880, stands proud among the summer bedding.
“We have seen that a Fashion utterance involves at least two systems of information: a specifically linguistic system, which is a language (such as French or English) and a ‘vestimentary’ system, according to which the garment signifies the world or Fashion. These two systems are not separate: the vestimentary system seems to be taken over by the linguistic system.” So wrote our favourite philosopher Roland Barthes in his 1967 revelation The Fashion System.
Musical model Funmi Olagunju literally rocks up strumming her guitar. Lavender coloured clothes clad, she sings, “I only wanted to see you, laughing in the purple rain, purple rain purple rain…” Funmi shares, “Mary’s clothes are so crazy! They’re elegant and theatrical. They’re regal. She thinks outside the box!” Beautiful Natasha Lloyd bursts across our vision in a radiance of red. Crimson is the new black. She next models the Queen of Africa dress. Over to Mary, “I’d just won African Fashion Designer of the Year and I felt like I was the Queen of Africa! The colourway in this dress represents brown for earth, green for grass and yellow for the sun.”
While getting ready, model Sienna Kinley advises on confidence, “You forget who you are. You go into fear mode. The mindset is to remind yourself who you are. Who you are is everything you need to be in this life. Everything you’ve been given is enough for you in this world. Sometimes you can forget that’s enough. Confidence is recognising who you are: you are a perfect being. All the gifts and talent you have are enough.” Makeup artist Sofia Mahmood adds, “Be creative. You need great patience to be a makeup artist. Patience with creativity.”
This Old Street London warehouse is rocking with a carnival atmosphere and a festival of talent. All of us are in front and to the side and behind the cameras as filming continues… yes, that film. In the midst of the mayhem and madness and fashion miscellanea, Mary emerges, as ever a human whirlwind of orders and changes and directions and laughter. “I don’t like ordinary,” she understates. Natasha reappears modelling The Hidden Queens Collection dress with its socially distancing crinoline.
The dresses of The Collections flow onto the film set amidst falling roses and oversized poppies. World class ballerina Omozefe (“just call me ‘Sue’”) performs pirouettes and shows photograph of herself with Margot Fontaine. “It was her last performance ever at the Royal Opera House! I have met Rudolf Nureyev twice. I love dancing to The Nutcracker, Carmen and of course Swan Lake.” Soon Sue is teaching model Hassan Reese some Pilates moves. “Pilates is similar to ballet – it’s about micro movements stretching muscles. You can’t get up on point unless your core being is very strong.”
Cleopatra, brought to life by model Natasha Lloyd, struts her stuff. Three times Taekwondo World Champion Carol Hudson, modelling herbaceous headgear, says with some understatement, “Mary’s clothes aren’t for the fainthearted!” Photographer Monika Schaibel agrees, “Mary has a vision and is always true to her vision. Amazing eye to detail. Her fashion shows are pure theatre – they’re art happenings.” Kiki Busari, modelling The Red Dress, adds, “I love the opulence. These dresses take you to a fantasy world. A world where you are empowered and strong.”
It’s like the creativity of King Jotham with the boldness of Queen Vashti and the power of King Xerxes. “Never try to explain your work,” once said our fav photographer of all time, Deborah Turbeville. So we won’t say we are a muse or the bridge between the bright lights or something else far more mesmeric and fantastic. Let the wrap party begin! To paraphrase Marilyn Monroe, we all just want to be wonderful. “Fashion dissolves the myth of innocent signifies,” ends Roland Barthes, “at the very moment it produces them.” Super supermodel Katie Ice has left the building.
The vacated White Stuff drapers next to The Old Bank pub has been given a smashing sash windowed timber fronted paler shade of Fortnum and Mason’s green façade complete with encaustic tiled inset porch. It’s VE Kitchen, a vegan outlet. A few doors down, Anglo Asian restaurant East Street by Tampopo fills the unit that Byron Burgers once occupied and before that Anglo Italian restaurant Marzano. Across the road, Oddbins wine shop is now Orée French boulangerie. It’s not all change: The Old Bank’s other neighbour, family run Italian restaurant Osteria Antica Bologna, has been flying the tricolour since 1990. All spilling onto the pavement onto the road into the Saturday and Sunday ambience.
Unlike Belfast with an Ormeau Bakery shop on every street corner, London was sorely lacking on the bread front. That was, until baker Gail Mejia set up her first eponymous shop on Hampstead High Street in 2005. Now the bakery comes to you. Monday morning there’s a knock at the door of The House of Lavender’s Blue. Afternoon tea for four from Gail’s on Northcote Road. Nice start to the working week. Monday is the new Friday. Or at least that’s how it will seem later at Tropix on Clapham High Street, the Caribbean foodie hangout in the former Royal Oak pub. To misquote the Anglo Irish novelist Elizabeth Bowen, every moment of your day and night has to be lived.
Afternoon tea is packed into a salmon pinkish red box, Gail’s trademark colour. “The best thing since…” is printed on the box but there’s more to afternoon tea than sliced bread. Jing Assam breakfast tea accompanies scones with Rodda’s clotted cream, organic strawberry jam and lemon curd. Savouries are smoked salmon and avocado yoghurt rolls plus avocado and egg sandwiches. Sweets are chocolate brownie fingers and honey cakes. The 7th Duchess of Bedford would approve.
Skylon isn’t just a hotel along the northern route into Dublin. It’s also a pop up restaurant along Southbank London which for now has popped out of its usual home on the third floor of Royal Festival Hall right onto the terrace along the embankment. The sharp lines and abstract planes of this mid 20th century Grade I Listed Corbu-on-Söderström building are strengthened by a cobalt blue sky. Part of the D+D restaurant group, alfresco Skylon is all about informal European plates, people watching and soaking up those Vitamin D rays.
Newzroom Afrika is the African Continent’s premier 24 hour digital satellite television news channel. It is broadcast from Pretoria in South Africa across southern, east and west Africa. It is 100 percent black owned and 50 percent female owned. The Z in its name is of significance. It’s the initial of ‘Zenith’: this channel reaches the height of broadcasting and the breadth geographically.
Bucolia should be a noun. Feet resting on the window shutter while reading a novel next to an open balcony. Champagne on the rocks on the beach. Strolling along meandering streets of quaint gaily painted cottages. Goat’s cheese soufflé from The Dining Club later. All on that most special of days. Deal is more than a verb and a noun. A proper noun for a proper place.
It all started at a private party in Chelsea. What doesn’t? Many moons ago, back in the sway, we shimmied up to developer Orpheus’ latest townhouse feeling just a little bit on form. By midnight we’d hit the top terrace dancefloor and before we knew it, we were tearing it up with the gorgeous Clea Irving. She was of course Art Curator of sketch. We’ve always been drawn to fabulosity.
A fuchsia painted rollercoaster of engagement parties, afternoon teas with models and planners and model planners, breaking the midday rule (“More Champagne darlings… time… places… people…”) over Christmas fairies and fairy cakes, summer madness and some insanity, pre Masterpiece cocktails, post Masterpiece nightcaps and post post Masterpiece parties ensued down the years.
We mightn’t have three Michelin stars or boast egg shaped loos or own a dining room big enough to thrash out a game of badminton in but – hey! – at The House of Lavender Blue we reckon we’re sorta up there with the artistic antics of sketch. A dismembered mannequin posing as Surreal garden sculpture. Goddit. More dioramas than a Victorian playground. Goddem. Architectural sketches and artistic endeavours of varying substance. All watched over by the attendant eye of Art Curator Zelda Blakley. Godda get more. Godda get out more. What’s more, more’s more.Knock knock. “What’s there?” A reverse Pandora’s Box. A pink cuboid of delights decorated with drawings of the ceiling plasterwork of sketch dining room. A bureau style ensemble with an extending board for playing monopoly or chess or miniature croquet or Russian roulette. And a menu signed by Executive Head Chef Fred Don and Executive Pastry Chef Christophe Gasper in a watermarked envelope. Sealed with an S. Which stands for superlative.
It all ended with a private party in Battersea. What doesn’t? Well, when we say ended… a new day has just begun (“More Champagne darlings? Time! Places! People!”). sketch afternoon tea is like a decadent lifetime away. The carousel must continue. We’re drawn to the new dawn. The fabulous new dawn.
Ever since Heather Small unleashed to the world her unbelievable vocal range with the ultimate Eighties remix Ride on Time (accurately described back then as “a payload of pure euphoria”), she’s been forever moving on up, projecting a pure renaissance. Oprah Winfrey chose her British Olympics Games solo single Proud as the theme tune for her chat show. As well as being the frontispiece of the internationally successful band M People for decades, Heather’s own career has remained stunningly stellar. “I step out of the ordinary | I can feel my soul descending,” she sings in her extraordinary anthem Proud. In her next hit Close to a Miracle the opening lines embrace hope, “It could all be so beautiful | Like a ray of sunshine | From the inside looking forward | With a whole different view.” Today Heather is dressed head to ankle in Mary Martin London. She’s working those Jimmy Choo heels.
Londoner Heather Small is the petite toned embodiment of empowerment blessed with an orchestra of a voice and a down to earth yet megawatt presence. Yep, she’s stunning. “The love we have for each other should be regardless of colour or creed. I’ve grown up in a society that doesn’t reflect me. I’m a dark skinned black girl. I’m a proud sista! Everyone should be proud. I’m in control. I’m aware of who I am – I am very happy with that. Fashion means quite a lot to someone like me in the music industry. Fabric, cuts, the way fashion makes you feel.”
“I met Mary at a fundraising event,” reveals the legendary singer. “Mary spoke quite a lot – so do I! She’s got a wonderful brain. Mary is very very observant – any situation gives her inspiration. She reimagines her surroundings as a piece of clothing. A feeling, a vibration. That’s what I noticed about her. Mary’s clothes are ultra creative, a really good cut. It’s always about the bigger picture with her, more than fashion. There’s a bigger statement at the heart of them, what it’s like to be different, marginalised; she’s an inspiration, it’s more than apparel. It’s about sisterhood! Let’s laugh. Let’s have continuous applause by putting a crown on each other’s head! Above all have fun. Mary’s as mad as a box of frogs!”
Rising up, Heather confirms, “I do believe in God. We are put on earth to fulfil a purpose. We need to learn how to be the best to ourselves and each other. Take yourself to a higher place and touch others. I believe in the goodness of people. Always tell the truth because anyone who hears the truth whether they want it or not they take notice… Singing has been a passion all my life. Mary’s clothes represent me.” Angel Street is an address and an address and a dress.