Beauty oracle Sali Hughes pens a love letter to Brighton
The longtime resident on why the British seaside city is so much more than a UK stag and hen do destination…
Saturday 28 May 2022 By Sali Hughes Photography by Sophie Green
I write this from Soho House, after a decade or more of Every House membership; in the heart of Brighton, where I’ve lived for more than 16 years, and feel the same brand of smug satisfaction as when two of my dearest friends finally wound up in bed. Truly, these guys are absolutely made for one another.
Brighton and Hove is loved madly by its residents and soon, I hope, by Soho House members worldwide. This is a city with a strong sense of identity that is both progressive and ingrained. Some seaside towns have the melancholy air of a place long past its glory days. But Brighton, while certainly not all new and shiny, has its grittiness folded unapologetically into its character, not hidden away in shame.
Here you’ll find political street art next to a charming Victorian bandstand, a futuristic i360 observation tower next to the skeletal remains of West Pier. Our Royal Pavilion – an homage to the Taj Mahal – is both breathtakingly beautiful and faintly absurd. Brighton’s legendary, awe-inspiring murmurations of several thousand starlings perform their majestic, perfectly coordinated choreography above drag karaoke bars, spinning waltzers, and penny falls arcades. Throughout the town, old and new rub sexily up against each other, and there is a distinct sense of Brightonness about both sides – quirky, accepting, eclectic, and self-assured.
We are, crucially and uniquely, a seaside resort with no off season. Brighton’s pulse is strong and constant. Clubbers, couples and families land whatever the weather. Bands, DJs and comedians never stop coming to perform in what has long since been a priority thumbtack in any tour map. Stags and hens (mostly avoided by Brightonians by simply swerving West Street, with its chain of pubs and clubs) stream continuously from our train station (one of Britain’s busiest) and into town; wild costumes on, vinyl props inflated and aloft.
There’s the Great Escape and Brighton Fringe festivals in May and June (complete with the much loved Spiegeltent), before the main event in early August: Brighton Pride. Europe’s biggest celebration of LGBTQIA+ culture and freedom is, without question, our city’s most vital and defining time of year. Every shop, pub, restaurant and cafe is festooned with rainbow flags and bunting. Schoolchildren and their teachers ride on floats through the streets, and for the entire preceding month, shopkeepers, estate agents, nail techs, librarians and postmen will tell patrons to ‘have a great Pride’ just as they’d wish someone elsewhere a Merry Christmas. This is a notoriously liberal place, not for the fainthearted or prudish, where difference is celebrated, encouraged, and revered.
Consequently, Brighton and Hove welcomes all comers in peace. Friendly, warm and relaxed, we just love to see people loving our city and embracing its spirit. Londoners in particular arrive in droves each weekend, treating a mere hour’s hop on a fast train as an opportunity for a full-blown holiday, complete with sightseeing, clubbing, pubbing (I’ve never visited anywhere with more brilliant pubs), saltwater swimming at dawn (are they mad?), and delicious food courtesy of what is the highest number of restaurants per capita anywhere in the UK. It’s no wonder visitors frequently enjoy themselves to such a degree that they start planning a permanent move to the seaside.
And almost two decades after making the same decision, I can’t even conceive of reversing it. Because by far and away the best thing about Brighton is having the extraordinary privilege of living in a small city with such a disproportionately huge personality. Each and every week, I catch myself while strolling along the beach, sipping a Soho Mule on the club terrace, wandering past some glorious Art Deco building or navigating lanes packed with defiantly independent shops, and feel instantly flooded with gratitude for a home that still feels like a holiday.
However long and tiring a day elsewhere, I will unfailingly try to get back here, even if that means getting the very last train to catch negligible winks. Because I know that even at almost 3am, when I step from platform to street, I will hear the reassuring sound of partygoers refusing to call it a day, fill my lungs with soporific sea air, feel on my face the healthful bluster of nearby crashing waves, all while herring gulls call me home to bed, which for most of us is a stroll or mere five minutes away in a taxi.
To be a Brightonian is to experience this strange, vibrant, indefatigable, eclectic, non-judgmental and utterly unique city, and to feel overwhelming pride that it’s ours. Come and see us soon.
To apply to become a Brighton Beach House member, click here.
Photography by Sophie Green.