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Kamal Ahmed is Economics Editor of the BBC and one of Britain's most respected journalists. He joined the BBC in April 2014 as Business Editor after a twenty-year career in newspapers. He has worked for the Guardian, the Observer and the Sunday and Daily Telegraph. He started his career in local newspapers in Scotland and subsequently worked for Scotland on Sunday. He has also served as Group Director of Communications for the Equality and Human Rights Commission and is a board member of the Media Trust. He lives in London.
The name Kamal Ahmed wasn’t familiar to me when I was first introduced to this book. It should have been. In my defence, I would argue that, as I watch little television, I may be forgiven. The case against me, however, would certainly point out that since one of my favourite programmes is BBC News – where Kamal has, since 2016, regularly appeared in his role as Economics Editor – I really ought to have recognised him. Hopefully, I will be forgiven. Kamal Ahmed is a first generation descendent of a Sudanese immigrant father. I am third generation, through my grandmother’s family who come from South Africa – they were Xhosa and, I learned many years ago, from the same tribe as Nelson Mandela. And so, it was with an ever-increasing sense of déjà vu that I became absorbed by this book. Through a series of personal anecdotes, political comment and astute observations, The Life and Times of a Very British Man makes a compelling case for a new debate about what is it to be British, what makes us who we are and how we view those we consider to be ‘others’. I don’t use the word ‘absorbed’ lightly. Kamal is a talented writer, something apparent from the very first pages. He uses language skilfully, not so much to impress, but to present his arguments logically and passionately. He is perceptive, reasoning and persuasive. And he is absolutely right as he asks the reader to consider what it is that makes us British? Kamal Ahmed. Not a terribly British name is it? That antithesis is, perhaps, something that makes the title of this work so germane. What is it to be British? To quote the author, he likes National Trust Houses, the Specials, Victoria sponge cake and double-cooked chips. What is it that makes us feel British? At times disturbing, at times amusing, The Life and Times of a Very British Man asks searching questions about us, our country and our attitude to change. One day I hope to meet Kamal Ahmed and explain to him how, as I reached the end of this book, I realised a complete stranger had become a friend. I hope it does the same for you. I recommend it.
'Full of charm' GUARDIAN 'An account of what being British means' i 'Captures a country in transition ... You can't fail to be moved' THE TIMES Kamal Ahmed's childhood was very 'British' in every way - except for the fact that he was brown. Half English, half Sudanese, he was raised at a time when being mixed-race meant being told to go home, even when you were born just down the road. 'Ahmed grew up as a mixed-race kid in west London in the seventies, and his book charts the progress (sometimes slow and now without a few setbacks along the way) that our country has made on race issues since then. Brilliant' Rohan Silva, Evening Standard
A revealing, honest and often comic coming-of-age story about growing up in 1970s Britain on the boundaries of race 'Full of charm' GUARDIAN 'You can't fail to be moved' THE TIMES 'Sparky, accessible and stimulating' OBSERVER 'Brilliant' EVENING STANDARD Kamal Ahmed's childhood was very 'British' in every way - except for the fact that he was brown. Half English, half Sudanese, he was raised in 1970s London at a time when being mixed-race meant being told to go home, even when you were born just down the road. The Life and Times of a Very British Man makes the case for a new conversation about race in Britain through personal stories, political analysis and passionate belief in the ultimate good of this country - white, black and brown. Kamal recounts the extraordinary circumstances that led to his father, a proud Sudanese scientist, marrying his mother, a grammar-school educated woman from Yorkshire - and the first white person he had ever met. It was a time when wearing a miniskirt was an act of social rebellion, when 'niggers' and 'coloureds' still formed part of the national lexicon and when Enoch Powell's infamous 'Rivers of Blood' speech cast a shadow over the childhood of a schoolboy in Ealing. Witty and humane, this is a modern state-of-the-nation from a man who adopted the name Neil growing up (it was better than 'camel') and went on to occupy one of the most elite positions in the British establishment. It is also a call to recognise that this very British mix is the foundation for Britain as we know it - from Linford Christie taking Olympic gold to the era-defining music of Soul II Soul - and a study of why, when we consider the often fractious debate about our identity, there are still great grounds for optimism.