Why I loved working in Soho in the ‘80’s
So sordid. So sexy. So sassy. Soho was never so-so.
Working in one of London’s top advertising agencies just off Soho Square allowed me to get up close and personal with one of the most exciting places on earth.
Boy dressed as girls and women competing in a man’s world – everywhere I looked girls were ‘doing it for themselves’ to quote the lexicon of ‘80’s cool, Annie Lennox.
By night, Madame Jo-Jos was, and probably always will be, home to some of the most beautiful people on the planet, impossibly tall, exotic creatures sashaying onto the stage in vertiginous heels and super-glam frocks.
By day, if a meeting hadn’t gone my way (an everyday occurrence) my analgesic of choice was a bottle of something cold dispensed at the latest, go-to watering hole. Staggering out of one of those gloriously dark, smoky caverns, my eyes adjusting to the stark afternoon light, I would inevitably collide with men, often bewildered ageing celebrities who didn’t look like they knew one end of an Arab Strap from another, darting furtively out of the sex shops, clutching secret pleasures in look-at-me brown bags.
Soho wasn’t all about the sex. There was a lot of love there too. I loved the people who fed me. Back then, we didn’t have coffee shops; we boasted the best patisseries in town. Patisserie Valerie and Maison Bertaux (still one of the most special places in the whole of London) remain my spiritual homes to this day, their freshly made croissants and cappuccinos kick-starting many a morning.
The heart of the city, Soho embraced me, making me feel instantly at home. It welcomed bohos and hobos, actors and admen and treated us all the same.
When I was hungry for fame, it fed me. When I needed to disappear, it hid me in the crowd.
And when I ran short out of ideas, inspiration was on the doorstep as I snuck out of the office for an illicit afternoon at the cinema – once it was just me and a bloke in a raincoat. (I wouldn’t have minded but it wasn’t even that sort of cinema.) Galleries, theatres, restaurants were there for the taking and the streets were awash with artists and actors. I once brushed hands with the divine Rupert Everett as we rushed across Frith Steet, sadly in opposite directions. ‘Do I know you?’ he asked with a smile. I wish.
Still kicking myself for not asking him to do a voice-over for one of my commercials. Worked with the great and the good: Harry Enfield, Penelope Keith and Miriam Margoyles were just some of the stars who worked their magic. Paula Yates even managed to make C&A sound cool.
I miss those halcyon days.
What a wonderful life-long friend Soho has turned out to be, always there when I need it. No matter how far I roam, I always go back and, like all good friendships, we just pick where we left off.
Soho. I salute you.