Clara Amfo admits her form of meditation is a little unorthodox. When she needs to escape the madness of the city, the BBC Radio 1 host doesn’t download the Calm app or head to the yoga studio — but Brixton Market.
“I feel at home there,” confesses Amfo, who lives in Hackney but spent much of her childhood in Balham, Tooting and Brixton. She’d hang out with friends in Brockwell Park and her mum would take her and her siblings to Brixton Market to pick up chicken, fish and traditional Ghanaian dishes.
Today, she likes to go to her favourite hair salon there. “Nothing beats the smell and comfort of a London afro hair shop,” she says. “I go there just to hang — it makes me feel safe”.
Amfo, 35, admits it feels strange to have the tables turned while talking about London: she’s used to being the interviewer. The last few months have been spent meeting A-listers from the Sugababes (her childhood heroes) to documentary-maker Louis Theroux to chat about life in the capital. Her new podcast, This City, launched last week.
The series is a deep-dive into the stories behind the Big Smoke and there are some equally big names among the starry line-up: episode one hears Mo The Comedian on starting out in Soho, this week Sex Education star Ncuti Gatwa discusses moving down from Scotland and feeling “accepted” by London’s nightlife, and episode three hears champion sprinter Dina Asher-Smith on haggling in Brixton Market. Presenter Reggie Yates, rapper Little Simz and shoe designer Sophia Webster are among the future guests.
What was it like meeting Theroux? “I thought I could bloody talk… but it became this situation where he was interviewing me,” laughs Amfo, recalling how she first met the filmmaker in the BBC canteen two years ago. She “slid into his DMs” on Instagram to invite him onto the podcast — “who knew that actually worked outside of the romantic?” — and Theroux told her all about his years living in north-west London: gentrification, meeting those who’d migrated into the city, his favourite West Indian takeaway.
“He was very humble and said he didn’t want to move to London and live in this palatial glass house,” Amfo remembers. “He wanted to meet people and that shows in where he chose to live. He’s all about being among people in the most natural way.”
Amfo feels the same way. She’s been in Hackney for 10 years and will “never leave” because she loves its diversity. “I’d never want to live somewhere with only one type of person,” she says. That’s what she loves about London as a whole: its “melting pot” of so many people, cultures, foods: “I love the fact that I can go to Golders Green and get the best bagels I’ve ever tasted; I can walk down Brick Lane and get an incredible curry.”
Amfo is not a pub person but her favourite bar is Behind This Wall on Mare Street and she likes to go running in Hackney Downs. Her favourite day of the year is always Notting Hill Carnival. “It’s like Christmas for me,” says Amfo. “I probably get more excited than I do on actual Christmas Day.”
Before then she’s hosting from the red carpet at next month’s Brit Awards with Alice Levine and she’d love to make a second series of the podcast alongside her day job as presenter of Radio 1’s mid-morning show.
Her dream guest for series two? “100 per cent Naomi Campbell,” says Amfo. “She’s a true London icon, the model’s model.” Will she be sliding into her DMs? Amfo laughs. “You know what? Maybe I will.”
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