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Actress Jenny Agutter on the best and worst of London life

The joy of St James's Park, eating world foods in Islington and the theatricality of Tate Modern's Turbine Hall: "It's a brilliant city to be in", says The Railway Children star.

A still from The Railway Children
Agutter (r) made the transition from child to adult actress after The Railway Children, with credits including Walkabout and Logan's Run and TV's Spooks

What's your favourite neighbourhood?

It's really hard. I'm trying to think of one that packs a lot together and for that reason I love Primrose Hill.

You've got the park, the formality of those Nash buildings, and then you've got the canal, which is lovely to go to and all the funky areas close by, like Camden Town.

I do love south London though and know it very well. I'm in Camberwell and it's great, very mixed culturally and old and solid. It's a real neighbourhood.

Your favourite building?

London changes so fast and its skyline changes, but the building that touches me every time is the Houses of Parliament, from the river and Westminster Bridge.

You realise why it's been painted so much by Turner and the Impressionists because you look at it and the light changes. It's got so many facets to it and it's just an extraordinary building.

Most hated building?

The one I really don't like because I worked in it is the Barbican. The ideas are right and it's a brilliant concept but you can't find your way around it.

I worked there as I say for a year and a bit and I still couldn't find my way around. Level One, Level Four, there's a minus level as well. And where's the cinema? Nothing seems to match up.

Best view in London?

Jenny Agutter
Agutter lives in Camberwell, south London and says it's "old and solid"

There are views in London that are contained and really rather beautiful.

For instance if you're in St James's Park, up by Buckingham Palace and looking towards the river, you suddenly see the Eye through the park and Big Ben and various other buildings.

You've got a sense of where London lies but the juxtaposition of buildings is not what you'd expect. You realise the Thames really does curve.

Favourite open space?

There are lots of secret places by the river and out towards Woolwich.

But very close to me is a place I'd always go, behind Dulwich Park and the golf club. There's a big wood which is wonderfully wild and I'd always take the dogs walking up there.

I also had an allotment close by for a while, which I shared. You felt completely cut off, you didn't hear London at all, you just worked on your vegetables.

Most interesting shop?

I am a shopper and I absolutely adore hardware shops. You can look for ages at different plugs and fillings and lights and screws. It's all bits and pieces and like magic being in there.

You can look for ages at different plugs and fillings and lights and screws...
Jenny Agutter on the joys of shopping in hardware stores

Other than that, specialist stores are always extraordinary, like the umbrella shop on New Oxford Street. Is it James Smith and Sons?

Again, it's like magic because there are all these beautifully made umbrellas in there with every conceivable type of handle and material and fabric - and they have shooting sticks which are great if you're going to a festival and you're over 50.

Favourite pub, bar or restaurant?

My husband is sometimes described as a hotelier and has a place called the Chelsea Brasserie. The restaurant there has a Swedish chef and it's a twist on different kinds of classic food, very nice and very lovely.

I like unusual things. Do you know Ottolenghi in Upper Street, Islington? It's modern cuisine, using lots of world foods and you eat mezze-style along this one long table down the whole place.

Slow-cooked pork with caramelised apples for instance, seared tuna with some extraordinary sauce, and then lots of vegetarian dishes. It's a lovely way to eat, putting together all these different dishes.

Most memorable night out?

It was probably Millennium night and going down to the river to see all those fireworks.

We worked hard on where we were going to go, by Vauxhall Bridge, and people were really great and gave everyone lots of space. There was no feeling of being crushed.

It was a terrific display and people were just enjoying themselves, this moment of coming into the new Millennium. It was a beautiful moment.

How would you spend your ideal day off in London?

Carsten Holler giant slide
The largest of Carsten Holler's slides was more than 55m long

I'm very drawn to the river. I'd probably go to Tate Britain because I can never tire of seeing Turner's paintings there. They just break your heart they're so beautiful.

Then I'd get one of the river boats to go to Tate Modern.

I'm always amazed at what they're doing in the Turbine Hall, the theatricality of it. I went down the slides (artist Carsten Holler's giant slides installation) a few years ago, thinking what am I doing? I must be completely mad.

It's not really on to talk about contemporary art, but suddenly it's as if people own it. The Tate's broken through our desire not to be bourgeios. It's always full and people absolutely love it.

Where would you take a visitor to London?

I'd get them on to one of those river boats. The Duck Tour for instance because you're both on land and on the water.

Going down to Greenwich is great and you can show people a lot of history because that's the way London grew up.

The worst journey you've had to make in London?

It has to be in a car and it's when one has made the mistake of thinking you can get somewhere faster by driving. First you get stuck, then you can't find anywhere to park - it's as if London is conspiring against you.

Your personal London landmark?

I think the London Eye in a way. I thought when it was going up, how exciting to put this giant wheel there. I love it. Again, it's juxtapositions. You've got this and on the other side of the river there's the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.

Your favourite fictional Londoner?

Probably Paddington Bear, with his old hat and duffle coat and suitcase. They are such lovely stories. I know he's Peruvian but it's better to see London from an outsider's point of view. And he does get lost and has all sorts of adventures.

Favourite London film, book or documentary?

A Hard Day's Night
The Fab Four's A Hard Day's Night sums up London on film for Agutter

A Hard Day's Night by the Beatles, the film I mean.

It starts in Liverpool but they come into London, not just to Paddington Station but Portobello and Portland Road, off Holland Park.

It's where I ended up living as my first flat was in the area.

Which time period in London, past or future, would you like to go to?

I have to say I absolutely love the time we're in right now. I tried to think of historical times and it was too hard. It seems romantic and I love pictures of Georgian England and Victorian England.

You think of all these classic times, but actually today, without the smog, with all the things taken care of, with all the events that are happening all the time, it's a brilliant city to be in.

The Railway Children is re-released in cinemas for the Easter holidays and then followed by the Blu-ray and Special Edition DVD in May 2010.




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