I’m often jealous of London tourists. They’re able to see my home city through joy-filled, unjaded eyes: to truly be awestruck by the grandeur of the Houses of Parliament and St Paul’s; to stop on the Millennium Bridge and stare in wonder at a capital split in two by the mighty Thames; to look upon the heaving streets around Leicester Square without scorn.
If familiarity doesn’t quite breed contempt, it certainly breeds apathy. Living in London for 13 years, my relationship with it could generally be summed up thus: shrug. Sure, I know that, in theory, it’s one of the most exciting capital cities in the world. In practice, I’ve become somewhat desensitised to its charms, and spent much of the last decade treading the same well-worn routes to work/friends’ houses/my local. We’re in the long-term relationship phase where, after such a long period of knowing each other intimately, it takes a lot to jolt you out of your torpor and really see the other party.
But, having recently upped sticks and moved to the coast, it’s possible that I’ll be able to see the capital with fresh eyes. It is with this tentative hope in my heart that I rock up to Battersea Power Station, glossily redeveloped and relaunched last month after languishing for nigh-on 40 years. Surrounded by luxe apartment complexes, the Grade II listed building’s striking facade is as impressive as ever, the distinctive chimneys lit up a pleasing shade of turquoise blue as I approach from the its namesake Tube station, which opened to much fanfare last year.
Inside the refurbished structure itself, open to the public since 14 October 2022, shiny new shops, cafes, bars and restaurants jostle with a cinema and theatre, and the part I’m here to try: Lift 109.
The lift emerges and we all gasp in wonder, involuntarily letting out a ‘wooooowwww’ in unison
It’s a new attraction offering that most coveted of city experiences - expansive views from on high. To ensure it really does feel like an “experience”, other elements have been created to give context before you get to the main event. It starts in the Power Station’s grand, Art Deco Turbine Hall, where various interactive digital displays give a sense of the building’s history, from when the set of two interconnected working coal-fired power plants were built between 1929-1941, to its official shut down in 1983. (My favourite takeaway: feral cats used to prowl the turbine hall catching mice, and went “crazy” whenever the machines powered down because of the sudden silence.)
Next it’s into an antechamber, where colourful projections swoop around the walls, some of them interactive, with patterns that move in line with you. It switches from scarlet sparks to blue and white lights and is, all-in-all, a not unpleasant way to spend five minutes. Then comes the first lift - not particularly sexy, this one, being all function, to whip guests up to the 12th floor. From here, rust-coloured, industrial-looking spiral stairs take you higher.
And then, at last, the star of the show: a circular glass elevator, reminiscent of the one in Charlie and the Chocolate factory, which ascends the last bit, up to the top of the refurbished north-west chimney. The lift ceiling is glass, too, and the way to the top illuminated by spheres of dazzling light guiding the upward trajectory while a soundtrack of a quickening, pulsating beats builds in the background. The lift emerges from the shaft and we all gasp in wonder, involuntarily letting out a “wooooowwww” in unison as London in 360-degree splendour is revealed.
I’ll admit it: I am as stunned as anyone. The full wraparound view of the city at night from a totally new perspective is much more impressive than I ever could have imagined. The bridges, all lit up in twinkling, golden lights; the Thames, dark and mysterious and seeming much wider from this vantage; the landmark spotting (look! There’s the Shard! The London Eye!). And the power station itself adds something special - the other lofty chimneys framing the city from different angles.
The lift’s name of 109 refers to its height - we’re seeing London spread out before us from 109m high. We have seven and a half minutes up here to drink it in, make our circuits, try (and largely fail) to take pictures that show the incredible view, rather than the reflections of our own phones.
And then it’s over: back down we go, first in the magic lift, then the less glamorous version. There’s only the ubiquitous gift shop to be navigated before we’re back in the turbine hall, from where I’ll be heading off and tramping the warren of London’s Underground once more. In 20 minutes, I’ll be grumbling anew about being too sweaty on the Tube. But for now, I hold onto this moment; because for now, I am looking at my city with the joy-filled, unjaded eyes of a tourist. For now, I am jolted out of my torpor, and I finally see London once again - and she looks pretty darn good.
Tickets for Lift 109 on sale from 15 November, from £15.90pp. Visit batterseapowerstation.co.uk for more information.