Best-selling author and ex-SAS sergeant Andy McNab is a Londoner through and through. At just two weeks old, he was abandoned at Guy’s Hospital and adopted by a family in Peckham and spent his childhood living in South London.
The new film follows Andy as he revisits the London of his past. He has his hair cut at a local barber shop, walks around the market and finally ends up on Nunhead Reservoir.
This Peckham is a different place to the one he left to join the forces, and makes Andy consider the city’s changing face. Like Peckham, Andy’s identity has transformed throughout his life. He took the name of his adopted family, changed his name again when he became an author, and now lives a life far removed from his life he was born into. Andy talks about his feelings about the city he knows and loves.
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Film Maker: Nick Shaw
Questions & Answers
- What's your first memory of London? Pigeons. I was only very young and thought that pigeons only existed in London. I liked the scruffy ones.
- What do you miss when you're away from London? The mass of people. The lack of eye contact between strangers, even the traffic. Cabbies as well, some of the cabbies I know said that during the Olympics, when all the public were enjoying the feel good factor, they had no work as everyone was being ferried around in private cars. They all live in Essex now, they've been priced out of Hackney.
- What's your favourite neighbourhood? It changes really. Bermondsey and Peckham are places I know really well having grown up there. There's been huge changes in Bermondsey. It used to be a shithole, as did Shadwell, horrible. I enjoy seeing regeneration happening in areas where I used to break in to the docks with my mates to see what we could nick. Back then it was absolutely minging, but it was my playground. It's dead slick and nice now.
- What's your favourite building? Don't have one but the older, the better. It's tangible evidence of history that you can reach out and touch. I was in a graveyard near Gray's Inn recently and I saw Oliver Cromwell's daughter's grave just sitting there in the midst of all the everyday stuff going on. There was a McDonald's burger box on it. I love hidden London. The crèche in Putney Bridge, that's where Cromwell's parliament was!
- What's your ideal day out in London? If there's good weather, I'll go to the parks. Victoria Park in Hackney. We've got so many different parks it's great. In New York they've only got the one in Manhattan, central Park. If it's raining, I'll go to the cinema and watch two or three films. I like the one on Baker Street, it's a little bit Arthouse. Ralph Fiennes' Coriolanus was fucking brilliant, as was Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel.
- What's your ideal night out in London? I'm pretty fickle. I used to always go to Soho but these it's more like Shoreditch and East London. People complain and say it's too trendy but to be honest it's pretty good. When I was a kid no one used to go there because it was a shithole, but now it's beautiful, great food and bars. Pretentious places in central London with celebrity chefs can feel a bit like you're doing the venue a favour by being there, and have bad service. I prefer street food and pop up restaurants.
- What's your most hated building? Don't have one. There are a few big shiny buildings that some people don't like but remember, London represents 20% or whatever it is of the national income, so buildings are bound to change. Is that a bad thing? If London's growing so fast there's obviously going to be foreigners coming here to fill in the gaps in the economy. Good luck to them, they're only coming here to work.
- What's the best view in London? Coming into London on the M11. The docklands are all spread out in front of you and you've got a great view of the London skyline. Especially at night with Canary Wharf all lit up.
- What's your favourite open space? Victoria Park in Hackney.
- What's been your most memorable night out in London? Definitely not celebrity restaurants. I actually like smaller restaurants. I'd rather spend the night there than in any chain place. What pisses me off is when you go in a place and they make a big deal about how long you can go in there and eat for, and make a fuss. It's not like that in pop up places, they're fantastic.
- What's been your most memorable night out in London? I was 19, I'd been in the army for around 2 years already. Me and some mates used to hang around Brixton market, waiting for one of the guys' sister to get back from work. She'd been mugged recently before and so after that we'd come to pick her up and see her home. We were in a caff and as usual we were talking about get-rich-quick schemes. One day, we were seriously considering robbing a bank. I don't think any of us knew how ready the others were to do it. But that night we decided to do it. Obviously it didn't come to anything, but we came pretty close.
- How would you like to spend your ideal day off in London? On the river. We don't use the river as much as we should. I love going from Westminster to Greenwich on the clipper.
- What's the worst journey you've had to make in London? Trying to find my wife on the day of the 7/7 bombings. I was going to meet her at Sloane Square and when I heard about the attacks I guessed that she might well have been changing at King's Cross. Then obviously the phone networks were taken down so prevent any more detonations, so I couldn't get in touch with her. I did a mad dash across the city trying to find her in the crowds that had been evacuated from the tube. She had been taken to Tavistock Square, which bizarrely was the muster point for people coming from King's Cross. I eventually found her at 4:30pm. That was a flap.
- What's your personal London landmark? The London Eye at night. It's easy to see and high, I've never been in it though.
- Who's your favourite fictional Londoner? No doubt. Harry Palmer played by Michael Caine in The Ipcress File. Dry and sarcastic. It's a blend of spy, army and gangster stories, so I suppose it's pretty close to home.
- What's your favourite London film, book or documentary? The Long Good Friday with Bob Hoskins. He was trying to use power from being in the mob to improve his own neighbourhood, and elevate himself from the shit. He has a few great monologues, like the one in front of Tower Bridge. He's like a gangster with a heart of gold, thinking, "people deserve more than this!"
- If you could travel to any time period in London, past or future, where would you go? Selfishly, I think I'd go back to Victorian and Georgian times and buy up all the houses and make a killing! Seriously though, I reckon the Victorian times because it was a time of innovation and opportunity. There was a lot of social mobility, which is good for people like me. The merchants and traders were valued in society and they took the reins.
- For you, who is the ultimate Londoner? My dad. He lived for a long time in Peckham, but every year we'd all go away for 1 day of holiday a year to Eastbourne. He'd pack the telly in the car and set it up on the beach, watch telly for a day there and then we'd come home. He got to the stage where he was struggling on his own so we suggested a nice place in Eastbourne for him. He said "I can't go there, there's no red buses!" So he's a pretty hard-line Londoner. Eventually we found somewhere in Dartford for him near his doctors. It's within the M25 so he was happy, but he still points out that, "it's not Kent." He hates the idea of gravy on his chips. There's a pie and mash shop in Islington, Manzies. It's nearly the only food he eats. He used to drive up there, then bring it home to Dartford. By the time it got home it was stone cold so we'd heat it up again. There is a pie and mash shop in Dartford but he doesn't go because it's not Manzies. We get it delivered to him these days.