I’m not from London, so I’ve never felt a real Londoner. Still, I’ve lived here on and off nearly half my life; my family is here, my life is here, both my kids were born here.
On Friday, I found myself walking across one of London’s bridges by night and took a photo (above). The people I walked past were from many different places, indeed many different countries; all enjoying a beautiful London evening.
Of course it’s not all fantastic. Too busy, too expensive, often choked with people and traffic. And you see people struggling: sleeping rough, struggling with booze, drugs, crime and poverty; people who are really up against it.
But London is a great city. Of all the great capitals I’ve visited, only central Paris beats it for beauty – and maybe New York for chutzpah. There are places of antiquity with stunning sights and history – amazing Istanbul or Rome. There are places I’ve lived with more steel and glass: Hong Kong the most obvious. But London has pretty much everything you could ever want or need.
But why London is so special came home to me the other week; on the tenth anniversary of the 7/7 London bombings.
July 7th 2005 was a terrible day. One I will certainly never forget, and was followed by anxious weeks for everyone in this city. Ken Livingstone, then London Mayor (and whatever you think of him, a true Londoner) said this at the time:
“In the days that follow look at our airports, look at our sea ports and look at our railway stations and, even after your cowardly attack, you will see that people from the rest of Britain, people from around the world will arrive in London to become Londoners and to fulfil their dreams and achieve their potential.”
“They choose to come to London, as so many have come before because they come to be free, they come to live the life they choose, they come to be able to be themselves. They flee you because you tell them how they should live. They don’t want that and nothing you do, however many of us you kill, will stop that flight to our city where freedom is strong and where people can live in harmony with one another. Whatever you do, however many you kill, you will fail.”
I arrived in London 25 years ago, and as Ken said, this great city has enabled me to achieve my potential, and fulfil my dreams. Just as he describes, I have been free to live the life I have chosen, and to be myself.
I’m proud that this city – my city – finds a place for all sorts of people, and lets them be who they want to be. Ken Livingstone’s words from ten years ago made me realise; although I wasn’t born here – I am a Londoner.