In the long running building dispute between West London neighbours Jimmy Page and Robbie Williams, I’m with Jimmy all the way – and not just because my record collection contains a hefty dollop of Led Zeppelin, Yardbirds and sixties songs on which he plays guitar anonymously yet not so much as a trace of Robbie Williams, either as a member of Take That (heaven forbid!) or on his own.
When I lived in Shepherds Bush I must have driven by Tower House, a Grade 1 listed building on Melbury Road in Holland Park, scores of times on my way to Kensington High Street where Mrs C liked to do a bit of shopping on a weekend. I had read somewhere that Jimmy owned it but I always somehow avoided the temptation to knock on his door to pass the time of day.
It’s a truly beautiful structure, built in the late 19th Century by the noted Victorian architect William Burges, with a distinctive round tower, red brick, slightly churchlike, certainly the kind of historic building that deserves to be treated with a great deal of respect. Its previous owners include the poet John Betjeman and the actor Richard Harris, from whom Page bought the property for £350,000 in 1972.
Next door is another splendid home, once that of film director Michael Winner, now owned by Robbie Williams who fairly recently paid £17.5 million for it, which suggests that Jimmy is sitting on a pot of gold but that’s beside the point. Williams has plans to substantially refurbish his house with alterations to every floor, a swimming pool and gym, new air conditioning, some excavation and the demolition and replacement of the garage. Earlier plans – which included building a massive subterranean pool – had been rejected by Kensington Council but a new set of plans, now modified from the first proposals, have been okayed.
I doubt Jimmy will accept this without a fight. And I hope he wins because there’s something intrinsically wrong about people with too much money greatly extending their homes in areas of London where there is insufficient space, hence all that digging, and which surely causes offense on aesthetic grounds regardless of who lives next door. It’s happening all over Chelsea too and creating all sorts of trouble, not least because of the ugly building work that goes on for years.
Also, Williams is the new kid on the block while Jimmy has owned his gaff for over 40 years now and his good stewardship of the property deserves some recognition. Although I’ve yet to be invited to tea, I’m pretty sure he will have maintained Tower House in pristine condition as he’s a connoisseur of historic artifacts, great architecture and English culture. He also owns Deanery Garden at Sonning, near Reading, another magnificent house with a garden that was once open to the public (but is no longer), this one designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens.
Here’s hoping Jimmy wins the planning dispute in the end. His fans won't want Robbie turned into a frog will they?