Britain is proud to be a nation of diversity. Our rich cultural heritage is reflected everywhere we go: from music, to food, to the people who, despite not being born in Britain, have become backbones of our society and an inspiration to all.
It is true to say that no-one epitomises what it is to be a modern Brit more than Mohamed ‘Mo’ Farah. Through grit, determination and talent, Mo has become the most successful British track athlete of all time. In his new documentary, Mo Farah: No Easy Mile available on DVD and digital download now, Mo gives unparalleled insight into his life; revealing the sacrifices he’s made and struggles he’s faced on his path to become the best.
With Brexit poised to change Britain’s relationship with Europe and the world forever, we explore some of Britain’s most successful refugees and immigrants who have battled adversity to make a difference; becoming British cultural icons along the way.
Mo Farah is undoubtedly one of Britain’s best loved national treasures. A true underdog story of rags to (medal winning) riches, Mo – full name Mohamed Muktar Jama Farah – was born in Djibouti, Somalia, and came to the UK aged eight. Facing tough challenges on his arrival, including learning to speak English, Farah’s talent was spotted by a PE teacher at his school. In the coming years Farah worked hard to channel his talent and become the ambitious, driven athlete he is today. Farah’s incredible list of achievements include the ‘double double’; winning gold medals in both the 5,000 and 10,000m track races at London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympics and becoming Britain’s most decorated track athlete. A family man, Farah’s incredible bond with his wife, Tania, and four children, is something much documented; and further proof of Farah’s richly deserved reputation as a role model.
Sir Anish Kapoor
From an Olympian to a sculptor on an Olympic stage, Sir Anish Kapoor – who designed The Orbit at London’s Olympic Park – is a British designer who hails from Mumbai. Moving to Britain in the 1970s to study art, first at Hornsey College of Art and later Chelsea School of Art and Design, Kapoor starting building a name for himself in the industry. His reputation grew and in 1991, he was awarded the Turner prize for his work, A Wing At The Heart Of Things. Some incredible pieces of work followed, such as Cloud Gate in 2006 (Millennium Park, Chicago), and Turning The World Upside Down in 2010 (Israel Museum, Jerusalem). In 2013, Kapoor gained the recognition he richly deserved when he was given a knighthood for services to visual arts; followed by an honorary doctorate by University of Oxford in 2014.
Rita Ora is perhaps one of Britain’s most recognisable faces in the entertainment industry. A string of number one hits and roles in major films such as Fifty Shades Of Grey and Southpaw has catapulted the 26-year-old to become a household name in a relatively short space of time. However Ora didn’t have the easiest start in life. Born to Albanian parents in Kosovo, Ora and family were forced to leave in 1991 for political reasons, when she was just a year old. Moving to West London, Ora’s talents were recognised early and she went on to study at the Sylvia Young Stage School. Ora’s first breakthrough came when she caught the eye of producer DJ Fresh, who asked her to feature on his track Hot Right Now, which went on to become UK number one in early 2012. Solo number one hits followed in 2012 (R.I.P and How We Do (Party)). Two albums and some iconic performances followed, including Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage in 2013 and the Academy Awards in 2015. 2015 also marked Ora becoming a judge on The X Factor; an appearance which undoubtedly drove her to becoming one of the top female celebrities in Britain.
Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh
A member of the British Royal family is perhaps the last person you’d expect to be a ‘British import’. However Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, is just that. Born Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark in Corfu on 10th June 1921, Philip was a member of the catchily entitled House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg. Having been exiled from Greece as a child, Philip was educated in Germany, France and the UK, where he began corresponding with a 13 year old Princess Elizabeth. A Royal romance blossomed, and after WWII Philip was given permission by George VI to marry Elizabeth – at which point he denounced his Greek and Danish titles to become a British subject. Philip is the longest-lived male member of the British Royal family (now aged 95), and has been described as having a wicked sense of humour. So much so, that he was once quoted as coining a new term, “Dontopedalogy… the science of opening your mouth and putting your foot in it, a science which I have practised for a good many years.”
Alek Wek is a South Sudanese British model, designer, and hugely influential role model for girls everywhere. Wek was born in Wau (now South Sudan), but had to flee with her parents and eight siblings in 1991 when civil war broke out. Very ambitious and focused from a young age, Wek arrived in Britain aged 14 and soon enrolled in London’s College of Fashion, specialising in Fashion Business and Technology. Tall, leggy and unique, Wek’s beauty was spotted by a model scout in 1995 when she was shopping with her mother in Crystal Palace. The story goes that Wek’s mother was initially horrified as she thought her daughter was being encouraged to become a glamour model – Wek pointed out that she “wasn’t built for that”. Wek has gone on to become one of the defining catwalk models of our generation; walking for houses including Chanel, Christian Dior, Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Ralph Lauren and many, many more. Her influence within the fashion industry and beyond has been incredible, with Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o citing Wek as a person who transformed her self-confidence: “ When I saw Alek, I inadvertently saw a reflection of myself. Now, I had a spring in my step because I felt more seen, more appreciated.”
A curveball in this list but as British as they come; a steaming mug of tea is an accessory no self-respecting Brit would be seen without. However our national drink’s roots are thought to be Chinese, with the first record of its drinking in 3rd Century AD, initially as a medicinal aid. Tea became popular in Britain in the 17th Century, and it was the Brits who introduced tea production (and consumption) to India as a way of countering the Chinese’s monopoly on the industry. It wasn’t until the early 20th Century that teabags were invented, with sales only increasing in Britain in the 1970s. For the avid tea lover, there are now over 3,000 types to choose from – all of which, interestingly, come from the same plant (Camellia sinesis), and all of which boast health benefits. If you omit the biscuit, perhaps…
Mo Farah: No Easy Mile is available on DVD and digital download from 5th December