"Flick Rea's home is a testament to her passions, from the theatre posters on her wall, to the 'I heart Kilburn' bag hanging off her kitchen chair. And, of course, Mr Monster, her cat who has his own Facebook fan page (although at the last count, he only had four likes, and one of them was mine).
|Flick Rea & Mr Monster|
She's one of West Hampstead's most recognisable faces, not only because of her standing in local politics (a councillor for Fortune Green, she was first elected in 1986), but because she's lived here for 43 years and she knows it better than anyone.
"There's something unusual about West Hampstead," she says. "It's in the air, it's on the water, it's in our bones – it isn't like anywhere else. It's much friendlier than anywhere else in London, and it's always been a harmonious place to live. Although some neighbours might not get on, we don't have large pockets of people who can't stand other parts of the community. And although there are a few people who will hang on tight to the past and fight against new flats or shops, most of the changes in this area I appreciate enormously."
She has certainly seen a lot of changes. "The place is cleaner, tidier, greener. When I first lived here, it was bedsit land, but now a lot of the cheap housing towards the north end has been turned into beautiful family houses. Iverson Road is transforming as you look at it. They're all smartening themselves up with new gates, you can see how the area has changed just by counting the burglar alarms."
Flick first became involved in politics nearly 40 years ago, while she was trying to cross the Finchley Road. "It all started when I was standing in the middle of the road, screaming at the traffic because I couldn't get across to collect my kids from school – they were down at Holy Trinity opposite Waitrose. I was shouting at all these cars when a frightfully nice woman came up to me, and said 'Oh I know how you feel, isn't it dreadful, all these cars? I think we should do something.'"
The next thing she knew, Flick was on a protest. Without permission from the police, a group of them walked, placards and children in hand, round and round West End Green, crossing Mill Lane and West End Lane in a circle, blocking the rush hour traffic.
Soon after, she became a founding member and secretary of the local campaigning group WHAT – West Hampstead Amenity & Transport. Traffic protests and newsletters led to delivering leaflets and addressing envelopes for the Liberals, and, eventually, Flick was elected as a local councillor for the Liberal Democrats in 1986. She also created Spotlight, the local party's "attempt at a newsletter", as she calls it, which is still going strong. It was her husband, Charles Rea, who drew the recognisable cartoon logo of an old-fashioned theatre spotlight, a reference to their acting careers.
Flick's was cut short by the birth of her two children, now with families of their own, but it's easy to spot her RADA training when she's in command a council meeting or giving a reading at a local event – or, indeed, being charming and funny in interviews.
Charles was "a very good actor and a lovely man," Flick says. He died 20 years ago, and his memory sings out from the posters on Flick's wall advertising his plays as well as from her anecdotes. As for the other cartoons he drew for the newsletter, they don't get much of a look-in these days, as Flick explains: "I used to use two cartoons to illustrate news stories – a little lady with a shopping basket and a headscarf, and a man with a cloth cap and a stick. But Keith [Moffitt, Lib Dem councillor for West Hampstead] said people in West Hampstead don't look like that any more, and now I'm only allowed to use them about once an election if I want to represent pensioners. It's a great concession to me," she concludes, dryly. An apt illustration, if you'll excuse the pun, of how NW6's demography has changed.
When I ask why she's still involved in politics, her answer is disarmingly honest: "It's certainly not for the money! What I absolutely love is the entitlement to poke my nose into all sorts of places. Somebody once said 'Flick Rea would come and inspect my toilet if I let her!' I like hearing what's going on, being early with the news, and I really, really care about where I live. I love West Hampstead and I want to make it better. And, I hate to say this because it sounds goody-goody, and I'm not, but, it's payback time. I've had a very privileged and lucky life, not exactly free from financial stress but I've never had to endure some of the things that other people have to put up with. If I can do something to help others, this is a good way of doing it."
If this does sound a bit goody two-shoes, Flick's wry demeanour returns upon mention of fellow actress-turned-local political figure Glenda Jackson. "She was the year above me at RADA. Our paths have relatively rarely crossed then or since" Enough said.
Could she ever leave? "In a box. I never want to leave West Hampstead. I've sorted my house out so that I can live on the ground floor when stairs become a problem. When we first moved here, into a bedsit on Fawley Road, I went to the shops on West End Lane and I remember walking back with a bunch of daffodils and thinking 'This is just the best place.' And so it is."