Vanessa Branson (51) might have a more famous big brother, but within the London art world, she has definitely made a (first) name for herself, as the co-curator of the Wonderful Fund collection and the president of Art in Marrakech, a biennale which she launched in 2005. Focusing on cutting-edge contemporary art, literature and film, the festival’s past contributors have included Tracey Emin, Esther Freud, Anthony Gormley, Gavin Turk, John Boorman, Annie Lennox, Hanif Kureishi, Kim Cattall and Richard E. Grant. Vanessa lives in Notting Hill with her partner and their four children, and regularly travels to Marrakech, where she owns boutique hotel Riad El Fenn.
What is your earliest London memory and what were your first impressions of the city? Staying with a girlfriend aged about ten. Her father was starting up Capital Radio and it felt as if we were playing a part in something momentous: so exciting.
Where do you live in London? Notting Hill Gate: I have lived within half a mile of the Portobello Road for nearly 35 years.
What do you miss most when you are not here? Popping out to the cinema and my neighbours.
How would you describe London in three words? Unexpected, international, green.
What do you think makes London special? It has been a cultural hub for the past twenty years. If you are top of your field in the arts, London is the place where you want to work and live.
If you could make a wish, what you would change in London? I would like to see more integrated social housing, as the case in Notting Hill. One of the reasons this area is so special is because of housing association homes within its very posh streets, which keeps the place vibrant and a community.
What are your favourite shops? I can’t walk by John Lewis without popping and also love Kate McGarry for art, Comfort Station for accessories, the Notting Hill Farmers market on Saturday mornings for food and Martino Gamper -a brilliant young Italian designer living in London- for furniture.
What is your favourite place to walk? There are two: Wormwood Scrubs and the Embankment
Where do you like to eat out? Gastropub The Ladbroke Arms and Italian restaurant Essenza.
Where do you go when you want to relax? In my kitchen, glass of dry white at hand, apron on, in a house full of kids while I chop vegetables.
What is London best kept secret? Wormwood scrubs- I saw a sparrowhawk and a mass of gathering starlings there this morning.
Vanessa’s Address Book:
Kate McGarry Gallery: 7a Vyner Street E2 (Bethnal Green)
Comfort Station: 22 Cheshire Street, off Brick Lane E2 (Liverpool Street, Shoreditch High Street)
John Lewis: 300 Oxford Street W1 (Bond Street, Oxford Circus)
Notting Hill Farmers Market: Waterstone’s Car Park, Kensington Place, W8 (Notting Hill Gate)
Martino Gamper: www.gampermartino.com
The Ladbroke Arms: 54 Ladbroke Road W11 (Notting Hill Gate, Holland Park)
Essenza: 210 Kensington Park Road W11 (Ladbroke Grove)
For more information on Art in Marrakech next biennale (which will be held in March 2012), see www.aimbiennale.org