Ken Livingstone was always on our Londoner wish-list. This is not for political reasons (we are hoping to get politicians from every party, and belief) it’s simply because a collection of films about 1000 Londoners in the early 21st century wouldn’t be complete without him. Few people have dedicated their lives to the city as he has – he is the man behind the Olympics, events in Trafalgar Square, Oyster Cards, congestion charge, bendy buses, the list goes on. And at the same time, there are few politicians who are so divisive and controversial. We had to get him in the project, but how?
I tried emailing every contact I could find for him and none worked, so I decided I’d just go out and find him. On an October Saturday afternoon, my five year-old daughter and I sat outside the LBC studios waiting for his radio show to end. We saw him leave the building and and started a conversation. Ken was about to catch his bus home and wasn’t going to wait for the next one so my daughter and I jogged along beside him. In less than 2 minutes, he listened as I pitched him the idea of 1000 Londoners, agreed to do it (after January) and gave me his wife’s email address.
We arranged the shoot for the early new year, and all I had to do was to make sure that the film fitted within the fourth golden rule of 1000 Londoners – that it shouldn’t be a story that has already been told. What part of Ken Livingstone’s life hasn’t been documented, both by him in his autobiographies, and by others in print and on TV. His early years at the GLC, his battles with Thatcher, his time on the back benches, his fights with New Labour, his time as mayor? Is there anything left to cover. The answer was clear – this had to be a film about Ken, as he is now. This is a project about contemporary London so it demanded that I find out how a former mayor lives in this world city? How does he feel about the city now, and what does he regret?
We shot the film at his house in North London which was lovely, but modest – nothing like my idea of an ex-politician. Ken is now a retired man, who works as a house husband. When I got there he’d just finished doing the shopping for his disabled neighbour and he was planning a morning in the garden. But retirement hasn’t dampened Ken’s fire. From the moment we started talking his trade-mark straight-talking was back. In swift succession we discussed Boris, elections, Thatcher and the Olympics – a true medley of his greatest hits. He struck me as a man who deeply cares about the city, and what was most refreshing was that whenever I asked him a question, he gave me a direct answer. The shoot took no more than an hour, but felt like much more.
Ken is the first famous face we’ve had on 1000 Londoners, and there are many more lined up. Some of them are people who, like Ken, have shaped the city. Others are people who are associated with the city in other ways. If you have any suggestions do let us know at the get involved page. And if you’d like some inspiration check out what people visiting our media studio at Southside Shopping centre in London answered when we asked them “Who is the ultimate Londoner”.