The London Grill: Leo Hollis

We challenge our contributor to reply to ten devilishly probing questions about their London and we don’t take “Sorry Gov” for an answer. Everyone sitting in the hot seat will face the same questions that range from their favourite way to spend a day out in the capital to their most hated building on London’s skyline to find out just what Londoners really think about their city. The questions might be the same but the answers vary wildly.

Leo Hollis

[L]eo Hollis was born in London in 1972. He is the author of two books of London history: The Phoenix: The men who made modern London and The Stones of London: A history in twelve buildings as well as Cities are good for you: The genius of the metropolis. He blogs at Cities are good for you and you can follow him on Twitter @leohollis.

What’s your secret London tip?
Its very simple: Walk! You don’t see the city on the tube. And don’t be afraid to talk to people. Londoners are surprisingly friendly, even though they like the reputation of being busy and surly.

Cities are good for you What’s your secret London place?
London has few secret places but I like the streets around St. Bartholemews Church, with names such as Cloth Fair etc. There is a strong sense of history that reaches back beyond the Great Fire of 1666 – the flames never reached this far north.

What’s your biggest gripe about London?
Ghost Houses – the superrich are using some of our finest historic houses as banks, leaving them empty for much of the year. The social damage is as bad as what is happening to the buildings and the community around it.

What’s your favourite building?
Greenwich Hospital – perhaps Sir Christopher Wren’s most successful building. It imposes on the landscape and is such a bold statement.

The Phoenix What’s your most hated building?
Too many emerging at the moment at such a rapid rate – the Shard strikes me as an iconic building and a failed work of architecture. what happens when it is no longer the tallest building in London; what is it’s purpose then? However the Walkie Talkie on Fenchurch Street is just bad in every way: lumpy, oversized and offers no functional reason for its peculiar ugliness.

What’s the best view in London?
For Free: from the top of One New Change. One of the best things about being on the top of this building is that you don;t have to then look at the building and how it ruins St Paul’s. The view from the top of the Gherkin is amazing if you can get in. Don’t bother with going up the Shard, you can buy a coffee for £3 at the cafe one floor below!

What’s your personal London landmark?
It is amazing to be in the grounds in Kenwood House and still feel that you are in the centre of the city.

What’s London’s best film, book or documentary?
I am reading Bleak House by Charles Dickens at the moment – I know, I should have read it years ago. It is a wonderful story and so interesting about the city in the 1860s.

What’s your favourite bar, pub or restaurant?
In winter: The Hollybush in Hampstead; in summer on the South Bank amongst the crowd in front of the
Festival Hall.

How would you spend your ideal day off in London?
On my bike or walking. Recently I went with my son on the overground to Hackney Wick and cycled to the Olympic Park (which is a huge disappointment) then along the canal to the Thames and onwards as far as Westminster. It took about four hours with a stop off at Borough Market for lunch. I would also take in a museum if there was time and then enjoy the afternoon in a park: Regent’s Park is my favourite. Then supper in Soho.

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