How London's Housing Crisis Created A One-Star Show

By Ben Venables Last edited 26 months ago
How London's Housing Crisis Created A One-Star Show
Comedian Diane Spencer photographed by Steve Ullathorne

Comedian Diane Spencer performs her hit Edinburgh show Power Tool tomorrow evening for a one-off gig at the Backyard Comedy Club. It's an unusual comedy hour: a good show about a bad one.

This time last year Spencer returned from the Fringe not in triumph but despair, after an ill-advised theatrical collaboration with celebrity consulting lawyer and socialite Nancy Dell'Olio.

Spencer isn't the kind of comedian who'd usually hook up with a celeb. And since winning comedy website Chortle's best newcomer award back at the start of the decade she's built a solid reputation with a number of successful shows to her credit. Yet she was propelled into this odd couple pairing by her assumption that she could afford to buy and renovate a house, and then realising she'd bitten off more than she could chew.

Speaking to Londonist Spencer says: "It's weird because you see the television programmes about how people are trying to sell their houses and the effort they put in to make them look nice to attract buyers. [Me and my partner] only saw lots of disgusting houses."

In this era of housing shortages and inflated rents Spencer and her partner found themselves — like the great majority of first time buyers — completely priced out the market. Finally they managed to find a property in Chessington that was just within their price range. This house had the distinctive feature of the outline of the previous occupant stained by the leakage of his own remains on the lounge floor.

"It's tricky pursuing an artistic life," says Spencer.

Then, Nancy Dell'Olio materialised into Spencer's life like a fairy godmother, fortified with a dressing-up box full of catsuits and overconfidence, with luncheons at The Ivy and plans to take over TV.

"London is on two levels," says Spencer. "There is a whole other level that you are completely oblivious to and you think you know what that other level is but you really do not. It is a whole other world of private rooms, private houses, people giving art to other people... The gross thing is watching how the rich people behave."

Back in dead man's lodge: "There was wallpaper all peeling off, there was all this mould and damp and the bathroom was revolting.

"I needed carpets and radiators."

And so it was that Spencer began to write a live show that she and Dell'Olio would take up to Edinburgh, showcasing the latter's talents to investors. OK, so Dell'Olio had creative control — Spencer perhaps wouldn't have chosen the title Rainbows from Diamonds — but soon they'd both be riding back to London on a pot of gold and Spencer could power tool all her property's problems away. What could go wrong?

As The Scotsman put it in an oddly sympathetic one star review: "This is not a show. It's not even a car crash. It's a pile of lorries stretching from one end of the M6 to the other exploding in a massive ball of flames."

In Power Tool, Spencer describes the whole long distance trip and resulting pile-up.

Diane Spencer: Power Tool plays at The Backyard Comedy Club, Bethnal Green, 15 September, 7pm. Tickets £6.

Last Updated 14 September 2015