MY BELSIZE PARK: War correspondent producer Oggy Boytchev says Belsize keeps him calm

11:00 31 August 2014

War correspondent Oggy Boytchev was the producer for BBC World Affairs editor John Simpson

War correspondent Oggy Boytchev was the producer for BBC World Affairs editor John Simpson


Oggy Boytchev, 59, has enjoyed a long career as a producer working with BBC war correspondent John Simpson. He is now a freelance journalist and TV producer.

What brought you to Belsize Park?

I have lived here for more than 12 years. Previously, I lived in Highgate. I chose Belsize Park because I had stayed at a friend’s house here in the early 1990s, a few years after my arrival in London. I liked it because it was tranquil, bohemian and very central (three stops to Bond Street on the Tube).

You have been to some of the most dangerous conflict zones in the world. What is it like returning to your home in Belsize afterwards?

After a stint in Baghdad, Kabul or Gaza, or after one of our undercover missions in Zimbabwe, my adrenalin levels were so high that I used to wake up very early in the morning not knowing where I was, expecting to hear gunfire or the proverbial ‘knock on the door’.

But my anxieties were quickly assuaged by the dawn chorus from the surrounding gardens. My road is so quiet that it’s like being in the countryside.

If you were guest editor of the Ham&High for a day, what one local issue would you most like to see reported?

HS2. I know the Ham&High has a regular rubric on this topic. People are instinctively against it because of the medium-term disruption to their lives. But is there a local case in favour of it? Are there any long-term local benefits beyond the usual ‘we need an infrastructure fit for the 21st century’? How would HS2 change Belsize architecturally? Would it in effect make it part of central London?

You have a day off to spend as you wish in the area. What do you do?

Workout at my local gym, Springhealth in Belsize Park Gardens. Light lunch in Belsize Crescent. A bookshop ‘crawl’, starting from Daunt Books in Haverstock Hill, followed by it’s sister shop in South End Green, Waterstones in Hampstead High Street, ending up in the second-hand bookshop in Flask Walk, in the heart of Hampstead Village. Coffee break, then a long walk through Hampstead Heath to Highgate and back. And perhaps a film at the Everyman (formerly Screen on the Hill) in the evening.

What would you say is the area’s best kept secret?

The home-made burger and chips at The Wells Tavern in Well Walk where I am a regular, especially on a Friday night.

If you could twin Belsize with anywhere else in the world, where would it be and why?

Greenwich Village in Manhattan - cosmopolitan, liberal and very central.

If you had to write your own epitaph, what would it say?

John Simpson and I have often joked about epitaphs. It kept us sane in the face of utmost danger during our assignments. I would like to paraphrase W.C Fielding’s epitaph ‘I’d rather be in Philadelphia’ to read: ‘All things considered, I’d rather be in Belsize Park’.

Oggy Boytchev was in conversation with Paul Wright.


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