Stargazing

Holly asks:

“Do you know the names of any celebrities or public figures that were born/grew up or currently live in Greenwich?”

The Phantom replies:

I must start out with the caveat that I am probably the world’s worst Phantom to ask about celebrities. One of my most common faux-pas is greeting ‘old friends’ in the street whilst being hissed at by whoever I’m with that I only know the ‘pal’ in question off the telly.

But back to celebrities. How low do you want to go? I have to say that one of the (many) reasons I love Greenwich is that it’s so unfashionable amongst the sleb-culture that pervades the pages of Heat – random bimbos in long-lens bikini shots either shockingly “too thin” or “too fat” in alternate issues; bum-fluff-chinned teenage boys in bad hats being thrown out of nightclubs having committed acts of mild decadence as though it’s the first time anyone’s thought of being outrageous.

Oliver’s is no Annabel’s (or whatever the latest place to be is) – and long may it continue to be so. Our town attracts quirky individuals rather than desperate fame-seekers or z-list soap stars – and though we do have a lot of meedja-types, they’re nearly all backstage, creative characters rather than Big-Brother wannabes or has-beens. The kind of producers, musicians, writers, animators, film makers and designers that Greenwich garners don’t generally make it to the front pages of the neon-headlined glossies, and they usually have two names, rather than being just referred to as “Flossie” or “George” as though we should know who the bloody hell they are.

Sorry – you’ve stumbled upon a bit of a hobby horse of mine. I’ll move back to your question.

Of course Greenwich used to be the epicentre of Celebrity – when kings and queens were the centre of the gossip pages. And at least the celebrities of olden tymes actually did something for their fame, even if it was only the dissolution of the monasteries.

Nowadays – well, now the ‘big’ names are fewer (as are are the talents you need to possess to become one) but I’ll try to think of as many as possible; I’m sure that other people can add a few more to my paltry list.

Um, well – there’s Jools Holland, of course. His very eccentric studio, a fake railway building complete with crenellations, statues, domes and what looks suspiciously like an entire Victorian street including pub, the Holland Arms, is next door to Westcombe Park Station. Sadly for us, he’s only made the illusion work one-way, so our view is mainly breezeblocks and sloppy cement rather than the full-Portmeirion-monty.

I haven’t read Jools’s memoir yet, but it talks about another famous Greenwich-raised ex-resident, Daniel Day Lewis, who lived with his family, including his poet-laureate dad Cecil, at the foot of Crooms Hill, opposite the theatre. I understand Jools was considered a bit of an oik and was only invited round the once…

His other old Squeeze-mate, Glen Tilbrook, still lives round here, I understand – or if he doesn’t, he’s back often enough to make me believe he does. You can often find him jamming with Los Dawsons at Cattleyas in Charlton of a Sunday night.

I’m sure someone once told me a famous guitarist once lived behind the Gipsy Moth pub, but the brain’s not working so well this morning, ‘fraid. Also in the memory-not-so-clear-these-days section has to be the film maker who won(?) an Oscar who lives in East Greenwich. She may or may not have been an animator. Jeez, I don’t know…

We have a lot of writers, but most tend to be mid-list, save for Blake Morrison and Gruffalo illustrator Axel Scheffler, both of whom I believe live in Blackheath. And of course, the one one and only Malcolm Hardee was a Grade A. Greenwich Individual until a couple of years ago.

The closest we get to daytime-TV-style ‘celebrity’ (apart, of course, from our own beloved – and seemingly omnipresent these days – Robert Gray) is Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen who used to live round here (I’m not sure if he still does.)

Blimey, this is doing my head in. I’m sure there are more – including sports stars, about whom I know absolutely nothing at all – but I guess the answer to your “do we have any famous residents” question, Holly is ‘not really’ – and Greenwich is generally the better off for it.


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