John Boyega speaks publicly for the first time about ‘tragic murder’ that shaped his life

Boyega’s childhood friend was just 10 years old when he was attacked and left to die on his way home from a libary in Peckham, south London

Kevin E G Perry
Friday 29 March 2024 08:57 GMT
John Boyega makes impassioned speech at George Floyd protest in Hyde Park

John Boyega has spoken publicly for the first time about the murder of his friend Damilola Taylor, saying the tragic event was “life changing” and has “shaped” who he is today.

The 32-year-old Londoner, who shot to international fame when he landed a role in the Star Wars saga, said he has held back from talking about Taylor’s murder but had been motivated to speak out following the death of Damilola’s father, Richard Taylor, on Saturday.

Damilola Taylor was just 10 years old on 27 November 2000 when he was slashed with a broken bottle and left to die while on his way home from a library in Peckham, south London.

Boyega, who was eight at the time, and his sister Grace were among the last people to see him alive.

The actor said he was impacted by a poem written by Damilola, read out at his funeral, as it showed him that another 10-year-old, from the same environment, “dreamed to be more”.

Speaking to John Wilson on BBC Radio 4’s Last Word, Boyega said: “From the hours we left him in Peckham to the hours when I went home, and then the police was at our door and there was a whole investigation that we were involved in, (it) was definitely life-changing for me, definitely altered my perspective.

Damilola Taylor (left) and John Boyega
Damilola Taylor (left) and John Boyega (Getty)

“Even though I was young, it was a shock to understand how mortality worked,” he explained. “To think that somebody as young as me could pass away in such a horrific way was hard for me to understand or comprehend.

“And I definitely think Damilola’s tragic murder has definitely shaped me through the years and just affected my perspective on certain things and it definitely affected the community too.

“I mean, my sister, in particular, Grace, who was very, very close with Damilola, went through a lot, and my dad had to front that and try to protect her in that journey. It was definitely a lot for everybody to take.”

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Reflecting on the poem Damilola had written, he said: “It was during the time of the funeral his dad had read the poem that Damilola had written down for himself.

“And that was a poem that spoke about what Damilola wanted to achieve, how far he wanted his dreams to spread, who he wanted to impact and touch... I found that quite profound because I was just kind of like ‘Man you’re so young, why are you even thinking about that kind of stuff?’”

Boyega continued: “I’m here, wondering when the ice cream van is going to pull up and why he’s an hour late from Monday. And you’re thinking about all this stuff that you’re going to do and how you’re going to use your skillset to impact the world.

“And I guess that, just amongst other things, just gave birth to this mentality that I had. What is truly my dream? Do I have the guts to identify what my dream is? Am I too young to identify my dream and work towards it? And after reading that poem, I was just like, yeah, I have no excuse. I want to be a movie star.

“And not just because I want to be (one) but because someone else like Damilola Taylor, in my environment too, dreamed to be more. And I think that’s worth it. And it definitely has impacted me till today.”

Richard Taylor campaigned unstintingly for years against violence and to support young people
Richard Taylor campaigned unstintingly for years against violence and to support young people (PA Archive)

Damilola’s father Richard died on March 23 aged 75 following a long illness and Boyega said he was “a man that was for the people and for the community” and who “turned his tragic loss into something triumphant”.

Boyega said he was motivated to speak about Damilola following news of Mr Taylor’s death.

Asked if he has spoken publicly about Damilola’s murder before, Boyega said: “I haven’t and on purpose too. I’m quite private in general, but with this specifically... it’s that celebrity thing of not wanting to get in front of very real life news.”

“But on Richard Taylor’s passing, I just was so kind of motivated to speak up,” he added.

Mr Taylor and his wife Gloria set up a charity called The Damilola Taylor Trust in the face of their son’s death. Gloria died in 2008, and Mr Taylor continued their work in the following years.

Boyega praised the trust and said: “I’ve been a big beneficiary of the work that they’ve been doing.”

He said he used to imagine, with his sister Grace, what Damilola might be like today and said he would have grown up to be a “handsome young man with great opportunities and great morals”.

“Whatever his chosen field would be, he’d definitely still be funny,” he said. “But I think that he would have grown up to be someone great and someone that is an important part of our community,” Boyega added.

After three crown court trials, Damilola’s killers, brothers Ricky and Danny Preddie, were put behind bars in 2006.

Last Word with John Wilson airs on BBC Radio 4 at 4pm on Friday 29 March.

Additional reporting by agencies

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