Posh Neighbours at War

What do most people keep in their cellars? I’m guessing a washer-dryer, a couple of knackered old bikes, maybe some power tools.

Not the super-rich, though. In Kensington and Chelsea, planning restrictions that stop people building up have resulted in everyone digging down, hollowing out vast ‘super-basements’ beneath the streets of SW10 to house such life essentials as multi-gyms, home cinemas and swimming pools. It’s fracking for billionaires.

Rachel Johnson – sister of Boris – is so traumatised by this, she’s written a novel, Fresh Hell. Note her definition of hell here: it’s not people clinging to tiny boats in the Mediterranean while fleeing bombs and brutality, but builders making a bit of a racket during The Archers.

In Hampstead, the actor Tom Conti is ‘furious’ about the use of leaf blowers, which are distracting him from doing whatever it is actors do when they’re at home all day. We also met Trevor, a Hampstead estate agent. ‘I could tell you about the most expensive property I’ve sold,’ he said, ‘but I’d have to kill you.’ Hey, he’s an estate agent – I’m sure he’s done worse.

The real focus of the film, though, was Zipporah Lisle-Mainwaring, who wants to convert her £4.7m Kensington mews property from offices into a home, complete with obligatory super-basement. This major excavation work is violently opposed by her neighbour, businessman Niall Caroll, even though his £11.5m townhouse has its own super-basement. ‘I don’t think because the Queen has a tiara, everyone else should be allowed a tiara,’ he reasoned. I got the impression that if Niall wanted a tiara, he’d get a tiara.

As their planning dispute escalated into all-out war, Zipporah enacted a striking form of revenge by painting the front of her property in red and white candy stripes, so that it now looks like the world’s largest, most expensive Punch and Judy tent. She’s convinced herself she’s some sort of civil rights campaigner, while Niall thinks it’s an ‘in your face insult to the community’. I can’t help thinking a fortnight in a Syrian refugee camp would do both of them the power of good.

TV extra:

Paul Merton’s Secret Stations

Train driver’s son Paul Merton proved an engaging guide to some of Britain’s 152 rail request stops, in this enjoyably understated celebrity travelogue. In Scotland, he helped fertilise three salmon (‘Should I take them out to dinner first?’ he pondered) while, in Pembrokeshire, he met a fellow request stop enthusiast who said he’d always wanted to get off at Ferryside station to see what was there. ‘And what is here?’ asked our genial host. ‘Very little,’ said the man. It was that sort of show.


Line of Duty

‘Breathtaking’ is an overused word but there were times during Line of Duty’s astonishingly tense feature-length finale when I physically forgot to breathe.

This latest series of the peerless police thriller has been an unalloyed triumph for writer Jed Mercurio, directors Michael Keillor and John Strickland and the cast, most notably the phenomenal Keeley Hawes, Craig Parkinson and Adrian Dunbar, whose Superintendent Ted Hastings – Super Ted, if you will – is my new hero. TV show of the year, obviously.

Published in Waitrose Weekend, May 5, 2016

(c) Waitrose Weekend