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Westbourne Park

Désirée

Musical Artist & Poet


"People need to protest, people need to say something, and people need to come together. If the community comes together then the powers that be have to fight the whole community."

How did you end up in Portobello?

I was born and brought up in Harlesden but I felt very different. You don’t realise you’re different though because you don’t realise about your personality until you’re a lot older. When I came to this area I moved to West London, to Bayswater first of all and then moved down here. I spent a lot of time in Portobello, meeting a lot of people like myself who realised that I was just an arty person. So coming to Portobello for me, and finding Portobello, and seeing so many different people just being themselves, and being allowed to be themselves, was amazing for me. This was 1981 – it was punk time in Portobello.

What was Portobello like in those days?

I can remember when I first started coming out in Portobello Road, I used to crash a lot of parties by myself. Those were the days when you could do it. You could just walk in and if you were a “likeable” person then people would take the time to understand and like you and not just kick you out because you didn’t know anyone. I suppose I learnt a lot about myself by challenging myself and doing those things, which you could do in Portobello in those days, taking yourself out your comfort zone.

What does Portobello mean to you?

To me the most important part of it is the freedom of expression of art that has always come from this area. If you look at Jimi Hendrix when he came to London he came here first of all, The Beatles spent a lot of time in Portobello Road, and Bob Marley lived here of course. Portobello Road was also very well known for people who were starting in fashion and making their own designs, people that were reconstructing clothing. It was famous for that. That’s what I used to love about Portobello. You’d come down here and go to three or four different stalls and there were clothes there you’d find nowhere else. These were like “limited editions” and I loved that. There’s a lot of that disappearing now and it’s sad.

How else has Portobello changed?

It’s changing very very rapidly now. Portobello is becoming much more like Oxford Street. I feel very sad for the traders. I would say it first began when All Saints took over the top of the road. That was a big change. They basically bought out all the antique stalls that were in that building. It was about 3 or 4 years ago. That was when it was a completely visible change, actually on Portobello Road itself, but it started before that behind the scenes anyway. It’s now very difficult for ordinary people to start businesses. If you want to do anything in Portobello now you have to have lots of money. A lot of people now, the little shops and boutiques, are family money. It’s cool to be part of Portobello for them and that’s cool but if people are moving into the area and they have the money then they need to respect the area they’re moving into also. A lot of the people here struggle, a real struggle. For very many years that’s been the heart of Portobello, the struggle of the people here. Not just the businesses but also within the community itself; there’s a deep rooted history in that. There's a risk it’s going to just become a money making place. It’ll turn into Oxford Street. It’s going to be a strip of shops.

So what should we do about it?

We have to stress on the community. But the people’s voice is not very loud. Money has a lot more clout than history. It’s like everything where something needs to change – its people power. People need to protest, people need to say something, and people need to come together. If the community comes together then the powers that be have to fight the whole community. [In the past] it wasn’t the local community that “couldn’t”… but the local community that “didn’t”. I don’t think that they felt it would affect them. This isn’t just about the stall owners though; this is about the whole of Portobello. I’ve resigned myself to realising that there is going to be a battle sometime and I know which side I am going to be on, and I know I’ll be there.