VETERAN broadcaster Paul Gambaccini, 69, found he was spending so much time in the theatres and cinemas of London’s South Bank that he decided to move there and eliminate the time travelling to and from his detached house in Islington.
That was in 2000, when the redevelopment work which now engulfs the South Bank was just getting underway. Paul bought a two-bedroom penthouse flat in a converted office block — and it proved to be an unexpected bargain.
‘The estate agent told me about it but I said it was too expensive,’ he explains. However, it was the last flat to be sold in the building, the original buyers had pulled out at the last minute, and developers were keen for a quick sale. ‘They would get a bonus for clearing the building,’ says Paul. ‘So I got a very good deal as they wanted to complete this project and move onto the next.’
Paul, who lives with his husband Chris Sherwood, an actor and personal trainer, particularly enjoys the striking views of London from his balcony. He says: ‘From here you can see the sun rise over Canary Wharf, I watched the Gherkin, Shard and the Cheese Grater all go up, and over on the other side you can see the development work in Elephant & Castle.’
The floor-to-ceiling windows in the open-plan living room maximise light and the views. ‘It’s a sun trap in the mornings,’ says Paul. ‘So it’s quite warm even when the temperature outside isn’t very high.’
As the flat was newly built when Paul first bought it, he hasn’t made many alterations — but when he initially moved in he installed shelving around the living room for his thousands of CDS. Since CDs have fallen out of favour the shelves, which were built to CD dimensions, host Paul’s large collection of books — including many volumes of vintage comic books.
While Paul is best known for his music expertise and career as a radio DJ he is also a comic book enthusiast — reflected in his taste in artwork, which includes several lithographs by Disney artist Carl Barks. ‘He was in charge of Disney’s duck unit and worked on the duck comic books for 25 years,’ says Paul.
‘He created characters including Scrooge McDuck. My grandmother helped me learn how to read from the Carl Barks duck comics so they have sentimental value. I also like how much character is in them.
‘With simple drawings a character is brought to life — and he has a beautiful use of colour.’
Paul says he will never part with a smaller and simpler piece of art — a personal sketch done for him as a child by Superman artist Curt Swan. ‘Curt’s son was in my brother’s class at school which is how I came to have that. I’ll always keep it,’ he adds.
The living room is also home to Paul’s 1911 Steinway piano. ‘It’s my most important possession. I can’t believe they managed to get it in here! I’ve played the piano since I was a child and I only play classical. I’m good at reading classical music but I can’t improvise, which you need for pop and jazz.’
Paul’s collection of trophies, including a Sony Lifetime Achievement Award, sits on top.
The living room is in the downstairs part of the flat — so the removal team had to take the piano down a tight stairway. The flat’s entrance is on the upper floor along with both bedrooms and bathrooms. Another of Paul’s collections dominates the entrance hall and stairs — his assortment of movie posters.
‘Each one has a story,’ says Paul, who reviewed films on TV-am for more than a decade. He points to a poster for 1983 film The Right Stuff, about the beginnings of the US space programme. ‘I saw that film with Sting in New Orleans,’ he says. ‘We had dinner and we got to the dessert stage and he said, “I don’t eat dessert anymore.” I immediately felt like the fattest person on Earth. It changed my eating habits — dessert and cakes left my life at that point.’
Nearly 20 years on and Paul is still happy he bought his flat. ‘I won’t need to move again because the neighbourhood is changing all the time. It feels like an entire new village has sprung up. Waterloo station is nearby so I can get in to the BBC to do my show very quickly.
‘I can’t imagine living anywhere more convenient.’
■ Paul Gambaccini presents Pick Of The Pops on Radio 2 on Saturdays at 1pm