London’s Leading Ladies
Noma Dumezweni – Olivier Award-winning Actress
When Sex and the City star Kim Cattrall had to pull out of new play Linda at the Royal Court at the last minute in 2015, it was Noma Dumezweni who stepped into her shoes, just a week before it opened. Loved by audiences and critics alike for her engaging and enthralling performances, Dumezweni – who was born in Swaziland and raised in England – has acted in some of the biggest theatre hits of the past few years, from the Royal Shakespeare Company to the National Theatre.
She’s now in a blockbuster show in London’s West End, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, in which she plays an adult Hermione. Meeting Noma was like meeting my older self,’ said actress Emma Watson (who played Hermione in the film franchise) after seeing JK Rowling’s stage play. Still, Dumezweni’s casting was not without a backlash, as some took to Twitter to voice their anger that a black actor would play the role. JK Rowling told fans that Dumezweni was chosen because she was the best actress for the job and that Hermione can be a black woman with her ‘absolute blessing and enthusiasm’.
She said: ‘I am passionate about representation, because growing up I didn’t see myself and now people can say: “I see myself, there.”’
What to see: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
Dr Helen Sharman OBE – Scientist And Former Astronaut
In 1989, Sheffield-born chemist Dr Sharman responded to a radio advert saying ‘Astronauts wanted; no experience necessary’, beating 13,000 applicants to become the first Briton in space.
On 18 May 1991, following 18 months of intensive training, aged just 27, she joined a Soviet Union crew for the eight-day mission, Project Juno. ‘You can’t imagine how deep the [blue] colour is,’ she told The Guardian last year on the 25th anniversary of her launch. ‘There was a window where I slept, and waking up to the world right outside… wonderful.’
In 2013, the UK Space Agency incorrectly described Major Tim Peake as the UK’s first official astronaut. ‘I asked them: “What happened to me?”’ she said. ‘I suspect someone thought that the title would get Tim more attention.’ Last year the Science Museum celebrated Dr Sharman’s space ‘silver anniversary’ with a special event that included tributes from astronauts such as Buzz Aldrin. These days, Dr Sharman inspires the next generation of scientists as operations manager of Imperial College London’s chemistry department.
She once said: ‘Fame was the downside of space. I’m a scientist, but I found myself in interviews being asked where I bought my clothes. Irrelevant.’
What to see: Sharman’s Sokol space suit is on display at the Science Museum.
Frances Morris – Director Of Tate Modern
When you think of London’s world-class art offering, it’s easy to focus on the artists. But behind every great gallery there’s someone with an instinct for what to collect and how to present the exhibitions. For 30 years, Frances Morris has been that visionary at the Tate, first as a curator, then as Head of Displays when Tate Modern opened in 2000, followed by Director of International Art, and finally Director of the entire gallery in 2016.
Her peers describe her as ‘a brilliant and imaginative curator’ with ‘fierce intelligence’. She’s said to be a lovely person to work with while stamping her own ideas on the gallery. Morris is credited with expanding the venue’s international reach and representation of women artists.
She once said: ‘I encourage colleagues to dig a little more when they see interesting work by a woman artist they haven’t heard of before, or to be aware of where women have been overlooked.’
What to see: The first edition of the new BMW Tate Live Exhibition unveils new works by fog sculptor Fujiko Nakaya and performance artist and DJ Isabel Lewis.
Carmellia Panjabi – Author And Restaurateur
Widely credited with revolutionising the way Indian food is seen in Britain, Camellia Panjabi’s restaurants are not your average curry houses. As director of Masala World, she is the brainchild behind three fine dining restaurants: Chutney Mary, Amaya and Veeraswamy – the latter was awarded its first Michelin star last year. She also presides over the stylish but informal Masala Zone chain, loved by Londoners for its gourmet take on authentic Indian street food.
Born and raised in Mumbai, Panjabi went on to study economics at Cambridge University before returning to India to work with Taj Hotels. In 1982 she arrived in London and began her food revolution, opening the first of several regional Indian food restaurants. ‘London is always reinventing itself to be relevant for the times,’ says Panjabi, whose book 50 Great Curries of India has sold more than a million copies. ‘It’s the ideas capital of the world. And it’s great to be a woman in London today – all doors are open to us.’
She once said: ‘The best thing about my job is creating things which give pleasure to people. I try to give tantalising food in uplifting surroundings and bring moments of joy into otherwise pressurised lives.’
Where to go: Veeraswamy is the UK’s oldest Indian restaurant – try the roast duck vindaloo – or head to a Masala Zone in central London for a good-value thali (platter).
Nica Burns Obe – Producer And Owner Of Nimax Theatres
Are you hoping to catch a West End show while you’re in London? If so, there’s a good chance you’ll be sitting in one of Nica Burns’ theatres, which include the Lyric, Palace, Duchess and Vaudeville. A former actor and one-time artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse, Burns is famous for her ability to cast major Hollywood names in her plays, whether it’s Christian Slater in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (2004) or James McAvoy in Three Days of Rain (2009).
This year, she’s set to open a new theatre on Charing Cross Road – the first new theatre to spring up in the West End for three decades. ‘[It] won’t compete with those already in London. It will be a different, very intimate space in a great location, where cutting-edge shows can be performed,’ Burns said in 2012 when the project was announced. In December 2016, Burns also announced that she’s set to launch a new theatre company with former Shakespeare’s Globe artistic director, Dominic Dromgoole, called Classic Spring.
She once said: ‘I love my work and my dream is to drop dead on stage in the middle of a speech at a very advanced age.’
What to see: Thriller Live, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, The Play That Goes Wrong and Stepping Out are all showing at Nimax Theatres.