Fresh Prince of Bel Air blows into Brixton (and MP Chuka Umanna plays Will Smith's dorky cousin Carlton)


Complete the following sentence. “In West Philadelphia born and raised…”

If you just said “… on the playground is where I spent most of my days”, congratulations. You were young in the 90s. If these words mean nothing to you, take a minute, just sit right there, and I’ll tell you all about the Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

On Thursday, Will Smith surprised pupils at a school in south London by heading a special assembly. At the end of the event, set up by local Labour MP Chuka Umunna, he performed a song that he wrote with legendary producer Quincy Jones more than two decades ago.

Remarkably, nearly every pupil at St Martins-in-the-Fields High School for Girls, as well as several members of staff, could sing along word for word.

The song was the theme tune to the Fresh Prince of Bel Air – a 90s sitcom that has had an extraordinarily long afterlife since its last episode aired way back in 1996.

And while Will Smith has since become one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars and sold millions of records, the theme tune still follows him wherever he goes.

“It’s taken on a life its own,” said Dan Stubbs, news editor and “in-house Will Smith expert” at NME Magazine. “For a certain generation, Fresh Prince was 6 o’clock, after school, tea-time viewing and the theme tune is insanely catchy. It’s not surprising as he was a proper hip-hop artist and the producer, Quincy Jones, knows a few things about making a catchy tune. It wasn’t a Denis Waterman situation.”

The song, as anyone under the age of 35 will attest, sets up the premise of the sitcom, explaining how a fictional version of Will Smith, a street-wise Philadelphia boy, is sent to live with his wealthy aunt and uncle in Bel Air, California, after getting into a fight. 

The show remains popular, is still regularly shown on Viva and MTV and appears to have developed cult status.

Even Mr Umunna counts himself a fan. “I used to watch the Fresh Prince of Bel Air when I got back from school. We all grew up with Will Smith,” he told The Independent. “The funny thing was seeing all the school girls, now the age that I was in the 90s, all knowing the words as well.”

It comes as no surprise perhaps that Mr Umunna, at 34, should know his Uncle Phils from his Jazzy Jeffs. He also recalls buying Will Smith’s 1991 album Homebase, which featured the hit song “Summertime”.

But does he know the words to the theme tune? Put to the test, Mr Umunna could not recite the next line to a lyric from the song, and there have been some who have described his dancing during Will Smith’s school performance as reminiscent of a certain Carlton Banks – Will’s dorky but endearing cousin in the show. He confessed that for a politician, dancing was always a “risky thing”.

Smith was in London this week to accompany his 14-year-old son Jaden – a rapper and actor like his dad who is supporting Justin Bieber in the latter’s ill-fated London tour appearances.

Mr Umunna contacted Smith offering to show the rapper “the real London” and the pair, joined by Tessa Jowell, toured Brixton on Thursday, culminating in the surprise appearance at the school for girls aged 11 to 18.

His appearance was kept a closely guarded secret until the very last minute.

“When I was asked, at very short notice, if I was prepared to host a visit I was going to say no until I found out it was Will Smith” said head teacher Lesley Morrison. “I was expecting someone like Michael Gove and I really wasn’t in the mood for him at all.”

“Will is such a legend, a hero for all the films that he’s done and being the first rapper not to use profanities,” she said, adding that she was pleased that her pupils, none of whom were born when the show began, were aware of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. 

“The show is still hilarious, a bit like the Cosby Show – funny to a point but positive. There’s so many awful things that they could be watching, but the fact they know the song shows that not all kids just want to watch shows with violence and sex these days.”

Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'