The London Grill: Siobhan Benita

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.

[S]iobhan was a senior civil servant, on track to become one of Whitehall’s top officials, until she resigned to run for the 2012 Mayor of London election as an independent candidate.

During the campaign, Siobhan spent a lot of time listening to community groups and other organisations and she argued for a new approach to public leadership that would put real people before party politics. Siobhan secured around 300,000 votes and came very close to the Liberal Democrat and Green Party candidates. This was a remarkable achievement for a previously unknown independent with no party machine and only scant television coverage during the campaign.

Since the election, Siobhan continues to work with many organisations across London. She regularly provides political comment and analysis on TV, radio and in the printed media.

What’s your secret London tip?
Spend some time at the Royal Festival Hall and Southbank Centre – there is always something interesting going on and it’s a really good central location to meet people, catch up on work in between meetings or enjoy whatever exhibitions and public performances are going on.

What’s your secret London place?
Richmond Park, especially early in the morning when it’s quiet. The Park changes character depending on the weather and even though I’ve been going there since I was little, I still get excited every time I spot any deer in the grass.

What’s your biggest gripe about London?
The fact that the trains and tubes are so expensive and yet so unreliable.

What’s your favourite building?
Although its members could do with reform and modernisation, I do love the historic Palace of Westminster – including of course the Elizabeth Tower and Big Ben. When I worked on Whitehall I walked over Westminster Bridge almost every day for 15 years and I never grew tired of the sight of the Parliament Building on the edge of the Thames.

What’s your most hated building?
Battersea Power Station – it’s so frustrating that this unique site was been left to crumble for over 30 years, at least now a sensible solution that puts the space to good use has been found.

What’s the best view in London?
Looking across St James Park all the way to Buckingham Palace. When the flowers are in full bloom in Spring and Summer it’s one of the prettiest “postcard” views in London, even better if the park’s resident pelicans are showing off, as they often do!

What’s your personal London landmark?
My primary school in New Malden. I have wonderful memories of my time there and both my daughters went there as well.

What’s London’s best film, book or documentary?
That’s a tough one, there’s so many to choose from. A Fish Called Wanda is definitely one of my favourite London-based films and I really enjoyed reading Zadie Smith’s White Teeth recently.

What’s your favourite restaurant?
We are spoilt for choice where I live in New Malden – there are really good Indian restaurants and because of the large Korean population some fantastic Korean cafés as well. I like trying new places so don’t have one favourite.

How would you spend your ideal day off in London?
I would spend it with my family and we’d probably wander around a market that we haven’t been to before, visit one of London’s many museums or galleries (squeeze in a bit of shopping if my daughters have their say) and then finish with dinner on the Southbank.

A version of this Grill originally appeared on the Radio Taxis blog.

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