Is Highgate the new Primrose Hill?
PUBLISHED: 10:24 14 March 2016 | UPDATED: 11:13 14 March 2016
From super wealthy residents hiding behind gates and private security to raucous late night parties and an influx of Primose Hill émigrés, what’s happening to the refined, leafy enclave of Highgate?
With its table topping private schools, quaint high street, large period houses and strong sense of community, fostered by stalwart institutions such as the Highgate Literary and Scientific Institute and the Highgate Society, Highgate has long been a popular spot for the intellectual middle-class buyer in the know.
The area is also no stranger to A-listers: North London boy George Michael has lived there for decades, while fellow pop stars Annie Lennox, Sting and his wife Trudie Styler all called Highgate home for many years. Indeed, the area can trace a celebrity lineage as far back as the 1670s when Nell Gwynn, the actress and mistress of King Charles II, lived in Lauderdale House.
The Primrose Hill effect
But in recent years a new breed of celebrity resident has hit the High Street in a wave of migration from the notorious Primrose Hill party zone.
These newcomers set themselves apart from their neighbours from the get go. Whereas the area’s longer standing residents would generally confine themselves to stripping the floorboards and Farrow & Balling the walls on arrival, the new Highgate buyer spends several years and millions of pounds on building work before they even move in.
A key member of the Primrose Hill set in the 90s and noughties, Jude Law, bought in Highgate in 2010, reportedly paying close to £8million for a detached house in the area. He finally moved in four years later after gutting the Georgian property and adding a basement. Kate Moss bought Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s old house for £7.2million in 2011, while the latest celeb to swap Primrose Hill for Highgate is Jamie Oliver, who has applied to renovate his £8.9million eight-bedroom Restoration era family home.
And that’s not to mention the anonymous super wealthy residents who are the subject of an academic report into the impact of high net worth individuals on London, amid fears that an emphasis on privacy and individual luxury is turning some N6 thoroughfares into ghost streets.
So what has turned this previously somewhat off-radar white-collar area into a glitzy, billionaire-studded enclave?
Value for money
Surprisingly, given the sums in question, a large part of Highgate’s attraction is down to soaring property prices throughout London.
Average property prices in Highgate only passed £1million last year, according to Savills, up 29 per cent on 2014. By comparison, prices in prime Primrose Hill ward remained fairly settled at £1,283,117, having risen only 8.7 per cent in the same period.
Simon Edwards of Savills in Hampstead says: “London’s become so expensive that most English people can’t afford to live there now.
“People are looking at Primrose Hill and saying ‘I can’t get a big enough garden, I can’t get what I want for my budget in Primrose Hill’, whereas 10 years ago they might have been able to. Everybody’s got a budget, no matter how rich and famous they are.”
This where Highgate’s under the radar charm comes into play suggests Edwards.
“Typically Highgate was the poor relation of Hampstead; when I asked people looking in Hampstead if they would consider Highgate 20 or 30 years ago they would always say no. They wouldn’t have dreamed of moving there, it was too far out. Nowadays people are much more likely to look in both Hampstead and Highgate.”
Doing it for the kids
Tellingly, the Primrose Hill transplants in Highgate all have school-age children and Edwards says that proximity to excellent schools is a major part of Highgate’s attraction.
“First and foremost it’s the schools. Highgate School and Channing are the two major draws in Highgate. They are Highgate’s biggest industry.”
Mark Sumray of Benham & Reeves in Highgate agrees: “I worked in Hampstead for a number of years but I never saw the number of paparazzi you see at school kicking out time in Highgate.”
The quiet life
Another draw to Highgate for those who may have found themselves on the wrong side of the press in the past is the level of privacy afforded by the type of property available.
Simon Briscoe, vice-chair of the Highgate Neighbourhood Forum says: “If you look at a map you can get much a larger plot of land around your house in Highgate than you can in comparable areas. It’s much quieter, much more private and discreet, people are allowed much more to get on with their own lives.”
At the area’s north western reaches this seclusion reaches an extreme on private streets with their own security, which attract Premier League footballers and international billionaires.
Primrose Hill estate agent David Birkett agrees. “We still have people who happen to be well known for what they do living here, like Joan Bakewell, Alan Bennett and Stephen Mangan, but they’re not so much people who want to be celebrities or court the public eye.”
“I remember when Madonna was rumoured to be looking here years ago. It just doesn’t suit someone like that. The houses open almost directly onto the street with windows you can look straight into. For these mega celebrities you need a wall and a gate it doesn’t suit people who are right in the media’s eye.”
This is where Highgate comes into its own. “There are far fewer properties in Highgate, there’s a far lower density than other comparable areas in north London. If you compare N6 to NW3 it’s about a quarter of the density,” says Edwards. “Of course that’s predominantly because an awful lot of Highgate is open space, land which can’t be built on. There are very few streets.”
So how will this close knit community cope with the new wave of former party kings and queens? For Briscoe and the Highgate Neighbourhood Forum, who will be holding a referendum on the community’s proposed changes later this year, it’s a case of the more the merrier.
“I welcome them all here,” he says. “I’m happy to welcome anyone onto our mailing list. Kate Moss will have the same number of votes as I will.”
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