London is finally unfurling from lockdown’s vice-like grip.
The pandemic challenged our mental health, our jobs and our businesses in a way unparalleled since the Blitz — but now the city is reopening thanks to some inspiring minds wanting a fresh start. From reimagining retail spaces to redesigning the way we work remotely, from homegrown talent bringing London the Hollywood plaudits to activists calling out rape culture to keep our schools free of abuse, these power players are hitting reset for the rest of us.
When restaurants and shops closed, these imaginative business owners adapted; when our club scene took a hit, these entertainers brought the party digitally into our homes. They have shone a spotlight on injustice and prejudice and found new ways to integrate and represent.
And now, as we get used to the new normal back outside, we’ll be seeing more of them in what we read, where we go and how we interact. London is rising, now we all need to rise to the challenge, too.
Meet the people who inspire us.
Emerald Fennell, actress, writer & director
Actress, novelist, screenwriter, director, producer, playwright — the list goes on for ultimate multi-hyphenate Emerald Fennell. Starring as Camilla in The Crown and writing and producing for Killing Eve propelled Fennell into the limelight, but it was her acclaimed latest film, Promising Young Woman, that earned her three Oscar nominations and made history as the first British woman to be nominated for Best Director. It’s also earned her a double Bafta win. Promising, indeed.
Ross Bailey, entrepreneur
The 29-year-old Ross Bailey founded retail pop up firm Appear Here in 2013, making use of empty and unused commercial spaces and offering them as short- to mid-term lets for businesses. Bailey’s business has gone from strength to strength, and is set to become even more vital amid the struggle on the high street. Recently, Bailey launched the #SaveOurStreet campaign, calling on the Government to support a ‘shop out to help out’ scheme, aiding independent stores out of lockdown.
Manisha Tailor, teacher, entrepreneur & activist
After leaving her full-time position as primary school teacher in 2011, Tailor began working in football with the aim of helping her twin brother, Mayur, recover from mental illness. Since then she has been awarded an MBE for services to football, has founded Swaggarlicious, a company that provides educational programmes around diversity, inclusion and mental health, and is the lead foundation phase coach at QPR.
Daniel Kaluuya, actor
We can’t get enough of Camden-born and bred Kaluuya. His rise in Hollywood has been meteoric (see Get Out, Black Panther and Queen & Slim for evidence), and now we’re sitting back to watch the 32-year-old most likely win — and thoroughly deserve — the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in Judas and the Black Messiah after picking up the equivalent awards for the part at the Golden Globes and Baftas.
Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, artist
Best known for her large oil paintings of imaginary black figures, Yiadom-Boakye studied art at Central Saint Martins, Falmouth College of Art and gained an MA from the Royal Academy Schools. Shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 2013, Yiadom-Boakye currently has work on show at Tate Britain in the exhibition Fly in League with the Night, running until 31 May as government restrictions allow.
Greentea Peng, musician
BBC Sound of 2021 nominee Greentea Peng has spent lockdown working to produce her upcoming studio album, Man Made, which she has said will be set at a frequency of 432 Hz, a ‘universal frequency’ said to emit healing energy. While the singer/songwriter is known for her dreamlike, psychedelic R’n’B, her new music veers towards the political and revolutionary — perfect for now.
Soma Sara, activist
Sara’s platform, Everyone’s Invited, sent shockwaves through Britain after it exposed the ingrained rape culture in UK schools. Started last June as a way to publish first-person accounts of sexual abuse, the site went viral after more than 13,000 users came forward to recount their stories. The 22-year-old has called for meaningful change, saying: ‘Rape culture is everywhere. Have you spoken to your friends? Your dad? Your sister? Let’s not be bystanders, let’s have the courage to challenge this behaviour.’
Emeka and Ifeyinwa Frederick, owners of Chuku’s
Billed as London’s first Nigerian tapas restaurant, Chuku’s opened its doors in February last year with the Frederick siblings at the helm — and promptly had to close them a month later. They kept going with meal kits, which now deliver nationwide, and lively cultural conversations via their blog, and are working on bringing us all back together when we’re all allowed to dine indoors.
Reece James, footballer
After playing for various England youth squads as well as Chelsea, 21-year-old James was called up to the senior England team last October, when he played against Wales. Inspired by growing up among those who ‘didn’t have the privilege’ of access to food, James joined the Evening Standard charity campaign in December last year, aiming to provide meals to vulnerable Londoners in partnership with The Felix Project.
Bimini Bon-Boulash, drag queen
If you don’t already know Bimini, runner-up of this year’s RuPaul’s Drag Race UK, you need to now. The east London-based drag queen went viral after iconic performances throughout the show, from appearing as Katie Price in ‘Snatch Game’ to that killer verse in UK Hun (‘I like it rough, but my lentils tender,’) and has since been signed to Next Models, is set to drop a single and is writing A Drag Queen’s Guide to Life, scheduled for an October release later this year.
Lemara Lindsay-Prince, commissioning editor, #Merky Books
While you might not have heard of Lindsay-Prince, you’ll no doubt know of #Merky Books, Stormzy’s Penguin Random House imprint. In her leading role at #Merky, she is looking to ‘represent, reflect or hero the lived experience of different communities, and those of my friends, my family and my peers’. She is also co-editor of Plantain Papers, an annual journal paying homage to the fruit and the people who eat them.
Annie Auerbach, author & consultant
Having kick-started our desire to find balance in our home-work life well before the start of the pandemic, the author of Flex and co-founder of insights agency Starling helped inspire businesses and individuals on their new WFH regime. Her campaign will have far-reaching consequences regarding how we all operate in and out of offices going forward, too.
Kwame Kwei-Armah, director
As only the second black British playwright to have his work performed in the West End (Elmina’s Kitchen, 2003) Kwame Kwei-Armah succeeded David Lan as artistic director of the Young Vic in 2017, where he has directed Twelfth Night and Tree. When the theatre reopens its doors this year, Kwei-Armah has called for urgent change to the theatre industry, stating that his ‘target is to make sure the Young Vic represents the make-up of London’.
Charlie Craggs, transgender activist & author
Award-winning author and trans activist Charlie Craggs has been campaigning long and hard for the rights of trans people; from publishing To My Trans Sisters, a collection of letters from women in the trans community, to founding Nail Transphobia, an group aimed at starting conversations about trans rights — while also giving out manicures. Her most recent win was the release of the trans flag emoji last year, for which Craggs had been campaigning since 2018.
Maro Itoje, rugby player
The youngest player in the 2017 British and Irish Lions squad, England and Saracens rugby player Maro Itoje has gained prominence outside the sporting world after signing to Jay-Z’s agency, Roc Nation. Itoje lived up to his ‘Super Maro’ epithet by recently launching a campaign calling for the Government to give free laptops to the 1.78 million children who could not take part in at-home online lessons the past year.
Born and raised in Thamesmead, everyone is talking about 26-year-old rapper and singer-songwriter Enny. The buzz built early: until now — on the edge of her debut mixtape release — she has only released four tracks, but that was enough. She caught the attention of Jorja Smith, with whom she joined forces last December for a remix of Enny’s ‘Peng Black Girls’ for A Colors Show, which now has over 10 million views.
Ramla Ali, boxer & activist
The first female Somali boxer to compete professionally, Ali has been making waves within and outside of the boxing world since she began fighting as a teenager. After coming to the UK as a refugee fleeing Somalia, the 31-year-old has modelled for brands such as Coach and Pantene, was on the cover of ES Magazine and Vogue, edited by Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, and now has a book in the pipeline, set to be released in September by #Merky Books.
Grace Campbell, comedian & activist
As the daughter of Alastair Campbell, Grace unsurprisingly has no shortage of material for her politically charged comedy. From her sell-out Edinburgh show to her daughter-dad duo podcast, Campbell’s wit is undisputed, as evidenced by her 2020 candid memoir, Amazing Disgrace. Campbell also co-founded the feminist group The Pink Protest alongside Scarlett Curtis, which is home to the law-changing #FreePeriods campaign.
Sam Fisher and Jason Burley, founders of Burley Fisher Books
It may have won the title of London’s best independent bookshop of the year, but like so many other businesses, Burley Fisher Books had a rocky start to 2020 following lockdown. After profits fell by more than 40 per cent, the duo behind the shop began offering recommendation and delivery services to those who were self-isolating. Since then, they have started a podcast, the Isolation Station, to highlight local and first-time authors, and by December had experienced their ‘best year ever’.
Jake Saunders, charity facilitator
In the aftermath of the Sarah Everard murder, the arts charity Tender’s remit to educate young people about sexual violence has never been more imperative. Saunders is a performance coach who takes his drama and arts techniques into a range of learning environments to help make a shift in traditional gender roles and abuse patterns.
Rina Sawayama, musician & model
After moving to London from Japan at the age of five, Sawayama has been releasing music since her 2013 single, ‘Sleeping in Waking’. This year, after being ‘not British enough’ to be considered for The Brits and the Mercury Prize, Sawayama successfully campaigned to change the BPI’s rules, meaning artists no longer need to hold UK citizenship to be eligible for the awards.
London Rising: Reboot Our Capital
Join us for the Evening Standard’s London Rising first online event (28-29 April, 12pm-2pm) as we explore the challenges and opportunities ahead; championing the people, ideas and emerging trends across business, the arts, fashion, hospitality, retail, sport and politics that will help London soar again. The future starts now. Register for a free eTicket: https://londonrising.standard.co.uk #LondonRising