dreamers and do-ers: why london has always drawn people in

London's always been a magnet for young people around the world trying to make it. We look into the realities, the highs and lows, of moving to London from another country.

by Kate Villevoye
12 November 2015, 10:45am

The week after my 18th birthday I moved from Breda, the ninth biggest city in Holland, to the mighty metropolis of London, the biggest city in Europe. Perhaps like every young adult or self-absorbed teen, I thought I was going to absolutely "make it". I was more than ready to move into a cool loft in Soho with retractable glass roofs and hang out with my yet-to-be group of talented friends that I would meet as we crossed eyes on the dancefloor bonding over the same incredibly cool techno track. I knew my incredible career as TV presenter/documentary filmmaker/DJ would kick off immediately, and success was inevitable. Now, I might have been more naïve than the average young aspiring creative that moves to London, but over the past five years, I've met plenty of others who have dreamt of leaving their imprint in this city without preparing themselves for the bumpy ride.

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I got hugely excited about London the few times I came to visit as a kid, for all the obvious reasons. It would take a lot to be underwhelmed by the bright lights of the big city when you come from a country that takes "just act normal, that's weird enough already" as its mantra. That Dutch way of living didn't really suit me, so I never felt too fussed about staying. I also wanted to work in film, and thought I was more likely to find a fun and active community of people with that same dream here in London than I was in Amsterdam. That consideration wasn't really based on facts or rational thinking, because Amsterdam has a great community of filmmakers and creatives too. It was more of a "why not?" leap of faith, pulled in by the allure of London and pushed forwards by my own enthusiasm to try and make it my home. It took just 45 minutes up in the air to get here, but it meant stepping into an entirely new world (although it wasn't as big of a culture shock for me than for my Brazilian friends, who took a picture of every squirrel they came across in their first year in the UK).

During my first month in London, the first hurdle I had to jump over was when I got lost trying to find my way to Central Saint Martins to sign up for my courses. Who knew that walking between Holborn and Clerkenwell would be the equivalent of traversing my entire hometown? Simply acknowledging the unbelievable size of the city, you immediately come to understand the gravity of the mission you have just embarked on. It didn't get much better after that. Time and again, standing by the cash machine, wondering how it swallowed all of my month's allowance within a week, moving from untrustworthy landlords (bye deposit!) to overbearing landlords (six months rent in advance?!) and going on random nights anywhere from Ministry of Sound to Mayfair (with a pitstop in Camden) made the difference between my idealised future and the reality of my present very apparent.

After managing to get to grips with the basic struggles of survival, came the second issue: how could I add anything at all to the creative industry here? London moves at such an incredible pace that by the time you think you're on top of it, it's already moved on. Live performance cinema, cinemas that serve haute cuisine, music festivals that serve duck wraps, Duck & Waffle, Bubbledogs, bubble tea, high tea on a rooftop, rooftop disco parties, parties with all of the above -- think of anything and some bearded man has already commercialised it. Pop-up after pop-up and entrepreneur after entrepreneur have tried to make it in this city where words are turned into action at lightning speed. It's a competitive place: even if you're one in a million, there are still eight and a half of you.

But after five years of being sucked into, and sometimes fighting against the pace of the city, I can't deny I've learnt a lot from London. Maybe it isn't a great place for dreamers after all, but it's certainly a great place for do-ers. And that is a source for real inspiration: not other's dreams, but their achievements.

The sheer size of the city, added to the multicultural complexity of its people, paves way for a unique feeling of anonymity. Only in a city where no one truly cares about you, your differences and dreams, you'll find the right "fuck it" attitude that makes any great creative.

I really have no clue where I'll be in five years time - how could I? I've hardly saved any money for my future with these ridiculous rent prices, or had the time to even think about what I'm doing next weekend. The city still leaves me with plenty of chaos in my head, but fuck it, I'm enjoying the hustle.


Text Kate Villevoye
Photography Tony Webster