You will at all times keep in mind the place the place you spent your adolescence. For me, that place was the North Peckham property in south-east London. It could come as a shock to individuals who have heard it described as a infamous place that a lot of my recollections there are completely happy ones – of unending summers and picnics and badminton. However, till final 12 months, I hadn’t been again since 2001, due to one thing that occurred after I was 11. My neighbour, who had within the house of some months turn out to be like one other brother to me and my siblings, was killed. His title was Damilola Taylor. Like so many kids who die in tragic circumstances, his image and his story stay acquainted throughout the nation.
Up till then, I had had what I believed was an idyllic childhood – an city model of dwelling within the countryside. I was one in all seven, and all the youngsters on the property went to college collectively, frolicked at dwelling collectively, ate collectively. You might eat dinner at anybody’s home. Now that I’m an grownup, I realise it was in all probability as a result of a variety of the mother and father labored nights and everybody was taking care of one another’s children. But after I was youthful, it was only a large, prolonged playtime.
I keep in mind the day that Dami arrived, in August 2000. It was frequent to have new children popping up from around the globe – Nigeria, in Dami’s case – regardless that the property was within the means of being demolished at that time. There was an auntie on the sixth flooring – not my precise auntie, however we known as each older particular person uncle or auntie. She known as down to my associates and I whereas we had been taking part in on the grass. She instructed us that her son was coming down and that we wanted to play with him. She hung over the balcony with her gele – her scarf – on and watched him come down to meet us.
Dami was 10, a 12 months youthful than me. He was loud and really tactile. We acquired into just a few fistfights, though it was by no means severe – we had been simply children, messing round and being naughty. He was positively probably the most fearless of our group – he could be the one driving his bike down the most important hills or strolling on the very best balconies. My dad is from Nigeria, too, so there was a type of affinity between us. I keep in mind when it began to get chilly – he was flabbergasted on the climate, as a result of he was from a heat place and was used to carrying shorts on a regular basis. He had that large silver jacket on, the one he was carrying in November, all the best way from August. I believe he was excited to be right here and he had all these children wanting to be associates with him.
I might be mendacity if I mentioned that North Peckham appeared like a protected place – I had seen police and sirens many occasions earlier than. But there was simply one thing totally different about that day – 27 November 2000. The police locked down the property. I keep in mind our front room was lit up with blue and purple flashing lights. My mum instructed us to get an early night time – I believe she in all probability knew somebody had been killed, however I don’t suppose she knew who it was. I was off sick from college the subsequent day and after I got here downstairs the morning information bulletin was on. Dami’s picture flashed up. I keep in mind being so confused, as a result of I had seen him the earlier morning. The bubble I had been dwelling in was shattered. Between November and April, after we left the property, I didn’t see my associates once more. Lots of people moved out rapidly and we had been one of many final households to be rehoused by the council.
As my life continued, I prevented the reality of what had occurred. I had associates from each different space of my life, however I didn’t communicate to anybody from North Peckham once more. Last 12 months, I made a decision it was time to confront it. I might make a movie about Dami, 20 years on, to show folks that he mattered. As with so many circumstances, from Sarah Payne to James Bulger, folks know his image and his title, however I wanted them to have one other view on who he was – I wanted folks to know that he wasn’t destined to be a sufferer. As somebody from Peckham who has gone on to have a profitable media profession, I wanted to show that I’m not the diamond within the dust and that there’s mild and shade in each scenario. I wanted to show his dad that he was liked and that his dying wasn’t inevitable due to the place he landed.
I reconnected with others who had lived on the property to share our recollections. It was cathartic; I had buried my head within the sand and constructed this completely happy, wacky persona, however there was this darkish factor that I had by no means spoken about with anybody, not even my mum when she was alive. It was therapeutic to have these conversations, though it was powerful to relive the trauma. No child ought to have to stroll previous the spot the place their greatest good friend was killed for 5 months. The police left the crime-scene tape blowing within the wind and I might run previous it day-after-day.
When we first began making the documentary, I discovered it onerous to make sense of the 2 sides of North Peckham. There had been the lengthy summers and the water fights and the video games – after which there was this. Looking on the archive footage and seeing cockroaches and remembering how our partitions would transfer – issues like that consumed me. I believe it was talking to Francesca, one of many associates with whom I reconnected, and looking out by her photographs of us there that made me realise that two issues will be true on the similar time. I can have my nostalgia, my summers and my Christmases whereas additionally accepting that horrible issues occurred there, that is was a violent place. Long earlier than we moved to North Peckham, a significant tragedy was thought of a “when” relatively than an “if”.
I usually take into consideration what Dami’s life may need been like. When I was at college, I puzzled what he would have studied – would he have gone on to be a physician or a lawyer or one other career anticipated by our Nigerian mother and father? Would we now have been shut? Or would he simply be somebody on Instagram saying: “Hey, remember me?” I don’t know if he would have been any person I might have had a espresso with or somebody I might have simply ran into. Those are questions we are going to by no means reply – and that is the place the tragedy lies. “What if?” kicks you within the intestine.
Hopefully, the programme exhibits that, for the quick time he was with us, Dami was liked by our neighborhood. He was a vibrant child with a life to reside – and he was our good friend.
Damilola: The Boy Next Door is on Channel 4 at 9pm on 28 October