On Tuesday, another London teenager was killed. Fifteen-year old Sunday Essiet was walking through the Glyndon Estate in Plumstead when six youths kicked and stabbed him. Like Damilola Taylor, Essiet was Nigerian. He was an orphan. He was studying for his GCSEs.
Essiet is the fifth London teenager to be murdered this year. Last year, the figure was 26. Yes, in the most cosmopolitan city in the world, this haven of different races and religions jostling happily alongside each other, groups of children are slaughtering each other – and nearly all of them are black.
For "black" problems, the answer, apparently, is black role models. And so on Wednesday this week, Chris Preddie, a cousin of the brothers who killed Damilola Taylor, was named as a "community champion", spearheading a campaign urging young people to call the anonymous "Crimestoppers" phoneline with information on guns and gangs.
It was the murder of his own brother – in a barber's shop in Brixton – which jolted Preddie out of his involvement with drugs and gangs. Now he's studying music and drama, and working on estates and in schools across London, encouraging young people to see a life beyond gangs and crime. "What I have learnt," he says "is that half of these kids don't like selling drugs, they don't want to be on the streets holding knives. All people really want is a nice life."
Indeed. People do want a "nice life", but in some areas it's hard to get it. A close friend of mine went to the same school as Sunday Essiet. He, too, got caught up in the ubiquitous gang violence. When he ended up in a young offender institution in Ipswich, he bumped into half his classmates. "I had no choice," he told me once, "but to grow up hard".
Like Preddie, my friend got his life together and now runs a thriving business. Unlike Preddie, he has no desire to be a mentor, or a missionary. "I've spent my whole life trying to get away from all that," he says. "Why would I want to go back? You do it if you want to!"
He's right, of course. Chris Preddie is clearly an admirable young man. Teenagers will listen to him in a way they wouldn't listen to – well, me. He is doing vital work, and I hope – we all should hope – that it bears rich fruit. If one less teenager ends up dead, or in prison, as a result of his work, then we should all rejoice, and if more "community champions" can be found to replicate this work then so much the better.
But this is not a "black" problem, and it is not up to the "black community" (whatever that might be) to solve it. As young people at a "youth summit" on gun and knife crime at the Ministry of Sound nightclub discussed yesterday, this is an issue which goes way beyond race or gender. It is, as Umar Kankiya, one of the event's co-ordinators says, "about getting a community to work together".
Anyone who lives in this country is part of that community. We should be ashamed that our children our dying. We should be ashamed of the apartheid that allows them to. We should be fighting to ensure that the schools in the areas where this slaughter is taking place – schools, according to a new study, in which children from privileged backgrounds actually excel, in the rare cases that they're allowed to attend them – are offering the structure, focus and encouragement that are lacking in many of these children's lives.
Five dead in seven weeks. That, in our big, brave, Olympic city, is what you might call an upward trend.
Ten steps to being a celebrity
It was slightly depressing, in a queue at Venice airport last week, to see a British school party poring over copies of Heat. Give them Tintorettos, or Titians, and they'll still want real-life celebrity cellulite. For any aspiring to fame themselves, here are some simple lessons:
1) Be pretty. 2) Have a famous boyfriend. 3) Wear a revealing dress. 4) Stand by boyfriend when he's caught with a prostitute. 5) After failing as an actress, flog bikinis. 6) Marry in a series of ceremonies lavish beyond all parody. 7) Offer cushions to church in place of fee, but forget to supply them. 8) Pay your maid way below the minimum wage. 9) Call non-celebs "civilians". 10) Be an absolutely lovely person, I'm sure.
* Many years ago, when I was hosting an event at the South Bank with Duncan Campbell, I took his guest for a cup of coffee. She was, she said, in response to my polite questions, called Julie. She worked "in the theatre". I still didn't twig.
In a rare interview on the Today programme yesterday, Julie Christie exhibited all the unfeigned modesty that she displayed that day. Asked why she initially refused to accept the part (of a woman with Alzheimers) for which she has been justly Oscar-nominated, she replied that she always thought that "someone else" would "do it so much better". Asked whether the part made her think about getting old, she replied that getting old was "one of the most interesting things" that had happened to her.
And asked whether it was true that she had "secretly" married Campbell, her partner of 28 years, she said "that's not keeping it secret, that's living your own life". A lesson, perhaps, for us all. (See above.)Reuse content