One of the world’s best-known biographers, Andrew Morton is a leading authority on modern celebrity, and the man behind New York Times and The Sunday Times-best-selling biographies on Angelina Jolie, Tom Cruise, and Monica Lewinsky. He is best known for his explosive 1992 biography on the late Diana, Princess of Wales – Diana: Her True Story, which changed the public’s perception of the British monarchy and became an instant bestseller. The author joins the Corinthia Insider in the Writer’s Penthouse at Corinthia Hotel London to discuss his journey to famed biographer, his favourite London hotspots, and where you’re most likely to have a right royal encounter in the capital.
You’ve lived in London for over 30 years now, what’s changed?
I first moved to London in 1982 from Manchester and it really has transformed from a national capital to, as far as I’m concerned, the capital of the world. Its growth has been prodigious, and you could argue that the national flag of London is the crane because there’s so much new building work going on.
The whole place has shaken off the dusty image of bad food, nothing to do and nowhere to go, it’s now the culinary capital of Europe, if not the world, probably rivalled only by San Francisco, and it’s a very exciting, buzzy happening place where all nationalities and all races mix.
How did you first become a royal correspondent?
I used to write about politics and industrial relations and I was asked to start writing about the royal family, about whom I knew nothing, and that’s when I came down to London. So, I ended up following them around the Caribbean, Australia, Canada, America, so, as we always used to say, ‘it was the best fun you could have with your clothes on’ and from there, I started writing books.
The first book I wrote was ‘Andrew The Playboy Prince’ about Prince Andrew, described by one newspaper as ‘the worst book ever written’. But since then, I’ve gone on to write 24 books, mostly about royalty, but about other celebrities too, including Tom Cruise, Angelina Jolie, Monica Lewinsky, and Madonna.
If you’re Royal spotting in London, where should you go?
The royal family tend to be creatures of habit, in fact Kensington High Street used to be called Kensington ‘Di’ Street because Princess Diana used to do all her shopping down there, and I notice that Meghan Markle, who is Prince Harry’s girlfriend, does her shopping there now too before she goes back to Kensington Palace. So, if you ever wanted to have a brief encounter with a Royal, Kensington Park Gardens is always a good bet. In the old days, you’d get the Royal nannies pushing the prams around but, with increased security, it’s not so easy these days.
Where are your favourite places to go in London?
I’ve been going to Pied a Terre on Charlotte Street for about 25 years or so, ever since it opened, I tend to go with my publisher and discuss new projects whilst mulling over old stories. J Sheekey is my favourite fish restaurant and your very own Bassoon is one of my favourite bars.
And how about culture, where do you go to feed your imagination?
I love the V&A (Victoria & Albert Museum), it’s my favourite museum and I think it earns its title as one of the best museums in the world. I’m going to take my grandson to see the new exhibition at the Natural History Museum, Whales, Scales & Dinosaur Tails, which is a must-visit for anyone with younger kids. There’s also a very interesting museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields called Sir John Soane’s Museum, it’s a real hidden gem, and what makes it unique is that the house has been left untouched since Soane’s death, some 180 years ago, at his request, so it’s a perfect time capsule.
Another great place to visit is the RAF Museum London; I took my father-in-law there recently and we spent 6 hours going around it. The visit was especially poignant as his brother fought and died in the Second World War as a pilot, but it’s simply fascinating for any visitor. If you’ve got teenage kids, it’s great and is a simple tube ride from Corinthia London straight there.
Do you have any local secrets to share with our readers?
I’ve always thought that one of London’s best kept theatre secrets is the Upstairs at The Gatehouse in Highgate, north London, they put on some great productions there but you’re not going to know about it unless you’re a local. Another great secret is Kenwood House, a former stately home tucked away on Hampstead Heath, it’s where the period drama scene from the movie Notting Hill was shot. It’s got a great museum and art gallery with a wonderful collection – it’s got Gainsborough’s, Rembrandts – it’s a fabulous place that’s not as visited as much it should be, in my opinion, and it’s another local secret.
You split your time between London and Los Angeles, what do you miss most about the capital when you’re in America?
The theatre, London’s theatre scene is simply superb, and the fact that you can walk everywhere. And Hampstead Heath – I love Hampstead Heath, it’s a great lung for London.
Corinthia London is located just moments from Clarence house, Prince Charles’ official residence, but what are you favourite London palaces?
Buckingham Palace is pretty amazing when it’s open, Kensington Palace is mainly private but they’ve recently opened The White Garden, in memory of Princess Diana, and they’re also hosting an exhibition on her fashion at the moment (Diana: Her Fashion Story). Hampton Court Palace is great – an excellent day tip from London and you can just hop on a boat from the Embankment pier, which is just five minutes’ walk from the hotel.
You mentioned Corinthia Hotel London’s great central location, what else do you think makes it such a special place to stay?
I love Corinthia London, I think it’s a David Collins (the interior designer studio behind many of the hotel’s most magnificent spaces) masterpiece… the food’s good and it’s inventive, the quality of the furnishings is second to none, it’s very imaginative, I think It’s a wonderful place. And, having stayed here, I thought the beds were so comfortable that I bought one for myself.
You could not have a better-connected place than Corinthia London, better than most hotels because of the river access too. From here you can walk everywhere, to every single place in the city, when you compare it to other hotels, it’s the most central hotel in London.