Angela Neustatter: writer

23 Mar

Everyone has a story. Journalist and author Angela Neustatter talks about the joys of sharing a home with her extended family. Interview by Nicola Baird

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Angela Neustatter at home in front of the Hina doll shrine* which her Japanese daughter in law had as a child and put up to celebrate girls – a Japanese custom that coincides with International Women’s Day (in March). Look closely and you can see the things girls might wish for to have a happy life – food, money, music, flowers, tress and transport (though you might wish for an upgrade on the bullock cart).

For years Angela Neustatter has lived in Islington writing talked-about features for newspapers. She ran the Guardian fashion pages while living off Highbury Fields, and has written for most of the broadsheet newspapers. She’s also written numerous books – many drawing on her own experiences including Hyenas in Petticoats which looked at feminism from the 1968 to 1988 and This Is Our Time contemplating the challenges of mid-life in 1996. Then in 2014 out came The Year I Turna quirky a-z of ageing, written in her 70th year.

Angela’s interviewed everyone too, from her own hero, the author William Trevor, to Julie Christie and Helen Mirren. Many of the Islington Faces interviewees have said they know her, and suggested she’d make a great interviewee. And of course Angela does, but it’s off-putting sitting side-by-side on her huge sofa noticing that my expert interviewer subject has clocked my clumsy note taking. So unnerving that within 10 minutes both my biros give up which means she has to lend me one…

NEVER MISS AN ISLINGTON FACES: if you enjoy reading about people who live or work in Islington please follow this blog by email (see how on right hand panel). Fresh interviews are published once a week. 

Screenshot 2016-03-12 18.07.51Now Angela has just completed The Lifestyle Entrepreneur, a readable manual showing how you can turn your interests into money, which she wrote with her youngest son, Cato Hoeben, 35.

“We got the commission but when I showed him my collection of notes he looked at them in horror. On the computer he had a mind map. He hadn’t written a book before but he helped organise me,” explains Angela. Eventually the pair found a good way of working – Angela did the interviews and a first draft. Cato gathered practical material and then took over the text.

Screenshot 2016-03-12 18.10.06

Cato Hoeben.

“By the end we were very much partners,” she says and soon were on to their next double act – running a five week course for students at London College of Communication, down at Elephant & Castle, entitled “I want to be an Entrepreneur”.

“It’s been an interesting life,” says Angela in the vast living space of the converted N1 pub she and her Dutch husband, Olly, bought in 1999 and then spent a year doing up before they could move in. It’s quite different to the Victorian and Georgian terraced houses and has enough space to enable her eldest son move in with his Japanese wife and young family. There’s play space for her grandchildren in the living room, including a rope swing dangling from the staircase which leads to the roof garden and Cato’s music studio. The walls are vibrant with interesting art and over-flowing bookcases. Not all the rooms are huge – Angela creates stained glass panels in a tiny space.

This afternoon the large wooden coffee table has been parked (it’s on wheels) under a long family eating table so that it’s out of the way while Angela and friends did their morning yoga and pilates.

“People say it’s very bohemian,” says Angela sitting on the blue leather sofa that’s positioned to catch the daytime sun and the warmth from the wood burner. She’s dressed in a warm blue cardi but it’s dressed up with four eye-catching necklaces.

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Once the Crown and Anchor, now a family home.

Move to Islington
Angela grew up in a suburban part of Surrey, met her husband in 1969 when she was working in Amsterdam and then moved to West London where her first son was born.

“We were living with my father in 1979 when Olly was knocked sideway by this double-fronted Georgian house in Highbury he’d cycled past. He thought we should move in, and my dad did too, but I think the bank thought that I was an arch manipulator like Regan*! Then my dad died, but he left us just enough to buy this wreck in Highbury Place. The kids had a glorious upbringing – they could scribble on the walls because we never got around to painting them!” she said. “It was a beautiful house but it always needed money and was always cold – then someone came along and wanted to buy it!”

After living on Highbury Fields it wasn’t easy to find another place. “Looking at houses depressed me and I was getting despondent. They either weren’t right or had just been done up by bankers with gold faucets which you couldn’t justify ripping out. Then Olly said he’d seen an old pub in Cross Street. It was a filthy stinking mess but we could see the potential. Someone else had bought it – but they were willing to sell it to us.”

So Angela and Olly got to work on their second Islington wreck. With the aid of an architect friend who put them in touch with a good team of builders they were able to turn it into their home – and have now lived there for 16 years.

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Fine Italian Delicatessen in Cross Street run – a good place for coffee after pilates.

Places Angela Neustatter likes in Islington

  • I love going to the theatre. I like the Almeida – last show I saw was the Bacchae. I also like the Rosemary Branch theatre, 2 Shepperton Road, N1. But I don’t go out much.
  • I used to live on Highbury Fields and love it. I like to stamp around and get some air.
  • I’ve been going to the Gate Restaurant, the upmarket vegetarian on St John Street for years. But I like Mem and Laz, 8 Theberton Street too.
  • After pilates and yoga my friends and I go to Piero and Rosanna’s deli at 48 Cross Street, N1 to have a cappuccino. It’s an Italian deli with real atmosphere.

“I do value living in such a culturally mixed place as London. I’d hate to feel Britain had become one of those places where we didn’t want that mix because as I see it, it’s essential if the world is to be a happier place,” she says. “When we first came to Islington in the 1970s people said ‘you don’t want to live there’, but Islington is a very fine example of a successful melting pot.”

“We live in an enclave where we know a lot of people and they look out for each other. It’s a community that feels at ease with itself. It doesn’t always of course and I know terrible things happen. Obviously it helps to have a nice family and a nice home – it’s like being in a village,” says Angela who claims she does not need to visit other parts of London much because Islington has it all, before adding, “And I like bumping into people, up to a point.”

Even so it’s a sociable home – in the mornings there’s the pilates class and most afternoons her grandchildren come up for a pre-bedtime play and read filling the house with laughter. “We had a party to celebrate girls on Sunday and there were lots of Japanese children galloping around the room,” says a delighted Angela. “My son and his wife want this to be their family home and the trade off is that they’ll have to look after us!”

Words*
Hina Dolls festival is held on 3 March.
Goneril and Regan are the manipulative daughters in Shakespeare’s King Lear.

Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com. Thank you.

If you liked this interview please SHARE on twitter or Facebook or join the Facebook group. Even better follow islingtonfacesblog.com (see menu top right) or follow me on twitter @nicolabairduk

This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or Meet Islingtonians to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola

 

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