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Dropping anchor in Camden Town

When Canadian TV anchorman Sean Mallen landed his dream job as a foreign correspondent and made London his base, it proved a steep learning curve

10 October, 2019 — By Dan Carrier

Sean Mallen taking in everything Camden Town has to offer

IT was a time of bread and circuses in London: a royal wedding, and the Olympics, providing temporary distractions from the chaos David Cameron’s Tory government was intent on causing.

And for Canadian TV news anchorman Sean Mallen they were global stories he was given a ringside seat to.

Sean had been working for Canadian channel Global News before heading to across the Atlantic as the bureau’s European chief. He recounts his time working from his firm’s Camden Town office in a new book, Falling For London.

The memoir recounts how he had to balance uprooting his family with chasing his dream job of foreign correspondent. He also reveals what London looks through the eyes of a person moving here for the first time.

Sean had spent 20 years on local and national TV news channels. His beat included covering the Ontario government and had his own current affairs show. But he had always wanted to be a foreign correspondent – the romance of such a job had been something he’d thought about as a young man, but believed his time had passed.

But the post became available, so he applied and got the job – and in Falling For London he describes what it was like trying to find his feet and settle his reluctant family in a new city, balance working on events like the Olympics and a royal wedding, breaking news stories such as the Egyptian revolution, the sinking of Italian cruise ship the Concordia, and the heartbreaking scandal of the women forced to work in the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland.

The book is the product of being given a journal by his wife Isabella. She was content with staying in Canada, having previously spent a lot of time travelling for work. She was concerned about the upheaval it would cause. Moving to London wasn’t on her agenda, and as Sean explains in the book, it put strain on their marriage.

Isabella told him as he set off to make London a base for his family that if he was going to subject them to the move he should at least keep a diary, perhaps to be the basis of that book he had always wanted to write.

We are told of Sean’s finding a letting agent who marries being perfectly pleasant with an inability to tell the truth about his obviously lamentable hope of finding a decent size, fairly priced, safe and warm flat in Hampstead. Hearing a green horn of the London rental world express his disbelief at what we take as everyday truths is enlightening.

Mixed in with his narrative of settling a family into a new city, and the challenges and excitement of being a newbie to London, is the fact he came with a job to do – and it gave him access to huge news stories.

From vox popping royal watchers on the Mall to heading to Cairo’s Tahrir Square, Sean’s European posting saw plenty of “events”, all with the backdrop of his struggles with his landlord, his feelings of guilt over uprooting his family and the sheer excitement of exploring new streets.

“Tremendous as they were, the more profound highlights were personal,” he recalls. “We met some tremendous people, both Londoners and fellow expatriates, who made our time in the city so much richer.

“Long lasting friendships were built. We took care of each other’s children, hosted each other in our homes and explored the city together.”

From dodgy landlords to negotiating schools, trying to entertain a homesick child in the city’s maelstrom (and noticing the everyday things we take for granted), Sean and his family’s adventure is a personal journey through Camden.

“London has a pulsing energy on every street corner,” he says.

“It does not need to describe itself as a world-class city because it is the prototype to which others aspire. Its citizens can be a bit edgy at times, but overwhelmingly I find Londoners to be big-hearted people, with both a deep pride in their city and a razor wit that often effectively skewers the powerful and pompous. So many Londoners showed extraordinary kindness to us. We have a true passion for the city and would move back in a heartbeat – if we could afford it.”

Falling For London. By Sean Mallen, Dundurn Books, £15.99

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