Toby Young Says "Acton is Monte Carlo"

Apologises for any offense caused by "cesspool" remarks

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Toby Young, whose comments on Acton High Street were published recently on this site, has written an article published in today's Spectator about his first impressions of Acton. With Toby's permission, we are reprinting the article here in full.


Six months ago I wrote an article in this magazine in which I complained that rising property prices in Shepherd’s Bush had forced me and my wife to move to Acton. I pointed out that the only decent café within walking distance of our new house had closed down, citing this as evidence that there weren’t enough middle-class people in the area to sustain a single decent coffee shop. Acton, I concluded, was the cesspool of west London.

This turned out to be a colossal error of judgment — and not just because the editor of the local newsletter reprinted the article in full and sent it to all our new neighbours. Far from being an urban wasteland teeming with knife-wielding hoodies, Acton is a suburban Shangri-La — the Monte Carlo of Metroland.

Take the Husseins, who live next door but one. The other day I counted six cars in their driveway, including a Rolls-Royce, a Bentley and a Porsche. They all belonged to them, too, a fact that was revealed by the cars’ consecutive vanity plates: HUSS 1, HUSS 2, etc. They don’t even live in the grandest house in the street. That honour belongs to Jana Bennett, the BBC’s ‘Director of Vision’. (According to the BBC website, ‘She has overall creative and leadership responsibility for BBC One, BBC Two, the digital channels BBC Three and BBC Four, as well as overseeing content on the UKTV channels and BBC America.’)

My wife and I foolishly imagined that we would be big fish in a small pond in Acton and entertained fantasies of inviting the locals round to the back door for a glass of cider at Christmas. In fact, we are probably the poorest people on our road. We are certainly the only ones who don’t send their children to private school. As we’re cramming Sasha and Ludo into the Vauxhall Zafira on a Monday morning, pinning their clothes together with safety pins, our neighbours pull out of the adjoining driveways in Range Rovers and Grand Voyagers with their immaculately uniformed children sitting in the back. We feel like the Beverly Hillbillies.

Needless to say, none of our Shepherd’s Bush friends believe us when we tell them how posh Acton is. The other day, a mother from Ludo’s nursery brought her child over for a ‘play date’ and, after giving our house the once-over, told us she was quite impressed. ‘I had no idea you could get places as nice as this so close to London,’ she said.

Even the domestics look down their noses at Acton. I got into a row with a Filipino cleaner last week who demanded to be paid an extra £20 for the time it had taken her to get here. I pointed out that this was a bit much, given that she lived in Olympia, and offered to ‘prove’ that it was no more than three miles away by plugging our respective addresses into Google maps. She was having none of it. ‘You live Heathlow, you live Heathlow,’ she screamed.

In an effort to make amends for having contributed to this misrepresentation of the area, I invited the editor of the local newsletter to lunch and proposed that she ‘interview’ me. She suggested we go to Vanilla, the very same coffee shop I claimed had closed down in my earlier piece. It turns out that the demand for bresaola-and-sundried-tomato sandwiches is so great, Vanilla has actually moved to larger premises.

‘I want to take this opportunity to unreservedly apologise to the people of Acton,’ I said, dipping a piece of ciabatta into some carrot and coriander soup. ‘It is by far the most affluent place I have ever lived — and that includes the West Village in New York and Brentwood in Los Angeles.’

She duly published the ‘interview’, but with typical journalistic cunning elected not to quote any of the nice things I said. Instead, she cast me as an unspeakable snob, spewing bile about my new neighbourhood. ‘Acton High Street contains shops that are below even Budgens and Iceland in the retail substrata,’ she quoted me as saying. ‘Even Kerry Katona would give it a wide berth.’ (Admittedly, I did say this, but only after several glasses of ‘organic’ wine.)

From now on, Caroline and I are going to keep out of sight — which shouldn’t be too hard. I don’t expect to get many invitations, given my reputation as the Lady Bracknell of the area. Our only hope is that Jana Bennett may invite us round for a glass of cider at Christmas.


Please note that, although Janice and Danielle Heskett have plans to sell alcoholic beverages for consumption in Vanilla, they do not currently have a license to sell organic or non-organic wine.


March 27, 2008