Believe it or not, this Ziggy Stardust-emblazoned ten-pound note is legal tender in Brixton, David Bowie’s birthplace. But, as with everything Bowie-related, there’s more to it than meets the eye. Bowie’s reputation for pushing musical, sartorial and gender limits is well-known, but who knew he was a financial trailblazer as well? Not only did he issue the first-ever ‘celebrity bond’ – the 'Bowie Bond' – in 1997, netting him a neat US$55 million upfront and earning investors higher interest than US treasury bonds, he also founded his own online bank three years later, complete with rather fetching Bowie-branded credit cards and cheques.
So it was practically a foregone conclusion that one day he’d end up adorning some actual paper money. Not just any old money, mind: Bowie (well, his alter-ego Ziggy Stardust) is the face of the £10 note in an alternative currency called the Brixton Pound.
The Brixton Pound (B£) is exactly what its name suggests: ‘money that sticks to Brixton’. Designed for use between participating businesses and customers in the south-west London district where Bowie was born, it launched as paper currency in 2009, expanding into an electronic payment system soon after. A ‘complementary currency’, the Brixton Pound works alongside the Pound Sterling rather than overriding it. By using it, consumers support their local independent traders, benefiting Brixton’s economy by ensuring the proceeds remain in the area. (Plus it’s a darn sight more attractive than the national currency.)
Says Tom Shakhli, Brixton Pound’s manager: “They [Brixton folks] are using it because they want to feel connected to the local area. Every time you use it, you’re like a financial activist. You’re... subverting the norm.”
And Brixton isn’t alone: local currencies are springing up all over Britain, fuelled by growing distrust in the corporate, global banking establishment. Grassroots and community-focused, they’re allowing ordinary citizens to reclaim power, one transaction at a time. Rebel rebel, anyone?
We think David Bowie would be proud.