Waking up to Amy, the night mayor
She’s funny, she’s large, she’s just about the most committed person I’ve met and she’s landed what looks like a joke appointment that might turn out to be the best job in the world. A few days after he was elected mayor in May Sadiq Khan held a soirée for arts folk at which he announced he was going to have a nightmare. “Seriously. A Night Mayor… OK, so maybe we’ll call it something else, Night Tsar say”.
Amy Lamé, she was appointed today, is London’s first ever night tsar, following similar appointments in places like San Francisco and Berlin, and she’s a brilliant choice. No-one knows London’s night scene better, she’s been part of it for 25 years, she knows everybody and everybody knows her. Born in New Jersey she came to Britain in 1992 following her teen idol Morrissey – “He was just a lesbian trapped in a Mancunian’s body” – but never got further than London. She's a naturalised Brit now.
She’ll do the job for half a week and be paid £35,000 a year, but do we need a “Night Tsar”? There’s already a Night Time Commission, chaired at the moment by the culture deputy mayor Justine Simons, shortly to report to Khan on the situation and with its life recently extended indefinitely. Does London need a tsar in its night sky too?
You bet it does. The night time economy is a fortune that's being frittered away. London First’s 2014 study showed it was worth £26.3 billion a year, and that was likely to go up another £2 billion by 2029. But the property fixated city where foreign millionaires are turning the glittering heart into their own grotesque hermetically sealed inner suburb, has ignored that. In the last five years 40% of London’s music venues have closed, and half of its night clubs – in September one of the best and best known, Fabric, had its licence revoked by Islington Council and it's gone too. A mixture of aggressive enterprises – shops, station redevelopment, flats, office blocks – have conspired with restrictive licensing and wealthy new residents who object to any kind of disturbance and always get the ear of the authorities, so that Soho, for instance, is a ghost of what it was five years ago.
With the government’s determination to cut us off from Europe as soon as possible, London is going to need all the help it can get. The notion of a 24-hour city, a place where within walking distance people can live, work and play, has been a chimera but London is one of the few places in the UK where it could happen. It doesn’t, and the introduction of the night Tube at last doesn’t mean there’s anywhere else open at 3am.
Amy Lamé will have to confront all this, and as a former mayoress for Camden who was shortlisted for a London constituency in 2014 and campaigned successfully to save that gay mecca the Royal Vauxhall Tavern from rapacious developers, she knows the serious side of London life. There’s much more that could happen with a little palm greasing, the right word in the right ear, and belief. Museums and galleries could be open all night, it happens once a year and is enormously popular; there could be markets; there could be concerts; there could be film clubs; there could be poetry slams; there could be science workshops.
Nightmare or dream, the funniful Ms Lamé has a very serious job of work to do.