09/03/2011 10:19 GMT | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

Leona Lewis: The Most Influential London Woman For 100 Years?

Sometimes I just despair. And this is one of those times.

This week, readers of Metro – the daily newspaper given out free on London's transport network – were asked to vote for the most influential woman to live or work in the capital over the last 100 years.

As these things go, the list of names to choose from was fairly wide-ranging and included the politicians Betty Boothroyd and Diane Abbott, the writers and artists Zadie Smith, Tracey Emin and Andrea Levy, journalists Moira Stuart and Claudia Jones and fashion luminaries Twiggy, Kate Moss and Vivienne Westwood.

So who did readers vote for?

Leona Lewis.

You know, the pretty, painfully shy one who won the X Factor in 2006. And now wears crop-tops in the shape of a pair of lips.


I'm a bit lost for words. I don't have anything against Ms Lewis. She has quite a remarkable voice and clearly sells a lot of records. But honestly. London's most influential woman since 1911? Really?

Let's have a little look at what's happened in this country during that time.

Two world wars, the extension of the right to vote to women, the founding of the NHS and the welfare state, the legalisation of abortion, the invention of the contraceptive pill, the equal pay act, the election of the first female prime minister, the criminalisation of marital rape...the list is long.

In these and countless other nation- and individual-life-changing events, women have played an integral role.

And yet the suffragettes Emmeline Pankhurst and Millicent Fawcett, both of whom helped win women the right to vote, polled less than two per cent.

Cicely Saunders, who helped found the hospice movement, and Clara Furse, the first woman to hold the position of chief executive of the London Stock Exchange, also polled under two per cent.

Some notable women were recognised. Margaret Thatcher achieved second place with five per cent of the vote, followed by Mumsnet founder Justine Roberts and Camila Batmanghelidjh, the founder of the charity Kids Company.

But still, Leona at number one?

Maybe it's always been this way – maybe we humans just have short memories and if the same question had been asked in 1950, the answer would have been whichever screen siren or singer was so hot right then.

Also it's probably wise to take the whole thing with a hefty pinch of salt given that Leona managed to garner more than 70 per cent of the 10,000 votes cast (anyone smell a PR-coup?).

Still, it is slightly depressing to see how quickly we forget our heroines. The ones who truly changed our lives rather than those who gave us something to shout at on television on a Saturday night – or lessons in what not to wear.