My London: MP Emily Thornberry
I’ve lived with my brother, son, husband and a couple of cats in Islington for 30 years.
Where was your first flat?
My first flat was a ‘hard to let’, which the younger generation can’t believe actually existed — these were council flats that were in a bad state. For the past six months I’d been sleeping on people’s sofas, so I thought it was wonderful to have my own space.
What shops do you rely on?
5 Star dry cleaners on Upper Street. There’s a guy called Mr Ahmed, who has worked there for 50 years, and they also do alterations and repairs — so they’re important.
Where do you go to let your hair down?
Lucky Voice in Islington for karaoke. They have soundproof booths, so you can sing without upsetting anybody else with your terrible vocals. I’ll sing anything, I don’t care! I have absolutely no reservations at all when it comes to singing.
I respect that. Who do you call when you want to have fun?
After a hard day in Westminster, I will get in touch with Dawn Butler. We’ll get a drink together and set the world to rights.
What surprised you when working in Westminster?
If you go into the chamber, it’s really small, crammed and claustrophobic. After it was bombed during the Second World War, Winston Churchill had it rebuilt so you can’t fit 650 MPs. We have to sit on the steps and stand around the edge.
What was your first memory of London?
Biba on Kensington High Street in 1973. It was this fantasy shop with a giant dog and feathers everywhere. I still have three ostrich feathers that I bought there, they were all I could afford. As a 13-year-old, it was heaven because you could go into the make-up stall and put on things like black lipstick. The record shop had a giant record that actually worked and there were famous people who used to go like David Bowie and Twiggy. They had a restaurant on the rooftop with flamingos. The restaurant became a nightclub — I rented it out when I got married and they still had the flamingos there.
What’s the best meal you’ve ever had?
I would recommend the Oxo Tower for a special occasion; I had a meal with the family there last year. I remember the sun going down over the river more than the food.
Who is the most iconic Londoner?
Sir Ian McKellen because of the massive amount of work he’s done in the film world and for the gay community. He visited my kids’ school to talk about his experiences being gay. He does a video for them — they’ll say, ‘How are we gonna get on with our GCSEs then?’ And he’ll say, ‘You will not pass!’ He’s a great guy.
What would you do if you were Mayor for the day?
Bring Clerkenwell Green back to being a green. It’s a car park now but it has always been such a historic centre for the Left. The Mayday parades would begin there, Lenin would go, there’s a Marx Memorial Library. There’s long been a movement to have a statue of Sylvia Pankhurst there, we just need the money and planning permission.
What’s your biggest extravagance?
It might well be my nails and my lashes, which I get done by Hannah at Fantasy Nails & Beauty on Caledonian Road: that is pretty extravagant.
Best thing a cabbie has ever said to you?
I was 16 when I went in a cab for the first time with friends who were all really cool London girls. I was so excited to be in this taxi, seeing the machine go round and kept asking the driver all these questions. Of course, my friends were rolling their eyes and saying, for goodness sake Emily just be quiet!