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My London Glossary

Greta Bellamacina reveals her favourite cultural hot spots in London

The poet, actor and filmmaker shares her go-to London haunts, from the best venues for discovering new music and poetry to the most inspiring libraries and bookshops

Greta Bellamacina is a creative through-and-through – a poet, actor, filmmaker, model and fashion muse who’s just as beguiling in front of the camera as she is behind it. Whether you know her for her dreamy-yet-raw poetry collections, her work with fashion houses including Chanel and Valentino, or her films – the latest of which, Tell That to the Winter Sea, she co-wrote and stars in alongside Amber Anderson – she’s undoubtedly one of the most exciting young voices on the British arts scene today. Here, she reveals her favourite cultural spots in London.

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My London Glossary

Greta Bellamacina

Greta Bellamacina Reveals Her Favourite London Hot SpotsPin
The Hollybush, Hampstead

Growing up in Hampstead, which has this gothic, Dickensian feeling to it, had a huge influence on me. Living there, it feels like you’re in the heart of the countryside but then you’re surrounded by the lights of London. The heath almost feels like a theatrical backdrop, but you’re surrounded by trees and you know there’s a timelessness to the place. Just one walk on the heath and I seem to have all the answers – there’s no problem that can’t be solved by a walk there. The pubs in Hampstead all have their own sort of magic, places like the Holly Bush, which is one of the oldest pubs in London, and The Flask, which is filled with literary history (Keats, Byron and Coleridge were all regulars).

hollybushhampstead.co.uk; theflaskhighgate.com

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Keats House

North London is full of inspiring literary spots. I used to spend a lot of time in the Keats Library, looking out at Keats House, where the poet used to live. You can even see the tree where he supposedly wrote An Ode to a Nightingale there. It’s a tiny library, with only about five tables, but there’s nowhere more inspiring to be researching the Romantic poets. There’s so much history in Highgate Cemetery too, just stumbling across the gravestones there. There’s this feeling of melancholy that hangs in the streets around north London – you feel it in the architecture too – which I love. 

keatscommunitylibrary.org.uk; highgatecemetery.org

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Tomorrow’s Woman

Greta Bellamacina
£9.99

To me, London is a place for dreamers. It’s a city where you spend a lot of time walking and inside your own head. There’s so much broken history everywhere, spotting blue plaques and city gravestones. It feels like it’s continually evolving. I always say that London reminds me of that John Ashbery poem, So Many Lives, because I feel like there are so many lives I could live in the city. I also love the change between day and night – I lived for a long time in Fitzrovia and spent a lot of time in Soho, and at night it felt like a completely different place. In my latest book, Tomorrow’s Woman, I write this poem called Vertical Fires of Land, which is about that change, where everything feels upturned.

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Greta Bellamacina

The National Poetry Library on the Southbank is one of my favourite spots in London. It’s run by an amazing man called Christopher McCabe, who’s also a poet. He showcases a lot of poets’ work in the library space and puts on loads of great literary events. There’s always something on there and he’s very knowledgeable – a lot of poets take their work to him. I also do a lot of my editing work from the London library. There are rooms where you can just sit and read, other rooms that have paper and pens, or you can order books in – it’s set up so you can absorb information however you want to. 

nationalpoetrylibrary.org.uk; londonlibrary.co.uk

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The London Review Bookshop in Bloomsbury is a great place to pick up something new to read. I actually did my book launch there for my last collection, and it just feels like a lovely community of writers. They also host lots of talks with different authors, so it’s a good place to go if you want to be inspired or you’re looking for someone to guide you to a certain book. I also love the Oxfam bookshop on Marylebone High Street, just because you tend to get a lot of published poetry collections there, or books with old dedications in. I think there’s a real romanticism to those books, sometimes I’ll buy them just for the little note inside. 

londonreviewbookshop.co.uk; oxfam.org.uk

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Greta Bellamacina

I can’t wait to read Lynn Barber’s new book, A Little Art Education. I just read a preview and absolutely devoured it. It’s all about her stories of friendships with different female artists. I also fell in love with Deborah Levy’s living memoirs and just read the last one, which is called August Blue. It’s such a brilliant piece of immediate writing, you feel you’re experiencing the world directly through her eyes. It’s about the impending death of someone, and it’s written very poetically. And I always have a copy of Ted Hughes’ Lupercal in my bag at the moment. It’s his second poetry collection and it’s just magical.

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A Little Art Education

Lynn Barber
£15

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August Blue

Deborah Levy
£8.49

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Lupercal

Ted Hughes
£14.99

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Spaniards Inn, Hampstead

I like writing in places that are really dark and gloomy, like the Spaniards Inn pub in Hampstead. It’s got really low ceilings and it sort of feels like you’ve gone to a little cottage in the countryside, so it’s a great hidden spot. They used to keep an aviary at the back, so when I was a child, I’d go there to see the birds. They had about 200 budgies, tropical ones, flying around. They also had an old apple tree in the garden where we’d go and steal all the apples, so I’ve got lots of great nostalgic memories of times spent there. 

thespaniardshampstead.co.uk

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BFI Southbank

You can’t beat the BFI on the Southbank when it comes to independent cinema. I love how they show a real mix of British indie films alongside a back archive of things like John Cassavetes films. They’ll do a whole week of showing films by one director, so it’s great for delving into cinema history and watching things that have become harder to find. I remember once I booked to go to the National Theatre and I turned up on the wrong day, so I ended up going into the BFI – I watched a totally random film but I found it so inspiring. The Gate cinema in Notting Hill is great too; I like the fact that it only has one screen, so you just you have to see that film or you see nothing.

bfi.org.uk; picturehouses.com

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Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir

Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir is one of the best British films I’ve seen recently. It was across two parts – Part I and Part II – and starred Tilda Swinton and her daughter, Honor Swinton Byrne. They’re both just really honest portraits of a woman discovering herself and trying to come to grips with who she is, as well as trying to understand what it is to be an artist in this world. The way Joanna described making it was that there was a lot of improvisation, and she kind of left the cameras to roll. I’m actually making a film this August with Honor, where we play sisters, called All Five Eyes.

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RADA Foundation

The RADA Youth Theatre is a real gem for discovering new shows and talent. I studied there and I used to watch a lot of the third-year student plays, which were always brilliant. I still watch them now, because they’re affordable and of such high quality. I remember seeing Gemma Arterton perform there – I think the play was called Duck Hunting – and she was utterly brilliant. She opened the play with this infectious laugh and you just couldn’t take your eyes off her. The Southwark Playhouse is another favourite spot; I always remember a play I saw there called Tender Napalm by Philip Ridley, which was a two-hander about the relationship between a man and a woman. They take a lot of risks and they’re very supportive of new writing and first-time shows. 

rada.ac.uk; southwarkplayhouse.co.uk

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Growing up, I performed a lot at the Poetry Cafe in Covent Garden, which is a great place to discover new poetry. There’s a real community vibe there, and it feels like the audience is really rooting for you. Plus, it’s a great place to edit your work and hear it aloud. I also love the Troubadour in Earl’s Court, where you can head downstairs and discover a new band performing, as well as hear new poetry. Then there’s a musician called Gabriel Moreno who runs a music and poetry night in King’s Cross called Jamboree – it’s quite avant-garde in the sense that he has musicians and he mixes them with poets. It’s very collaborative and he brings music and poetry together in a really unique way, which I haven’t seen before. 

poetrysociety.org.uk; troubadourlondon.com; jamboreevenue.co.uk

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Pentameter Theatre, Hampstead

I have very fond memories of performing at the Pentameter Theatre in Hampstead. I have a small poetry press that I run with my husband, Robert Montgomery, called New River Press. Every year we create an anthology of poetry where there’ll be 200 poets in one book – some established, some first-time poets – and once a year we put on a poetry night at that theatre, which is above a pub. Heathcote Ruthven, who works on the press with us, curates the night and we’re always surprised when a hundred people turn up. We’ll buy lots of boxes of wine that everyone then passes around the audience. We’ve had lots of brilliant nights there. 

pentameters.co.uk

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The Royal Albert Hall

I’d absolutely love to be able to put on a poetry night at the Royal Albert Hall. In the 60s, Allen Ginsberg and the American Beat Poets all performed together there for one night. I’d love to recreate that moment and have a real activist poetry moment in that space. I watch back some of the footage from that night and it’s amazing that it still feels so relevant today and still cuts straight to the point. I’ve been hugely influenced by the Beat Poets, but also Alice Oswald, who’s a contemporary poet who writes a lot about nature. Recently, I’ve been really inspired by poets who are able to find redemption in the natural world. 

royalalberthall.com

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Simone Rocha SS24

When I’m performing my poetry, I like to dress theatrically. It’s almost like I want to give a picture of the world I’m trying to bring people into. There’s a vintage charity shop in Victoria called Retromania, which for me is the best vintage in London. You can find old theatre clothes from the Royal Opera House in there, stuff from the 60s – it’s just a real mixture of things and the prices are so affordable, it’s impossible to leave empty handed. In terms of designers, I adored The Vampire’s Wife, and I’m so saddened by the closure of the brand. Susie Cave is such a magical person and she brought magic to fashion. I will forever treasure my dresses – each one holds its own unique song inside it. They just have such a secret power to them. I love Simone Rocha for the same reason – there’s a surrealism to the clothes that kind of takes you out of the modern world and brings you back to a more magical place. 

faracharity.org; thevampireswife.com; simonerocha.com

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Koko Camden

For me, Koko always felt like the musical mecca of north London. Growing up in Camden, I soon realised my ticket to freedom was the bus. I spent a lot of time listening to music on the bus and dreaming through the windows, and I’d always end up at Koko. It was a place where you could be spontaneous and just turn up and see a big band, or equally a smaller indie band. I still go there now, because they’ve got a new space at the back for poetry performances. The Enterprise pub is another great spot for live music. It always felt like a really creative place, especially for new musicians and bands, and it’s still got that element today. 

koko.co.uk; camdenenterprise.com

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Safeen James is nominated for Best Documentary for her film ‘Away from the Fields’ at The BFI Film Festival

London is home to some of the best film festivals. The BFI Film Festival is one of my favourites – it’s brilliant not just for the independent films they show, but also the fact they often champion bigger films which are kind of more avant-garde, like Poor Things, which I absolutely loved. Raindance Film Festival is great for the same reasons. Hurt by Paradise was actually nominated for Best British Film there, and it’s a great place to discover British-made films. Raindance really champions them and puts them into cinemas in central London, giving them a proper platform. 

bfi.org.uk; raindance.org

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Greta Bellamacina in Hurt By Paradise

My film Hurt by Paradise is largely about the poetry that comes out of living in a big city. It was filmed in London and centres around a character who’s a struggling writer and a single parent, who feels separated from the city. You see the world through this poetic inner monologue that’s happening in her head as she’s walking through the city. We shot it around Fitzrovia and most of it is set at night. From her window she can see the BT Tower – I like the idea that it acts as this beacon of hope and communication. In my latest film, Tell That to the Winter Sea, London is seen as a place of reinvention for my character, Jo, but also a place that symbolises the loss of her innocence.

When I see the blossom trees in Primrose Hill, that signifies the beginning of summer to me. It’s a real celebration moment. I love Camden in the summer too, the barges going down the canal there. When I got married eight years ago at the Camden Registry Office, we spontaneously jumped onto one of those barges with a guitar, a bag of wine from the newsagent and our son Lorca balancing on a pushchair. In the summer there’s a real energy down there – there’s music and chatter and street food, and I still think it’s a brilliant place to spend an afternoon and just be on the water. It’s got this infectious feeling to it.

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Petersham Nurseries, Richmond

When I want to get away from it all, I’ll head to Petersham Nurseries in Richmond. It feels like you’re in the countryside, but also like you’ve just somehow escaped to an Italian palazzo. The selection of flowers there is just incredible, with all theses reds and pinks, and it just feel very hopeful to me. I could spend a small fortune there – I can’t help myself; I always leave with at least five geraniums. I also love Kite Hill on Hampstead Heath – it’s set on a hill, with views over London, and it’s always windswept, but there’s this feeling of epicness up there. 

petershamnurseries.com

Greta Bellamacina’s latest film, ‘Tell That to the Winter Sea’, is in UK cinemas from 31 May

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