4 Nov 2013

Memories of Battersea and being mistaken for a famous actress

It’s a very long time since Pink Floyd’s inflatable pig floated between Battersea Power Station’s cast chimneys. And post-pig there have been any number of attempts to rejuvenate the building which has become the capital’s most neglected icon.

This week sees the latest – lavish plans, backed by a consortium of far east investors, which will see 90,000 square feet of roof gardens, 200 shops and as many if not more apartments. The £750m proposals released by developers set me thinking about some of Battersea’s other incarnations.

If I was too young to witness the pig in person (I was only two at the time after all), I was around for one of the power station’s other moments – the launch of Sky Digital.

It was a glittering occasion, back in 1998, attended by Rupert Murdoch and most of his family, and the likes of Alex Ferguson and Bernie Ecclestone.
I went as a cub reporter for the Independent newspaper, and one of Mr Murdoch’s new recruits, film critic Barry Norman, made my day by inexplicably mistaking me for the actress Cate Blanchett.


But how times change. Then Rupert Murdoch was king of all he surveyed, and he was about to clean up in the digital TV market, trouncing rivals ONdigital, which later went bust.

Now, although profits and customers continue to rise at BSkyB, the Murdoch clan’s power is not what it was in 1998.

The phone-hacking scandal has seen one of Mr Murdoch’s precious newspapers close, and his senior executives who were once the toast of the establishment are now in the dock.

And isn’t there something rather telling about the Malaysian developers behind the Battersea redevelopment? The consortium – successfully wooed by the council, the mayor and English heritage among others – is led by the Malaysian-based companies SP Setia, Sime Darby and the Employees’ Pension Fund of Malaysia.

Increasingly, London’s prize assets are being bought up in the far east and ministers are keen to lure overseas investors to the capital.

Nearly half a century ago, Mr Murdoch was the outsider who swooped in from Australia to take over the News of the World and the Sun. And in the decades which followed he was courted by one government after another.

David Cameron wasn’t even an MP when Sky Digital launched. In fact he was director of corporate affairs at Carlton – one of the investors in Sky’s rival OnDigital. So when he visited the power station to celebrate the Battersea deal with his Malaysian counterpart and the executives leading the consortium earlier this year, the ghosts of the past no doubt didn’t trouble him unduly.

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