I love Leicester Square. It’s central London’s ultimate drab, ordinary public space – an icon for the capital. And this is without anyone wanting it to be so – least of all hunters for the ‘real’, for authenticity, for whom it will always remain a mess beyond value or meaning. This is exactly why Leicester Square is the perfect kind of place to take snapshots of urbanity in: it displays cultural shifts midleap.
On an ordinary working day there are random passers-by milling about, tourists grateful for somewhere to sit and film the unremarkable figurine clock at the corner of the Swiss Centre, and people making their way to or from nearby Covent Garden to Piccadilly Circus or Trafalgar Square, all of which have carved out identities for themselves and are recognisable, iconic even. If you search for live webcam feeds of Leicester Square you’ll be greeted with the most generic-looking, fragmented views of buildings and pedestrian routes.
In the 18th century, this fashionable residential address was home to the likes of Joshua Reynolds and William Hogarth. Then in the 19th century it started its gradual slide into becoming an ‘immoral pit’ of entertainment and nightlife. Almost a century ago, the Empire Theatre, which stood on the north side of the square, was converted into a picture palace, and that it remains to this day.
This is the only identity Leicester Square
attempts to claim: as the centre of London’s
There is something wonderfully inapt about Angelina Jolie or Scarlett Johansson (not to mention Tom Cruise, who must by now have qualified for honorary residency) braving the weather in glamorous get-ups, only to end up seated on cheap sofas inside the Vue cinema lobby, sofas which resemble nothing more than the less-than-sweetsmelling sausages to be bought from street vendors around the West End on a typical Friday night.