Interview in the ES Magazine by Hannah Nathanson, 6 December 2013.
The historian likes the Soho Arts Theatre Club and wants to buy Somerset House.
Barnes, and I work in Bloomsbury, so my days are full of beauty.
Who are your heroes?
Lucy Winkett, an Anglican priest who’s brilliant on feminist issues; Natalie Zemon Davis, an historian I aspire to imitate; and Joanna Lumley (below), who’s just about the most charming person I’ve ever met.
Last play you saw?
Noël Coward’s Private Lives with Toby Stephens and Anna Chancellor. Spectacular.
First thing you do when you arrive back in London?
Walk over Hammersmith Bridge and watch the sunlight play on the water. The Thames is London and I love to consider the lives and centuries that the river has flowed past.
Building you’d like to buy?
Somerset House for its Tudor history and its beautiful neoclassical architecture, or St Pancras, whose extraordinary Gothic grandeur I find beguiling.
The Philip Mould gallery in Dover Street for wonderful paintings, including many Tudor ones that I covet. The world’s best cocktail: Amber Embers at The Gilbert Scott. The Olympic Studios cinema in Barnes. And my hairdresser, Tilley & Carmichael, in Soho.
Dinner at The Wolseley. To start, I had a croustade of quail’s eggs and hollandaise sauce, then a main of endive, Roquefort and walnut salad, and a bottle of a glorious Bordeaux Supérieur (Château La Grave Singalier 2011).
The Defector’s Weld in Shepherd’s Bush for late-night drinking, or The Hampshire Hog in Hammersmith for a delightful gastropub with a great garden.
What would you do as Mayor?
I’d significantly increase the funding for refuges for victims of domestic violence, trafficking and domestic servitude.
I suspect it’s the winter coat that I’ve recently bought by Canada Goose (right). It’s goose down, so it’s a bit like wearing a duvet, and it can withstand all the endless standing around that filming involves.
Visiting the Tower of London, Cutty Sark and Madame Tussauds, where I remember seeing the big man himself, Henry VIII.
Best thing a cabbie has said to you?
One cabbie sang to me recently. He serenaded me all the way down Oxford Street.
Gail’s on Bayley Street. I’m at the café practically every day for coffee and a pastry or salad. LK Bennett: it makes the most comfortable, glamorous high heels on the market. Hatchards in Piccadilly for books: it’s a treasure trove.
Where in London do you go to let your hair down?
The Arts Theatre Club on Frith Street is a retro delight that serves cocktails in teapots.
What do you collect?
Ever had a run-in with a policeman?
My father was a police officer, so I’ve had many.
Building you’d like to be locked in overnight?
The London Library. I’d spend all night reading fragments of wonderful books.
Best piece of advice you’ve been given?
That whenever you lose someone you continue to carry that person with you: they are not lost to you, but become part of you. From a wise old friend.
At the moment you are…
Juggling my time between teaching my history undergraduates at New College of the Humanities, finishing filming a series about Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn for Five and working on a new book.