Artbeat: Humans of Greater London creator Cathy Teesdale
November 10, 2015
For those of you that are familiar with Humans of New York (HoNY), you can imagine how excited I was to come across Humans of Greater London (HoGL) which follows a similar concept and is embracing all the people of London across our magnificent 33 boroughs. HoGL began in December 2013 and has been going strong ever since, with over 22,000 fans on Facebook alone. The project was created by Cathy Teesdale, and I had the pleasure of speaking with her about her work, her beliefs, and our amazing city.
1. Describe London in three words
A multicultural beacon. Over the past 2 years, so many of the people I’ve met, particularly those from abroad, have told me that they feel London is the best city in the world at doing multiculturalism. It’s a place where people feel they can be themselves and be accepted. I really enjoy its variety and diversity and now feel that London sets an example for the rest of the world.
2. What or who inspired you to do what you do?
Discovering Humans of New York, and then Portraits of America, inspired me to start HoGL, join them in celebrating ordinary, decent humanity – and help counter the depressing negativity of so much of the mainstream news. Before that, I was working from home, alone, running an online business, reading about so many injustices worldwide, signing countless petitions, and becoming really quite depressed and cynical. But doing HoGL and regularly connecting and interacting with ordinary people has done so much to give me back my faith and natural optimism. Now I see it as part of a worldwide movement to help restore some much-needed faith in humanity.
3. What was the song of your youth?
‘Song to the Siren’ by This Mortal Coil. It’s mournful but incredibly poetic. You could see it as a metaphor for the world we live in, pointing to the irresistable seductions of the modern world and all the brainwashing we’re constantly exposed to. It’s just heart-achingly beautiful.
4. What do you love about what you do?
I love that I get to celebrate the decency of the huge majority of human beings and do some good by helping to expand empathy. HoGL also compels me to interact with other people and go exploring. My home is a very peaceful oasis, but every time I force myself to get out there and find interesting and inspiring people it always gives me a real buzz. Each trip is an adventure, who will I meet today and connect with? So often people say being ‘HoGLed’ has made their day and I think that’s simply because they feel appreciated and celebrated and given my fullest attention.
5. And hate?
I don’t hate anything, although I still find it challenging to get myself into the right headspace and emotional state to go out and make those first contacts. It takes a lot out of me – I’m knackered if I’ve been HoGLing, full-on, for 3-4 hours. But the magic I always find makes it all worthwhile.
6. What makes London’s arts and culture scene unique to you?
The massive variety–there’s so much to choose from no matter what you’re into. What’s sad is that a lot of famous London art and music venues are disappearing and being taken over by property developers. Luxury flats are going up everywhere instead, like a creeping rot.
7. Who should we be keeping an eye out for (on the arts and culture scene)?
Grub Club – I’ve joined them, although I’ve yet to go to one of their events. They’re basically dinner parties, catered by a professional chef in a particular, themed location, where you sit and have conversations with strangers. I love the idea because I can see it pushing people out of their comfort zones and you never know what those spontaneous connections might lead to!
8. What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done?
Getting lost on a walk in the Lake District with my partner and finding ourselves crawling up a slope which was becoming ridiculously steep–with only big, jagged rocks at the bottom. Trying to slide back down would have been even more dangerous, so we kept going, with our hearts in our mouths, but without either of us letting the other one know how terrified we were until after we’d reached the top. Luckily, I think we’re both born survivors who can do what we need to to get out of a crisis.
9. Share something about you that would surprise us!
I was educated at a private convent boarding school–given my socialist, humanitarian views, most people don’t expect that! It was 4 hours’ drive away from home, so it did make me and my two sisters very homesick, but it also made me much more resilient, and more comfortable with spending time on my own, too. It also gave me a good opportunity to examine Catholicism, Christianity, and religion in general, and decide that the notion of ‘a personal, benevolent god with a plan’ really didn’t work for me as it simply doesn’t seem to fit the evidence!
10. What’s your favourite spot in London?
I love places that are bustling and colourful like Covent Garden, Brixton, Trafalgar Square. I also really love going to London’s many parks as people are generally relaxing there and you can get to see lots of fun human interactions in beautiful, natural surroundings.
11. Who do you love to follow on Twitter or Instagram?
I was a big fan of Russell Brand after meeting and watching him in action a few times, and then reading his brilliant book ‘Revolution’. So I e-mailed him, thinking to connect with a kindred spirit who might help to promote the humanity of HoGL. Sadly, his responses were very baffling and disappointing. But I’m still a fan of Amanda Palmer, whose book ‘The Art of Asking’ was a revelation. I also follow intelligent humanitarians like George Monbiot, Owen Jones, and John Pilger, who are all working hard to wake people up and persuade them that a far better world really is possible.
12. What’s the last country you visited?
Turkey. We found magic in Kalkan, which has been nominated as one of the 10 most beautiful bays in the world and where loads of quartz in the surrounding mountains is apparently responsible for its extra-good vibrations! We normally like to explore new places but we’ve been back there five times so far, and the people who run our favourite hotel, The Mediteran, have come to feel like family.
13. Who would you want to play you in a movie of your life?
Someone like Emily Blunt or Marion Cotillard–though I don’t have a French accent! They’d need to be feisty and bright and have some steel running through them too, because I definitely do!
14. What are you doing after this interview?
I’m going to the opening of the Diane Goldie exhibition in The Vaults Gallery at Leake Street–including an anti-fashion show in the tunnel. She’s a feisty feminist who makes wonderfully vivid wearable art.
You can see more of Cathy’s work on the HoGL Facebook page.