What Does London's Night Czar Do All Day? We Chat To Amy Lamé

Comedian and broadcaster Amy Lamé has helped to run one of London's most beloved LGBT club nights, Duckie, for over 21 years. But shortly after Mayor Sadiq Khan appointed her as the capital's first ever Night Czar in November, some critics suggested she lacked the business experience for the job. Of course, it hardly helped that no one really knew what this job would involve. We were told she’d been tasked with “developing and diversifying” London’s night-time economy, but not the nitty-gritty of her work.

Now, three months in, New Jersey-born Lamé is embracing the terrific opportunity of this broad and constantly evolving role. When Refinery29 meets her at one of the small music venues around the capital that she's committed to protecting, Lamé is clearly enthused and moved by what she's finding out about our night-time economy, and says she’s determined to make London a true 24-hour city. Here, she gives us a rundown of her work so far as London’s Night Czar.
What she actually does day-to-day
I wish I could say there was a typical day as Night Czar, but there really isn't. If you imagine a slice of London life, but flipped over into the dark, that's pretty much everything I have an interest in. I'm talking about housing, policing, planning, helping to keep venues open. I've met so many incredible people – from drunk people at McDonald's in Leicester Square to night-tube drivers and club promoters. But I've also met a lot of people that are hidden in the night-time economy. There are people who make our city tick but don't always get much attention from us: cleaners, security guards, people stacking shelves in supermarkets, people who deliver towels to gyms. We did the first night surgery before Christmas when I launched the Piccadilly Line night tube and it was incredible hearing all the different reasons why people work at night. I met a lady who's a platform manager at Heathrow tube station, and she told me she chooses to work at night because it actually enables her to spend more time with her 2-year-old daughter. Isn't that great?

How she's working to improve women's safety at night
One of the things we're currently putting together is a Women's Safety Summit at City Hall. This will bring together women and some men from across policing and TfL and the security industry. And we'll use what we learn to inform the Metropolitan Police and the public consultation on crime and policing. I met with someone from British Transport Police when I first started this job and we had a very frank conversation about women's safety on the underground. I said to him, "Is it me, or is the Central Line the worst? So many of my female friends have been touched sexually or groped on the Central Line." He said to me, "No, you're right." British Transport Police are totally on it and they're working on solving the problem. But it's important for women to come forward and say, "It's happened to me," so we can build a picture of how and where it's happening.

What she’s learned from the successful campaign to reopen iconic nightclub Fabric
What Fabric shows us is that it's really important for venues to work with their local councils – and the police, and their punters. We need to reframe the conversation so it's not about polarised positions: the venue owners versus the council, the punters versus the police. I've just come from Village Underground, which has become a really important London music venue since it opened 10 years ago. The owners have just signed a 15-year lease with Hackney Council. Now, I think some people might be like, "Woah, I thought councils were against music venues," but often they're not. It's further proof that if we work together, we can achieve great things for nightlife here in London.
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First day at #cityhall as #nightczar #london

A photo posted by Amy Lamé (@amylame) on

What she says ordinary Londoners can do to save their favourite pubs and venues
You know, the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) has been working hard to encourage pubs to apply for Asset of Community Value status. This means that if a pub or venue goes up for sale, it automatically gets offered to the community to buy, and gives them six months to raise the funds. Now, not every community wants to own their pub, but maybe some might if they were given the chance. And you don't need to be the pub's landlord or tenant to apply; anyone can fill in the form online. It's something I've been encouraging pubs that are under threat to apply for, just as one layer of protection. But I do think we really need to start valuing our pub culture as culture – that's part of the problem here.

What she’s doing to stop any more LGBT venues from closing down
Look, I'm not going to pretend this isn't really alarming, because it is. But I obviously have strong first-hand knowledge here, and the mayor has pledged money to help the UCL Urban Laboratory and the Queer Spaces Network complete their research into LGBT nightlife and venue closures. We need this research because we can see these places disappearing before our eyes. Pub companies that run these places don't always see the cultural value of keeping them LGBT, even though they're obviously so vital to the community they serve. I've recently heard of another LGBT venue that's under threat, but also about a new LGBT venue that wants to open in Vauxhall. There's a natural turnover [with LGBT venues], but as long as we can keep the same number open, I'll feel happy.

Why she wants to make London a true 24-hour city
This is absolutely something we should aspire to. I think we can do this as good as – if not better than – New York. We have a different culture to New York, but there are things we can do to make it more appealing for businesses to stay open later. When people stop me on the streets, which they often do since I've become Night Czar, one of the most common things they ask about is getting cafés to open later. More people are working later and when they come off shift, they might not want to walk into a noisy pub at 10pm. They might want to have a cup of tea and a snack in a local caff or somewhere more low-key. I was looking at some recent health statistics and apparently men in London and the South East are drinking less than men anywhere else in the country. That doesn't mean that drinking places have to shut down; it just means we can diversify the offer that people have at night. It's not about limiting things – it's about seeing what else we can help flourish.
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