Monday, November 03, 2014

What lies beneath London?


From deep-level air raid shelters to the colossal Crossrail construction, beneath London lies a labyrinth of tunnels.

I delved underground to visit some of the capital's rarely seen subterranean spots. Here's my BBC News report.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Budding Billy Elliots


Youngsters gather in a room in north London for a ballet lesson. But here there are no tutus, pirouettes - or even any traces of pink.

Jean-Claude Van Damme, Rio Ferdinand and Christian Bale may not sound like your typical pink tutu-wearing ballerinas.

That's because they're not.

But all three have taken ballet classes in the past and are role models for pupils at the London Boys Ballet School, the first of its kind in the UK dedicated entirely to boys, as I find out for BBC News.

'She was an inspiration'

Cherry Groce was paralysed from the waist down after being shot during a police raid on her home in 1985. The shooting sparked rioting in Brixton. 

She died in April 2011 having spent 26 years in a wheelchair, but little else is known about Mrs Groce.

Her son Lee Lawrence spoke to me exclusively about his mother and how the family's lives were affected.

Five controversial solutions



House prices soar'. 'Fears of a housing bubble'. 'First-time buyers priced-out'. These are familiar headlines to Londoners.

Each has appeared in the press in the past month, but similar headlines have become all-too recognisable over the past couple of years.

So what alternative solutions are being put forward to address London's housing crisis?

'Fate was against him'

On a hot, late-summer evening in 1989, the Marchioness pleasure boat, packed with more than 130 partygoers, collided with the dredger Bowbelle and sank in the River Thames, killing 51 people.

Twenty-five years on, I interviewed survivors and victims' families who recalled what happened and the legacy that remains.

Up on the roof

Way up above London's bustling streets, previously neglected rooftops are being converted into flourishing wild flower, fruit and vegetable gardens.

Is London moving its gardens to the skies?

I find out for BBC News.

Old Flame

It was the most closely guarded secret of the London 2012 opening ceremony.


Two years on, the Olympic Cauldron is on display at the Museum of London.

I had an exclusive preview of the show.



John Lewis celebrates

Whether it is for its generous staff bonus or its Christmas advert, John Lewis has recently been the subject of many good-news headlines.

As the partnership celebrates 150 years since it opened its first store, in central London, how has it transformed?

I gained access to some rare photos which give a glimpse of the store's colourful history.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

'Secret' Tube


Deep under the streets of London a disused railway tunnel stretches for six miles. 

After being shut for a decade, there are now plans to reopen the London Post Office Railway - known to many as Mail Rail - as a tourist ride.

But what's it like down there? I delved underground to take an exclusive look for BBC News.

Oscars 2014: As it happened



From the glitz and glamour to the shocks and selfies, I was one half of the BBC’s live online reporting team guiding you through the 2014 Oscars night. 

Here's how the night unfolded.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Hidden places


Thor 2, Fast & Furious 6 and Guardians of the Galaxy are just a few of this year's big screen blockbusters shot in London. 

How is the capital increasingly attracting Hollywood's big bucks?

I found out for BBC News.

Dizzy heights

The "Walkie Talkie" and "Cheesegrater" are nicknames for two of the latest bizarrely-shaped tower blocks to appear on London's skyline, to mixed reaction and sometimes unexpected consequences. 

The "Boomerang" and "Scalpel" are next in the pipeline. But are these modern-day monoliths good for the capital?

Liquid sunshine

In a converted warehouse in south-west London, gentle bubbling and trickling sounds can be heard and there is a heady aroma in the air.
The smell is a spirit, currently 70% alcohol, which has just been boiled in a shimmering copper and stainless steel still. The vapour pipes through a condenser and the alcohol is dripping through a tap into a steel rolling vat.
London's first whisky distillery in more than a century has begun its debut run of production.

Unseen London

Anonymous London blogger The Gentle Author has published his London Album, a compilation of more than 600 previously unpublished photos showing a century of East End life.

Stefan Dickers discovered the slides at the Bishopsgate Institute and highlighted them to the Gentle Author.
They include images of Tower Bridge under construction in the 1890s and a funeral effigy of Charles II on display at Westminster Abbey in the 1910s. I interviewed him and produced this audio slideshow.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Venue transforms

New Movement Collective has produced Nest In the 1890s it was a church, but by the 1980s it was the hedonistic Limelight nightclub, hosting the likes of Boy George and Duran Duran.

Now the former Welsh chapel, on Shaftsbury Avenue, is set to become one of the West End's most unusual performance art venues.

Find out more in my BBC News feature on the venue's transformation.

Twitter Ripper

The front page of a newspaper reports on a 'Ghastly Murder in the East-End. Dreadful Mutilation of a Woman,' as part of its coverage of the murders of Jack the Ripper, London, England, September 1888
It has been 125 years since Jack the Ripper stalked the streets of London, yet the shadow of his gory legacy still looms large.

The identity of the man who brutally murdered five - possibly more - women in the Whitechapel area of London's East End remains a mystery but the case continues to frighten and fascinate.

Now those intrigued by what life in Victorian London was like during the Autumn of Terror have a chance to experience it in a relatively modern way - through real time tweets.

Here's my BBC News exclusive on the project called @WChapelRealTime.
 

Pansy power

Paul HarfleetHe has been called an installation artist, a guerrilla gardener, a photographer and even a therapist.

But Paul Harfleet prefers to describe himself as an "accidental activist".

Mr Harfleet, 37, is the green-fingered man behind the Pansy Project, where a solitary flower is planted in the nearest soil to the spot where homophobic abuse has reportedly happened.

Rising from flames


Philip Pittack & Martin White
East London's Spitalfields was once dominated by the cloth trade. When Charles Dickens wrote of visiting a silk warehouse in 1851, fabric warehouses had been pervasive there for hundreds of years.

Yet by last year, only one such warehouse remained in the area - Crescent Trading.

Then on the morning of 26 September 2012, the firm - which boasted celebrity clients in Vivienne Westwood and Dame Helen Mirren - was devastated by a large fire.

Going Underground

Vincent Sheehan
From Gerry Rafferty's Baker Street to Suggs' Camden Town, via Duffy's Warwick Avenue, London's Tube stations have inspired many musicians.

But now one north London songwriter has used an entire Tube line as his muse.

A 16-year journey to justice


Wendell BakerIn the early hours of a January morning in 1997, Hazel Backwell was asleep in her home.

An intruder broke in, struck her over the head, tied her hands behind her back and raped her.

She then spent 15 hours incarcerated in a cupboard below the stairs before she was found by a friend who raised the alarm.

After more than 16 years, her attacker Wendell Baker has been convicted of raping her.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Welcome to plane spotting paradise


As tens of thousands of Olympics spectators arrived in the UK via Heathrow Airport, few of them would have thought they had spectators of their own.

But they did.

From a small residential road in west London, the arrivals were being watched closely, and in some cases photographed.

For this BBC News feature, I went to meet the of aviation enthusiasts of Myrtle Avenue.

Clowning around


Rubber noses, frizzy wigs and multi-coloured suits may not sound like your usual Sunday best.

But this look was very much en vogue in an east London church.

Armed with hand puppets, balloon animals and whoopie cushions, dozens of clowns descended on Holy Trinity Church in Dalston.

I went along to find out why the jokers and jesters were congregating. 

We can't work it out



When international Beatles fans plan musical pilgrimages to the UK, day tripping to an industrial part of east London is probably not what they have in mind.

But that is where some of the Fab Four's followers have been buying a ticket to ride. 

I went to find out why so many are going on a - not so magical - mystery tour.

Shoreditched?

With news that the White Cube gallery is to close its doors in Hoxton Square, is this the beginning of the end for east London's art scene?

I found out for BBC News.

Subterranean show

A former abattoir in central London, a long forgotten department store in Brighton and a disused paper factory in Moscow might not seem the most likely of theatre venues.

Yet they are just some of the locations where artistic director of dreamthinkspeak Tristan Sharps has been setting up shop over the past decade.

Sharps' venue of choice for his latest production, In The Beginning Was The End,  is central London's Somerset House.

I delved into its hidden chambers and underground vaults to find out more about the show.

Religious TV ‘putting lives at risk'

TV shows made in London that encourage viewers to believe they are cured of life-threatening illnesses by prayer have been condemned by charities.

Charities criticised episodes of the Miracle Hour show, on Faith World TV, during callers with  life-threatening illnesses are encouraged to believe they are cured.

Read my article from my exclusive BBC News investigation here.


Camden Town to Tinseltown


Blur, The Who and Elvis Presley are front-runners on a list of musicians to be honoured with Walk of Fame discs along a route in north London.

Camden Town is to be officially twinned with Tinseltown to create its very own Music Walk of Fame.

The first 30 discs will be laid down this summer, organisers said.

Here's my exclusive story.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Rebel sticker craze hits the Tube


"No eye contact. Penalty £200."

"We apologise for any incontinence caused during these engineering works."

"Peak hours may necessitate you let other people sit on your lap."

These are just a few examples of guerilla stickers that have appeared on London's Tube network in recent months.

Here's my BBC News feature on the latest craze that's brightening up commuters' journeys.

Real ale renaissance



In the cramped kitchen of an east London bar and restaurant, Logan Plant is brewing.

He holds a tube in both hands, from which hot water is pouring into a stainless steel grain-filled vat and there is a sweet smell in the air.

"We've blown a few things up," he quips. "There have been a lot of angry chefs."

You may have heard of his dad - Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant. 

Here's the story behind a surge in London brewery numbers.

Cross Bones


It is a crisp winter's night on an old, narrow London street and though some of the capital's top attractions are just a few hundred metres away, all is eerily quiet.

Half way along the dimly lit road, rusty iron gates stand, covered in hundreds of brightly coloured feathers, flowers and faded photos.

There is movement in the distance. Figures young and old descend upon the street, a few at a time. They carry candles, musical instruments and flasks of tea.

Redcross Way, near London Bridge, in south London, is a place of pilgrimage and this is the night of its monthly vigil.

On the other side of the gates lies a once-forgotten graveyard for the outcasts of society - called Cross Bones.
 

Faith leaders across England in 'HIV healing' claims

Dangerous cases of faith leaders who tell people with HIV to stop taking their life-saving drugs have been identified by African-led community groups in a number of locations across England.

Seven groups said there were instances of people being told by faith leaders they had been "healed" through prayer - and then pressured to stop taking antiretroviral medication, according to the charity African Health Policy Network (AHPN).

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Tube map plots life expectancy


It is an iconic design and has been used by Londoners and tourists alike to navigate their way around the capital for more than 80 years.

But now a version of the Tube map has been put to a very different use - to show how life expectancy varies from station to station. 

Read my BBC News article on the map's findings.

Team GB gymnast becomes stuntman

He has fallen off glaciers, jumped out of speeding cars and leapt from a 10-storey building to avoid a flurry of gunfire.
 
It might sound like Nicholas Daines has had an extraordinary run of bad luck.

But no... he is in fact a former Team GB gymnast who, after hanging up his tracksuit, chose the rather unconventional career path of training to become a Hollywood stuntman.

Here's my BBC News feature on his tale.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Heygate Estate’s last stand

"Unpopular social housing." 

"An arrangement of monolithic land uses."

"Out of place in a city fringe location."

These are just a few of the phrases Southwark Council uses to justify its plans to knock down the Heygate Estate, a sprawling 1970s housing labyrinth in south-east London's Elephant and Castle.

Yet, on the estate, resides an 82-year-old woman who shares her flat with her husband, who is 83.

Here is my BBC News feature on why she and a handful of other residents have vowed to fight the council's compulsory purchase order of their homes.

The River Thames’ remarkable tale


If you are on the banks of the Thames, enjoying one of the many extraordinary events London has to offer this summer, spare a thought for the river itself, which was once the capital's principal transport artery.

The Thames was once the "noblest river in Europe", according to The Spectator's Joseph Addison in 1712.

Yet by 1858 it had become "a Stygian pool reeking with ineffable and unbearable horror", as described by former Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli in 1858.

Here's my BBC News feature on the remarkable history of a river.

Luol Deng success is 'a miracle'


He is the first British basketball player to have appeared in the NBA's annual All-Star Game.

He is one of Britain's highest paid international sportsmen. 

He has been invited to the White House by Barack Obama, who called him "an inspiration".

Yet when 27-year-old Chicago Bulls star and Team GB player Luol Deng walks down his local high street in Brixton, he is barely recognised - despite his 6ft 9ins frame.

More police complain of racism

I discovered that allegations of racism made within the Metropolitan Police have nearly trebled over five years.

In this article I investigate potential reasons behind this alarming rise.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

London 2012 Festival on a shoestring


A virtual orchestra. A literature labyrinth. A water-bound opera. A pop-up puppet workshop.

Just a few of the events offered by London 2012 Festival organisers.

But how much culture can a person soak up in the city in a single day, for nothing?

Monday, July 30, 2012

Shard skyscraper rises above its critics

It has been turning heads all over London.

Walking down streets, in parks, even stuck in traffic jams on the M25, people have been watching the steady ascent of a towering landmark on the capital's skyline.

I interviewed the architect and the developer behind the EU's new tallest building. Here's the article I wrote.

Green-fingered squatters' eviction fight

Squatters are rarely the most popular residents in a neighbourhood.

But on Vineries Close in Sipson, west London, resides a group of squatters many of the local people are keen to see stay.

Residents say they like the occupants because they have turned what was once a "derelict mess", into a thriving market garden.

The squatters have renovated greenhouses and grow lettuces, courgettes and squashes that would raise the eyebrow of many an organic greengrocer.

Here's my BBC News feature.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Diving suit man denied London Marathon farewell

What do Indiana Jones, St George and Brian the Snail from the Magic Roundabout have in common?

They are just a few of the characters Lloyd Scott has adopted as his guise to complete the London Marathon over the years.

This year, the 50-year-old extreme charity fund-raiser planned to repeat the feat he is most famous for - walking the course wearing a 1940s deep-sea diving suit.

But marathon organisers have rejected his plans because a rule-change has meant competitors must complete the course within a day.

Here's my BBC News article.

Tube ghost station resurrected

"When we first went in with torches, the place was crackling with atmosphere," said entrepreneur Ajit Chambers. 

"We are holding this feeling, bottling it and showing the world's tourists just how amazing the history of London is."

Then Prime Minister Winston Churchill watched over the Royal Artillery's anti-aircraft operations during World War II from a secret command centre at Brompton Road Underground station.
 
Now I report on plans to develop the abandoned Tube station into a tourist attraction some say will be "comparable" to the London Eye and Madame Tussauds.

The riots factor


It was "the worst disorder in current memory" according to Scotland Yard while London Fire Brigade said fires had spread "almost pan-London" as it faced its busiest night in recent history.

The riots in the capital between 6 and 9 August have led to more than 1,000 people being sentenced for crimes including 591 burglaries, 199 instances of theft and 150 cases of violent disorder.

I interviewed London's mayoral election candidates Boris Johnson, Ken Livingstone, Jenny Jones and Brian Paddick, and asked them how the riots had affected their manifestos.

Here's my BBC News article published before the mayoral election.

Mayoral rivals talk tough on crime

"London is one of the safest capitals in the world."

It is a claim that might surprise some of the city's residents, but one that has been made by the current and former London mayors, as well as Scotland Yard.

By comparing London's crime and murder rates with the likes of Washington DC, Bangkok and Guatemala City, the claim rings true. London had the 21st lowest homicide rate out of 112 of the biggest cities surveyed by the United Nations in 2009 - that is 1.6 murders per 100,000 people.

Nevertheless, crime remains a concern for many Londoners and a key battleground in the mayoral election.

Here's my BBC News article written before London's 2012 mayoral election.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Calls to end ‘witch’ child abuse


"We're quite happy to talk about what is inappropriate belief when it comes to terrorism or paedophilia," said African studies expert Dr Richard Hoskins.

"But when it comes to fundamentalist religious belief affecting child protection, we don't seem to want to talk about it."

Dr Hoskins, who gave evidence at the trial of a couple who have been convicted for brutally torturing and killing a teenager in their east London flat, is among experts and charities calling for more to be done to tackle the problem of child abuse linked to witchcraft.

Here's my BBC News article.

Killers' witchcraft 'obsession'

It was the 2010 Christmas holidays and teenager Kristy Bamu and his siblings were staying with their sister in east London during a visit from Paris.

But this was no happy family gathering.

When paramedics entered the eighth floor apartment on Christmas Day they found the walls, ceiling and furniture spattered with blood.

Kristy, 15, had died from drowning and being beaten with a metal bar in the Forest Gate flat.

Here's my report for BBC News.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

London HIV prevention 'failing'


Charities have criticised the way HIV services in London are commissioned following the release of a report which highlights "significant management failings".

HIV treatment in London costs £247m per year, according to NHS London, with almost 30,000 people accessing care and that number rising by 5% annually.

But the new report says there is a "lack of strategy" and an "urgent need" to address HIV prevention in London.

Charities responded to these alarming findings in my BBC News article.

Calls to protect gay strip night


For the East End's gay community, the White Swan pub is something of a local legend.

Comedian Michael Barrymore has performed on stage there, Sir Ian McKellen and Graham Norton are among celebrities who stop by from time to time and for 26 years it has hosted a weekly amateur comedy strip contest.

That night, compered by a cast of east London's most flamboyant drag queens, sees volunteers from the audience take part in the show.

But it faces being banned following Labour-led Tower Hamlet council's recent sex establishment consultation.

Here's my BBC News report.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Street life


In 2008 London Mayor Boris Johnson set a target to eradicate rough sleeping in the capital by the end of 2012.

With a year to go to meet that objective, what progress has been made on the street?

On a chilly December night, I joined an outreach worker in the City of London to track down rough sleepers who had been reported to the charity that day.

Here's my BBC News feature.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Is the gay scene racist?


Mahad, 25, and Yan, 21, are asylum seekers who came to the UK to escape homophobia in their home country.

But since they arrived, they have been shocked to experience a different kind of intolerance – racism on the gay scene.

Here's my exclusive report for the Pink Paper.