Want to play a game of London exile bingo?
OK. So the first thing they’ll tell you — in hushed, reverent tones — is that [insert town name here] has a cinema. No way.
Second thing? A roll call of the local celebrities (Alan Titchmarsh??? Score! We have the Queen, I guess).
The third: how long it takes them to get into London from wherever they’ve moved to. You know where’s even quicker to get to London from? London.
Of course, obviously the houses are bigger outside the city. And sure, the quality of life is enviable (sea views, rolling hills). And yes, post-Covid our work and life and priorities have shifted so that being able to get into Soho in 30 minutes is no longer as important to many as having a real garden (not a yard, with a former tenant’s rusting BBQ lying prostrate across the paving stones). Indeed, 60 per cent of renters are considering leaving for the seaside, finds a study this month by global accountancy firm PwC.
Still, you’re not really thinking about it, are you? Really? Fine. Forewarned is forearmed — you need to know thine enemy. If you’re joining the ranks of the London exiles, this is a spotter’s guide to the tribes you need to know.
The Margate Massive
After officially “completing” Hackney a few years ago, the Margate Massive moved to the seaside for dawn swims (mind the seaweed); cheap four-bed end terraces (£575,000!!!) and the Turner Contemporary (they haven’t been yet). Yes, they’re still trying to find a vinyasa flow class and some kids once threw rocks at them on the seafront but otherwise it really reminds them of Clapton, but with oysters. Squint (maybe close one eye?) and the faded Victorian grandeur isn’t even that faded. The MM’s hobbies include talking about Haeckels soap; talking about orange wine; talking about when they lived in Clapton and pretending the seaweed doesn’t smell of raw eggs.
Do say: “Come on in, the water’s lovely if you avoid the main beach!”
Don’t say: “Wait, so the fast train to St Pancras only takes an hour and a half, right?”
Celeb neighbours: The Libertines have just opened The Albion Rooms, a hotel in Cliftonville.
The Cotswolds crew
It’s half-past four on a Friday at Paddington station and everyone on the concourse is holding a Longchamp tote. No, this is not Britain’s most genteel flash mob, these are the passengers assembling for 16.44 express to Stonehouse, where they’ll be picked up in the Range Rover at the station and whisked off to a barn with a f***-off extension (the technical term).
Decor-wise, we’re talking high-low: kids’ lockdown art on the fridge, a Damien Hirst in the loo; velvet sofas but throws from a “little indie” in Cirencester. Shangri-La for the Cotswolds Crew is Stroud, which is basically an immersive farmers’ market. Expect to spend your weekends there. The Swan in Lechlade is Kate Moss’s favourite pub. Otherwise the vibe is just “sit back in your hot tub with a glass of Taittinger” (read: money. The vibe is money).
Do say: “Has anyone seen my Vilebrequin swimmers?”
Don’t say: “Shall we just have Prosecco instead?”
Celeb neighbours: The beautiful people, obv. Kate Moss and her daughter Lila Grace, who spent lockdown in their stately farmhouse in Little Faringdon; Jamie Dornan, wife Amelia Warner and his brood, who have a rambling (estate agent for “massive”) house near Stroud.
Looking for Shoreditch’s expat graphic designers? They’ve all upped sticks and moved to Frome, the hipster/hippy dippy Somerset town which has its own co-working hub (The Old Church School); a community fridge; Scandi design shops on every corner and a de rigueur vegan market.
The vibe is “ley lines and community spirit” but everyone owns their own independent business (and is making some serious cash). The uniform = DIY tie-dye and Allbirds (aka “start-up with a heart”).
Do say: “Just nipping to the community fridge, can I get you anything?”
Don’t say: “Va va Frome!”
Celeb neighbours: Michael and Emily Eavis live up the road in Pilton, and Mariella Frostrup is in Bruton.
The St Leonards lot
It’s 11am on a Saturday in St Leonards and you’re absent-mindedly stroking the hardwood of a large dining table while watching a woman in £450 jeans doing a breathy to-iPhone camera piece about a terracotta soap dish. Welcome to Portobello-on-Sea, where the interiors #influencers rule the roost. You haven’t seen “naked aggression” until you’ve watched two grown women fight over a hat stand shaped like an ostrich (#iconic #treasure #interiorsinspo #maximalism).
Obviously, the best way to fit in is to start your own interiors Instagram account and wait for the glossy paint partnerships to start rolling in. Other ways to ingratiate yourself — fast — is to say something sneering about Kent (“sure, I’m sure it’s for *some* people, you know?”). Homesick? Visit The Royal, by the team who did the Camberwell Arms. You’ll find the prices reassuringly expensive.
Do say: “J’adore your curtain rails!”
Don’t say: “Is that from Ikea?”
Celeb neighbours: they’re afraid of the influencers.
The Rye guys
Rye sounds a bit like it was designed by an algorithm commissioned by Visit England. Spectacular beaches, an ancient castle, higgledy-piggledy historic streets, a microbrewery, literary pedigree (Rudyard Kipling and Henry James: check and check); independent bookshops; blah blah blah. Stunning? Yes. A little smug? Yes. Still, these locals are welcoming (literally, can they do no wrong?) They invite you round for coffee (served from crockery that is mismatched and utterly charming) and offer to drive you the 13 miles down the road to Derek Jarman’s cottage themselves (they do a little tour, just a Saturday thing, no, no, it’s all free).
What on earth could be the downside? Well, if you’re used to Londoners who’d rather look anywhere than offer you a seat on the Tube, it might all be a bit overwhelming.
Do say: “Is this…heaven?”
Don’t say: “I actually prefer Hastings”
Celeb neighbours: the ethereal Tilda Swinton is a big Prospect Cottage fan girl, as is Gwendoline Christie.