Leicester is more: There's a new buzz in the air of this super-diverse and star-strewn East Midlands city
But what's the secret of its success?
Cahal Milmo is the chief reporter of The Independent and has been with the paper since 2000. He was born in London and previously worked at the Press Association news agency. He has reported on assignment at home and abroad, including Rwanda, Sudan and Burkina Faso, the phone hacking scandal and the London Olympics. In his spare time he is a keen runner and cyclist, and keeps an allotment.
Sunday 11 May 2014
In need of a baker capable of knocking everyone else's pastry flat? How about a couple of top-flight football and rugby teams which know only victory? An all-conquering seamstress? Or the planet's leading demon of baize? Then head for Leicester.
After an illustrious past as the nation's leading producer of socks, shoes and empire-building heavy engineering, the jewel of the East Midlands has emerged afresh as a manufacturing colossus. Only this time the core products are thoroughly modern offerings – titans of reality television and sport.
If proof were needed that Leicester and its environs have hit a purple patch of creative and sporting dominance, the world need have looked no closer than the two former ship-building halls in Copenhagen where Molly Smitten-Downes represented Britain in the Eurovision Song Contest last night. Ms Smitten-Downes hails from the village of Anstey, on Leicester's northern edge.
In beating off all-comers for the right to battle it out with a transvestite Austrian, moustachioed Frenchman and a Maltese folk band, the 26-year-old joined a list of Leicestershire champions which includes: the reigning victors of The Great British Bake Off and The Great British Sewing Bee; the latest winner of X-Factor; the winners of the English Football Championship and the semi-finalists of the Rugby Premier League; and the newly crowned world snooker champion, known by his nickname of The Jester from Leicester.
Sir Peter Soulsby, Leicester's directly elected mayor, said there was a new optimism about the city. "So much about winning is about self-confidence and self-belief, and we're a city that in the past has not had that. We have so much to be proud of – the unique diversity of the people that make up Leicester today, our 2,000 years at the centre of English history, the tremendous built environment we've got and the lovely shire county that we're set in. All of these are things we deserve to be proud of and self-confident about – and self-confidence leads to success."
But there is a question to answer: is this concentration of success an accident of geography, or has the East Midlands unwittingly discovered the recipe of thrusting excellence?
With only 50.6 per cent of its population describing themselves as white British in the last census, Leicester is one of the most diverse cities in the country. Its Diwali celebrations, attended by 35,000 people, are reputedly the largest outside India, while it is also home to Britain's second-largest Caribbean carnival.
Frances Quinn, the winner of last year's Great British Bake Off, who lives in Market Harborough, 16 miles south of Leicester, said: "I think a lot of people are wondering what they're putting in the water. There is a lot of creativity in the area and it's a diverse area with a lot of things you can draw on for inspiration."
Stephen Wood, professor of management at Leicester University, who was also born in the city, said: "In the 1950s it was reckoned to be the second richest city in Europe after Ghent, and I think people have always seen opportunity here. It's a yo-yo city but there's a definite buzz about the place right now."
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