On the fourth anniversary of the London riots, we visit Leni White, a violinist who was once described by the Daily Mail as the ‘Amy Winehouse of classical music’ whose flat was burnt down by a group of young people.
Shot in intervals over four years, this powerful new film by Chocolate Films shows never-before-seen footage of the immediate impact of the riots – from the burnt-out shell of Leni’s house to her temporary Travelodge home.
In the middle of the London riots, Leni’s flat in Ealing set on fire by rioters. As the flames destroyed all of her possessions, she asked a fireman if he could rescue her precious violin. He brought it back to her singed, but in tune – the only object she managed to reclaim from the fire.
In the days after the event, the story of Leni’s violin was featured in the press and on TV news as a heart-warming story. However, what happened afterwards was not so positive.
Leni had to move into a Travelodge for several months while she was waiting to hear about her insurance settlement. She then discovered that, like many people, she was underinsured, and that the settlement did not come close to what she needed to rebuild her life. Ironically, the promised compensation for the victims of the riots was only offered to those that had no insurance, making Leni ineligible.
As a result of the riots her life has changed beyond recognition. She has moved from Ealing to Greenwich, she has a new partner and a baby, and while she still plays music, she now works in IT for a bank in the city. But Leni has never quite recovered from that night. She still has flashbacks to the riots, and eating disorders have returned. After all this time, she still hasn’t recovered the feeling of being safe at home.
Questions & Answers
- What's your first memory of London? When I was little we used to visit my Gran in Richmond - her flat was huge and she always had a strange assortment of lodgers living there. There was a funny smell and I remember the feeling of London seeming full of sirens and people shouting outside. It was actually quite a similar feeling I had during the riots.
- What do you miss when you're away from London? The immediacy of everything. I like the anonymity whenever you want it too. You can walk down your own street and it feels different every time.
- What's your favourite neighbourhood? I have to say I love Greenwich, and Blackheath would be my ideal if I could afford it! Here feels far enough away from the dirt of central London and with beautiful green spaces, but everything is still on the doorstep.
- What's your favourite building? I love the Royal Observatory, although we've not been inside it yet. I can look out of my window at work and feel connected to my home. You can see it from so many places in London and it's so steeped in history.
- What's your ideal day out in London? Probably walking along the Southbank and just taking in the sights and sounds. I'm quite anxious so I have to build up to going out for a long time in advance - although that would be my ideal, I've learned to really enjoy Greenwich and Blackheath because they're within walking distance and very familiar.
- What's your ideal night out in London? Last year we went to Secret Cinema to watch Back To The Future. It was the best night out I think I've had for a long time. Being transported to a different time, inside a world that I knew so well on screen, but suddenly being inside it for real was amazing. I'm going again this year for my hen night so I hope it'll be just as good.
- What's your most hated building? That's a hard one; I hate any of the old council stock where people are packed in on top of each other. We've come to accept poor standards of living in cities and I don't think those of us who have a choice in where we live (now) challenge that enough.
- What's the best view in London? The one from The Royal Observatory is pretty mind-blowing!
- What's your favourite open space? Shooters Hill - always windy enough to fly a kite.
- What's your favourite bar, pub or restaurant? During summer I used to love going to The Duke of Kent in Ealing - the best and biggest pub garden I've seen in London. Since we left after my son was born we haven't really been back.
- What's the most interesting shop? I love going to Aladdin's Cave in Lewisham - although if you try and take a buggy in you tend to get wedged in and then people get stuck!
- What's your favourite place to hang out? Home. I enjoy making my home just the way I want it - it's our first owned home and I enjoy having evenings here just forgetting about the outside world for a bit.
- What's been your most memorable night out in London? The Secret Cinema night was perfect. I have to admit I don't remember all of it though...
- How would you like to spend your ideal day off in London? Walking around anywhere green and leafy, and doing all the things I put off because I'm tired or anxious.
- Where would you take someone visiting from out of town? To the Cutty Sark. It usually gets a good reaction; seeing that piece of history preserved against the backdrop of some modern and some old buildings, and wondering if the men who sailed on her ever imagined where she'd be so far in the future is fascinating - you don't even need to go inside to experience it either.
- What's the worst journey you've had to make in London? The first few tube journeys I made after the 7/7 bombings. I worked just across from where the bus bomb exploded and we were cordoned inside our building all day, not knowing what had really happened. You could feel the fear tangibly in the air and everyone seemed jumpy instead of just being in their own bubbles looking inward as we Londoners tend to do on public transport.
- What's your personal London landmark? Probably the Maritime Museum. You can see it from across the river, so I can always see how close to home I am.
- Who's your favourite fictional Londoner? Sherlock Holmes, but I'm not ashamed to say that's only since the Benedict Cumberbatch treatment. That was so gripping and because I work in the field of disability, the suggestion that he might have had some traits of autism was impactful to me. Showing that what most people assume is a weakness can be a strength is what I'm all about.
- What's your favourite London film, book or documentary? Day Of The Triffids. I was obsessed with apocalyptic stories when I was a pre-teen.
- If you could travel to any time period in London, past or future, where would you go? I'd go as far ahead as possible. I love history but during times when I've contemplated suicide my desire to know what happens next can pull me back. The only thing I fear about death is not being able to find out how things turn out for the human race. Maybe that's linked with my love of apocalyptic tales too.
- For you, who is the ultimate Londoner? I don't know yet - I'll tell you when I get back from the future...