The tale of Don Letts and the 32 Londoners
“I know I’m your guide for this ride but don’t be looking at me, I ain’t that pretty…”
So begins Don Letts, as our pod on the London Eye gently creeps away from the platform.
Letts is one of the 32 speakers, giving talks on 32 famous London-dwellers, in the Eye’s 32 pods as part of an event called – wait for it… 32 Londoners. This is the event’s second time on the Eye, after selling out in summer of 2014. This year sees talks on a mind-bogglingly broad range of Londoners; from Dick Whittington (of latterly pantomime-fame) to Princess Diana, from Florence Nightingale to so-called ‘porn baron’ Paul Raymond.
Letts’ subject is the late Joe Strummer, co-founder and frontman of the Clash, who died in 2002 aged just 50 years old. Though he was born in Turkey, Strummer moved to London as a boy and became central to the early punk scene of the late seventies and one of the figureheads of London’s amazing musical heritage.
The Coca Cola London Eye (to give it its official title) is a pretty spectacular ride when the sun is out, and London looks breathtaking.“London is the greatest city on earth and we wanted to celebrate some of the intriguing characters who have made London their home and helped make London what it is today.” – so says Nikki Ratcliffe, London Eye spokesperson. And I can get on board with that…
Travelling slowly round in a pod however-many feet above the Southbank really feels like the perfect place to listen to Letts – DJ, filmmaker, radio presenter, musician and long-term friend of Strummer – speak about the man’s life and legacy. As we reach the top on our first revolve, Letts is talking about Strummer’s early career: “He formed the 101ers, named after the address of the squat he was living in: 101 Wallington Road, somewhere that way…” (he gestures north-west) “They played their first gig at the Elgin,” (his hand moves fractionally south) “…that way.”
Letts reminisces about meeting Strummer and former bandmate Mick Jones, producing their music videos and watching their relationship deteriorate. He speaks about Strummer’s projects after the Clash, his writing for film and TV scores and his posthumous induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
But it isn’t all about the music. Throughout his career – throughout his life – Strummer was an avid campaigner with a passion for learning about and helping people. There was always a cause to champion and Strummer had a real ability to inspire people to effect change. Letts is wrapping up: “We must be careful mythologising Joe; it’s important to keep him real – warts and all – so that he can remain something to aspire to.”
We’re looking across at the Houses of Parliament as Letts answers a final question, on how London has changed since the days of punk and protests. He muses on how hard it is for young Londoners to afford life in the city these days: “An economic exclusion zone is forming. And if Joe taught me anything it was ‘all of us or none of us’.”
A full list of speakers for 32 Londoners is available at www.32londoners.com
Tickets are available to purchase now, at £40 per person which includes: talk on chosen Londoner, 45 minutes on the Eye, a bottle of Aspall Cyder plus a card and cash bar facility at the Riverside Rooms.