The West End is one of the things that makes Britain great – it is the ultimate glittering bauble on the sparkling Christmas tree of inner-city sophistication
One of my chief concerns at the moment is the fate of the West End. I am a denizen of W1, but alas not a resident. I have long harboured dreams of living in a sprawling set in Albany and devoting the remainder of my life to perfecting the art of being a flâneur, but there comes a time when even the most deluded fantasist must bow to reality.
I have come to accept that, while I may be temperamentally suited to a life of drifting around Mayfair in a haze of tweed and cigar smoke, my destiny lies elsewhere. However, I remain a West Ender in spirit.
The West End is one of the things that makes Britain great – it is the ultimate glittering bauble on the sparkling Christmas tree of inner-city sophistication.
But, rather like the Amazon rainforest, it is also a delicate ecosystem that is under threat, not from unscrupulous loggers and farmers but from what is effectively all-day congestion-charging, 364 days a year. (With fiendish cleverness, the 10pm congestion charge cut-off coincides with the restaurant curfew, and the bedtime of the virus too.)
Then there’s the aggressive land-grab that has seen parts of already crowded roads turned into cycle lanes and prairie-like pavements. I was once a cyclist and I have recently returned to two wheels, so don’t get me wrong: I am thrilled that there is provision for pedal-powered vehicles.
But, for example, the eastern edge of Hyde Park from Cumberland Gate to the Queen Elizabeth Gates would do just as well as Park Lane, without adding further to the moat of cycle lane that is in danger of cutting the West End off from the outside world. Further strangling of the West End looks likely with the proposal to end the scheme that permits non-EU visitors to reclaim VAT on their shopping when leaving the UK.
As I understand it, their retail therapy will end up being 20 per cent more expensive. The maths is simple enough even for me: your £1 million Richard Mille will now cost you an extra £200,000, which means £200,000 not being spent on suites at Claridge’s or the Connaught, nor slap-up meals washed down with Pétrus, nor sports coats at Huntsman or Kent Haste & Lachter.
The French, meanwhile, will be delighted. Paris will probably see an uptick in sales of expensive watches, while suites at the Bristol and the Plaza Athénée will soon be booked out weeks in advance. It is not a dilemma that will trouble me personally: I travel by battered black bicycle rather than purring black Maybach, cannot remember the last time I spent a million quid on a watch, and have been teetotal since the late Nineties.
But just because I cannot do these things does not mean other people should be actively dissuaded from doing so or, for that matter, be deprived of the opportunity to work in the shops, hotels, restaurants bars and clubs of the West End that supply the rich with their pleasures.
I would welcome a West End-related scheme along the lines of the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ initiative that boosted dining during the summer.
One example is bespoke clothing: working with British cloth mills and Savile Row tailors to extend some sort of government-backed discount would stimulate business both on the Row and in the mills. My own tailor, Terry Haste, has offered his clients a discount system: 10 per cent if using a stock fabric or 5 per cent if selecting from one of the bunches.
He has apparently been inundated with orders for sports jackets (it seems that only MPs, limo drivers and restaurant club and hotel managers need suits these days). Happily for Terry, it’s working. He has had to take on new tailors to meet this spike in demand, and there are still (socially distanced) queues on both sides of Sackville Street.
Perhaps I hyperbolise slightly, but other denizens of the Row, and of the West End, are not nearly so fortunate. Something clearly needs to be done, but I am a little hazy as to exactly what and by whom.
If I can summon the energy, perhaps I will fortify myself with lunch at Oswald’s and then stop off at Davidoff for a cigar before marching in dilatory sauntering manner on Downing Street to unfurl my hand-stitched ‘MWEGA’ (Make West End Great Again) banner and use my bespoke megaphone to call for the appointment of a West End tsar who understands the prestige and business that London’s fashionable West End brings to our island nation.
Such resolute action on my part may come as a surprise to those who know my Olympic capacity for indolence and disinclination to walk too far in my bespoke Gaziano & Girling slip-on shoes. But I feel that a stand has to be taken.
Besides, I have fallen for a length of dusty cerise corduroy at Kent Haste and Lachter which would make the perfect, protest-appropriate sports coat – especially with the help of that government-funded discount.
Image: Photo by Chalmers Butterfield