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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Michael Segalov

Single minded: people with public lives on the pleasures of solitude

Picture 2 woman table
Table for one: how do you like to spend time on your own? Photograph: Franck Allais/The Observer
Theatre Royal Drury Lane Afternoon Tea Preview PartyLONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 12: Ravinder Bhogal attends a VIP preview of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane’s new Afternoon Tea on October 12, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images)

Ravinder Bhogal, chef My restaurant is in Marleybone, it’s a wonderful neighbourhood. If a day feels too busy, I take time to shop, alone, along Chiltern Street. Daunt Books is a haven, the perfect place to people watch, or ask the team for recommendations. La Fromagerie is the best grocer in the city. Meandering in and out of shops, I have a break and time to think; find myself inspired by someone I bump into. Going solo, I’m on my own time. With nobody hurrying you along, you’ve time to stop and linger. You can read the first few pages of a book, try something on, have a taste, all at your own pace – you don’t get that space when you’re in company.
Comfort and Joy by Ravinder Bhogal is out now, published by Bloomsbury

Jay Rayner, the world’s greatest food critic photographed at the Guardian Studion in London before Brexit. Jay Rayner is a British journalist, writer, broadcaster, food critic and jazz musician. Retouched by GNM Imaging.

Jay Rayner, restaurant critic It doesn’t matter that I’ve eaten there alone five or 10 times a year for over a decade. They rarely seem to recognise me as a returning customer. Or if they do, they don’t let on. The branch of Four Seasons at 12 Gerrard Street in London’s Chinatown is not that sort of place. I don’t go there for companionship. I go there because I love the Cantonese roast duck with its darkly lacquered skin, and the roast pork belly with crackling like glass and the dry fried green beans with chilli (no rice unless I’m still hungry at the end, which I never am). I take a seat with my back to the wall. I take the latest edition of the New Yorker. I eat and I read. Eating alone at Four Seasons is quality time with your own thoughts. And for the staff it’s nothing special. Lot of people do it. When you eat alone at Four Seasons you are part of the crowd. I am rarely there for more than 45 minutes, but in that time, I become absorbed in the clamour. No one pays me the slightest bit of attention. Amid the noise, I am alone and at peace. And it’s bliss.

Opening Ceremony Gala Dinner Arrivals - The 75th Annual Cannes Film FestivalCANNES, FRANCE - MAY 17: Peter Bradshaw attends the opening ceremony gala dinner for the 75th annual Cannes film festival at Palais des Festivals on May 17, 2022 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

Peter Bradshaw, film critic The cinema I’ve taken to showing up to on my own is the Everyman Muswell Hill in north London – a wonderfully grand standalone building (Grade II-listed) of the sort that once got converted into a bingo hall or megachurch. It used to be the Odeon when it was a single screen and only the balcony was open. Now it is dark and plush and vaguely Lynchian in a way that’s downbeat and discreet. I love to come here and catch up with movies I haven’t seen or want to check out again. Going to the cinema is a supposedly guilty pleasure, which is in fact entirely guilt-free; unlike dining alone in a restaurant there is no equivalent of the waiter ostentatiously clearing away the other place setting. Going alone gives you the time and space to think.

EE British Academy Film Awards 2022 Dinner - Red Carpet ArrivalsLONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 13: Joe Lycett attends the EE British Academy Film Awards 2022 dinner at The Grosvenor House Hotel on March 13, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Kate Green/Getty Images)

Joe Lycett, comedian Birmingham is well known for its grey, poor-man’s brutalist architecture (which we actually love, mostly), but less so for its green space. My suburb is so surrounded by wilderness that local legend Laura Mvula wrote Green Garden to celebrate it. Any potential assassins will easily find me in one of the three parks within walking distance of my house. I find most creative problems need distraction, quiet and inspiration, but also some form of strange alchemy that happens when I’m alone in suburban Brummie nature. Nothing feels urgent. The mind and body meanders. Eventually, ideas sprout. I remember my parents and grandparents telling me that nature is good for you and thinking “What a bunch of dweebs!” Annoyingly those dweebs were right.

17th FEB 2014 - LONDON: Question Time presenter Kirsty Wark. Photograph by Graeme Robertson For FAMILY

Kirsty Wark, presenter Sometimes I head off alone to Kendoon Loch, south of Carsphairn, on the Moniaive road in Galloway. It’s one of the places my father loved to fish, and sometimes I would go, too. It is incredibly peaceful and beautiful, and sometimes the only sound is the call of a peewit. We would often take a tiny camping gas stove and sit with our backs to the old wooden boathouse and fry freshly gutted trout turned in oatmeal, or have what we called a sausage sizzle. After dad died, we planted a rowan tree there and I’m grateful to the other anglers for taking care of it. When I go to the loch now and drink coffee from the flask’s plastic cup it always reminds me of him, and no matter the weather, at some point, sunlight will sparkle on the water.

‘Lorraine’ TV show, London, UK - 14 Oct 2021Editorial use only Mandatory Credit: Photo by Ken McKay/ITV/Shutterstock (12537037au) Simon Reeve ‘Lorraine’ TV show, London, UK - 14 Oct 2021

Simon Reeve, author and presenter When my head is in the right place I love the chance to travel alone. It’s an opportunity to selfishly indulge in my favourite pleasures: people-watching and spending quality time in nature. I like to do something adventurous and sociable, and love the idea of a long-distance walk – pitting myself against the elements, the distance and the solitude. The Camino de Santiago across northern Spain has just the right mix of views, challenge and great food. Plus, companionship when needed, and glorious solitude when not. I filmed part of it a few years back and found myself eating and sleeping in a candle-lit albergue along with other walkers, including a young Italian monk who serenaded two French women on his guitar. It was cheesy, but brilliant. Simon Reeve To The Ends of the Earth is touring the UK this autumn. More information at

The Broadcasting Equality Bash To Honour Afua HirschLONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 01: Samira Ahmed attends The Broadcasting Equality Bash to honour Afua Hirsch with the CBE Campaigner Of The Year award at The Urdang on March 1, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images)

Samira Ahmed, presenter I’ve always loved doing things alone, visiting museums and other centres of culture specifically. It’s something about the power of independence, of having the quiet to think and absorb on your own and savour things at your own pace. There’s nowhere better than the BFI on Southbank. There are secondhand book stalls on the riverfront to browse, bookshops, too. And inside there’s so much to see and explore: video archives in the Mediatheque; entirely absorbing programming. Last year, they had a François Truffaut season. It was his films, and films that inspired him, too. I booked tickets for after work, for days off. I basically saw everything, and was transported to world’s I’d have otherwise never found. Samira presents Front Row and new series of Newswatch on BBC one on Saturday mornings at 7.45am

Gary Barlow’s “A Different Stage” Opening NightLONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 01: Julia Bradbury attends the opening night of Gary Barlow’s “A Different Stage” at Duke Of York’s Theatre on September 01, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Dave J Hogan//Getty Images )

Julia Bradbury, presenter Solo walks keep me sane. I take one every day and, when I can, I head to Mam Tor in the Peak District, where I first started walking as a child with my dad – one of my most special places. Walking alone I can escape my thoughts or think through problems: I don’t plug in headphones, so I can relish the solo experience. It’s my therapy, and an opportunity to observe people and interact on what I call an “eye-smiling basis”; a little nod or hello to strangers in passing. Humans need time in green spaces to thrive – we understand nature’s fractal patterns innately; it soothes our minds and refreshes our outlook. I walk backwards for about 20% of my solo walks, which gets me strange looks from people. But it’s good for the hips and balance, uses more energy, and helps with anxiety, apparently. Walk Yourself Happy by Julia Bradbury is published 14 September (Piatkus, £20)

Author Megan Nolan photographed in south London near her home. Her second book is about to be published in 2023 called Ordinary Human Failings

Megan Nolan, author Mostly I write in my bed after midnight because my brain has a masochistic inability to function during designated work hours, but when I need to leave the house and at least ambiently join the world I go to the Peckham Pelican cafe alone and sit there for six hours until I achieve something. It’s a big comfortable space with crumbling sofas and cheap and efficient coffee, the sort you consume to work yourself into a finely tuned productive state of panic. There is always a bunch of beautiful art students talking nonsense, which makes me feel comparatively useful, and when I’ve finished my work it’s usually just rolling into happy hour. Ordinary Human Failings by Megan Nolan is published by Jonathan Cape

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