Some famous Guyanese in the United Kingdom by John Mair
Stabroek News
September 2, 2001

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Today Sunday Stabroek presents the first two profiles in a short series on Guyanese who have made a name in the United Kingdom.

Herman Ouseley

Rewards in British public life are like buses; you wait a long time for them and then they come along all at once. Guyanese born Herman Ouseley has made it from plain 'Herman' to 'Sir Herman' to 'Lord Ouseley' in the space of just four years. It was his just reward for guiding the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) through the turbulent times of the nineties, culminating in the McPherson Report into the killing of black teenager Stephen Lawrence and its label of 'institutional racism' within London's Metropolitan Police force.

This son of Werk-en-Rust has had a life of much good public work. From riding the tiger of local government, Chief Executive of Lambeth Council which is in a state of perpetual crisis, to the Chief Education Officer for all schools in Inner London, he has blazed his own path. But it was his time as the Chief Executive of the CRE from 1993 which earned him the highest profile. In seven years, he had not just to deal with McPherson, the police and the subsequent fallout but also campaigns to combat racism in the British armed forces and a seemingly successful campaign to fight racism in professional football. 'Kick It' had a lot of work to do. Fifteen years ago, black professionals like John Barnes sometimes had bananas thrown on to the pitch in front of them. No more.

But Sir Herman, as he then was, left the CRE two years ago in some frustration. In an interview at the time he talked of "having to pull several knives out of my back" and of battles with then Home Secretary Jack Straw who was "scared of my independence."

Since then he has joined some 'great and good' organisations like the Institute of Race Relations, he chairs the Foreign Office's Caribbean Advisory Group and also has his own company to help organisations deal with institutional change and racism. He calls it 'Different Realities.'

In July of this year he presented a very prescient official report on racism in Bradford. That had been commissioned eight months previously yet came out just two months after race riots had erupted in this largely British Asian city. As always, faced with a dilemma, Ouseley bit the bullet. So as well as criticising the police he also called for less racial segregation (liked by Moslems) in schools. Multiculturalism must mean just that, not mono-culturalism.

Controversy is never far away from his life. Even when he was honoured and chosen as one of the fifteen 'People's Peers' (nominated by the public) earlier this year, that decision came in for some public criticism. Sir Herman had been on the original commission which had recommended the creation of 'People's Peers.' Now he was reaping the crop having sowed the seed. Or so it appeared to some.

So, the newly and very justly ennobled Lord Ouseley has had a lifetime of professional fighting. Fighting for rights for racial minorities, fighting governments, fighting big organisations and fighting for himself. It has been a life of lots of Werk and little Rust.

Raj Persaud

Doctor Raj Persaud, the son of a Guyanese, has been called 'The Freud for the Nineties' by The Guardian (of London) and 'The Crown Prince of media dons.' The Independent on Sunday calls him 'The undisputed king of the media shrink pack.' He has turned psychiatry into pop, made schizophrenia solveable, depression debatable, put agoraphobia on the agenda. A task that looks very easy but is not.

Dr Raj is driven; he's passed seven degrees, been granted honorary ones and has brought psychiatry to the people through the mass media of British television and the British tabloid press. He's best known for his plain speaking appearances on ITV's This Morning with Richard and Judy, the most popular mid-morning magazine show on British television. But he is ever willing to bring his professional training to bear on a wide range of popular subjects from 'Big Brother' to 'Bad Times' in a wide variety of outlets from Cosmopolitan to The Consultant, from The Lancet to The Daily Mail.

He is a modern Renaissance man; on the one hand, he presents All in the Mind for BBC Radio Four and many other series on the mind and its strange workings. He writes best sellers on the subject like the recent Staying sane... how to make your mind work for you and is currently writing a new blockbuster for an advance with several zeros at the end of the cheque. Yet, this true Renaissance man has not yet passed his fortieth birthday.

But he is not just a 'media don;' he combines this 'pop psychiatry' with a well-grounded and serious academic career at the Maudsley Hospital (which houses the Bethlem Hospital from where the term Bedlam originates) in South East London.

He was appointed a consultant there at the young age of 29, having won the Royal College of Psychiatrists research prize and medal. Among his medical specialisms is the healing of physicians who themselves are mentally unwell. His academic track and publications records belie those who might accuse him of media triteness and tartness. Raj Persaud's name has not to date been associated with the Indo-Guyanese or Guyana at all. The very first time this was acknowledged was in a Stabroek News' article a month ago by this author. His father Professor Bishnodat Vishnu Persaud, formerly of Berbice, rose to be Head of Economics at the Commonwealth Secretariat and right hand man to Sir 'Sonny' Ramphal. 'Rajendra,' as Vishnu still calls his son, has been to Guyana just twice. The last time a decade ago. His habit when travelling is to take a busman's holiday and visit the local psychiatric hospital. He did in New Amsterdam and found it "pretty terrible; amongst the worst I have seen in the world."

But the Guyanese family links never die: "It dominates the conversation at home. The country had such potential which it has wasted... Simply through not learning the post-cold war lesson that democracy plus free enterprise usually equals happiness."

Dr Raj is intrigued by the high suicide rate in Guyana and thinks collective instability may have its part to play in that. Yet, still, there seems to be a "fundamental disbelief in democracy by one side or the other... they're fighting but fighting over scraps. No society has ever succeeded where a majority have not accepted democracy."

Yet, despite these strong caveats, he is willing to put his many talents to the national need if the call came.

The majority UK Asian population, Indians, Bengalis, Kenyans, Ugandans, etc., have taken Raj as one of 'them.' At the recent UK Asian awards he was voted one of the three leading male Asian personalities. "They just don't seem to know there's a large Asian population in the Caribbean. They call me an NRI - a non resident Indian," he says. But this belies his true origins. As the Guyanese say, Raj's navel string is firmly stuck in Canje. His roots lie firmly in the West not the East Indies. Is the time yet ripe for Guyana to recognise this native son?

Ram John Holder: putting Guyana on the British public's mental map

He will be forever 'Porkpie' from that South London barber shop Desmond's, yet life has moved on for Bourda-born now London- based actor and singer Ram John Holder. This month, he's the face of Sony TV coast to coast in the USA playing a shopkeeper in their latest ad for the Vega. Catch it on those pirated shows in Guyana. And he's just opened with a part as an old prisoner in a British feature film Lucky Break the follow up made by The Full Monty director, Peter Caetano. Lucky Break would do well to gross even ten per cent of the fortune of its gold-plated forerunner. Ram John is even up for a role in Britain's most watched TV 'soap,' the BBC's Eastenders. Life is looking up for Ram John.

He's kept the Guyanese flag flying on the stage, on television and in films in Britain for well nigh three decades now. His credits read like an honour roll of British black theatre from Playboy of the West Indies to The Lenny Henry Show to My Beautiful Llaunderette to the wonderful ensemble playing of Desmond's. A hit in Britain until the tragic death of Norman Beaton.

Desmonds' set the mark for comedy in Britain and in Guyana where GTV were lucky enough to get in on a 'steal' from Channel Four. Ram John still misses Norman Beaton, the star of that barber shop, in more ways than one: "When he was alive, he kept the Guyanese artistic community together. Often over a drink."

That element of the diaspora is now scattered though he did share with me the news that the very famous Cy Grant was now back living in England.

Ram John is a none too frequent visitor to his homeland. His last trip was back in 1996 when he observed with pleasure the positive changes from his visit the year before. Roads built and repaired - "You could see the difference." But like too many, he is a prophet without enough honours in his own land, although he was rewarded for his artistic achievements by being appointed an overseas director of GTV by then Information Minister Moses Nagamootoo. It was hoped the creative hands would reach across the sea. They have not.

But Ram John is involved intimately on this side of the pond in the life of the diaspora. Every significant event at the London High Commission is honoured by his presence. The latest, the August session with First Lady Varshnie Jagdeo talking about her Kid's First Fund. He is unstinting in his support for such events and promises to be right up there at the Guyana High Commission Awards in Croydon in October.

Ram John is one of the pair of actors who have put Guyana on the mental map of the British public and in the mindset of theatre and cinemagoers. For this alone - and so much more - he deserves salutation.

Avinash Persaud: expert on currency fluctuations

His god is not Freud but Mam-mon. He is the 'two million dollars plus a year man.' At 35. He is Avinash Persaud, the younger son of Guyanese Professor Bishnodat Persaud, formerly a senior Com-monwealth Secretariat official and UWI Professor. Avinash has been Managing Director of the State Street Bank's Global Market Analysis and Research Depart-ment in the City of London since 1999.

He is today one of the world's recognised experts on currency fluctuations. As one commentator put it, "If you want to know what's going to happen in the currency markets... it pays to watch what Avinash Persaud is up to." He is miles away from the rice fields of Cumberland in Berbice of his ancestors. He remembers Guyana as "Lush, with rain-filled skies and huge rivers."

His new environment is a world of time-shifted dealing rooms, international instant communications, in which billions of dollars can be made and unmade in minutes or hours.

Avinash has developed his own econometric models to understand these most free and fast markets. It is called 'The New School' and it seems to work better than traditional methods of analysis. The 'New School' uses 'event risk indicators' and 'risk appetite indices' to try to predict small or even seismic changes in investor behaviour before they make their way through to the market place. This has helped his company and clients to surf currency market turbulence successfully. It has done Avinash no harm either.

He is much lauded and decorated in the financial worlds of the UK, the USA and the land of his forefathers - the Caribbean; just returned from a holiday in Barbados, he broke it off to give a seminar at the Central Bank there. Yet Guyana has never tapped into his expertise. He says he is "saddened" by this and would gladly offer his services pro bono. He says a tough period lies ahead in the next two years for the whole Caribbean as America sneezes, so Guyana will catch a cold on commodities. But salvation lies in their hands by plugging into the worldwide knowledge economy and avoiding their road to development being 'iced over.'

Before joining State Street he was Global Head of Currency and Vice President at JP Morgan. In 1997 he won the Amex Bank Review Award for Finance and just last year won the Jacques Delarosiere prize and was also a visiting scholar/consultant to the International Monetary Fund (continuing a family tradition - his father was a consultant to the IMF team which came to Guyana over twenty years ago to assess then President Hoyte's ERP). Avinash is today invited worldwide to share his expertise.

Currently he is the Distinguished International Visitor to the Government of Singapore.

But, not to Guyana.

This international economics graduate of the London School of Economics is about to endow a scholarship at his alma mater - just fourteen years after leaving - in honour of his father. It will be open to students from the Caribbean. But, he is remembered at the LSE for his anti-apartheid stance as much as his grasp of economics.

His Guyanese heritage has so far been a well-kept secret: "Our family regard ourselves as West Indian. Maybe the reason the Indo-Guyanese have been succesful in Britain is that they are stateless." Both he and his even more famous brother Raj are viewed as 'Asian' rather than Caribbean in the UK. The secret is now out. Surely there must be some way for his native land (or to be more precise, his father's land) to use his skilled (and free!) services in their quest for development? Over to the relevant authorities, as they say in Guyana.

Narendra Bhairo: No drugs, no steroids,
just true grit and dhal and rice

He is man out of frame. A power-lifter of world class. But, of Indo -Guyanese stock. Narendra Bhairo is not a 'known' Guyanese sportsman like Rohan Kanhai or Alvin Kallicharran; he has been retired for well over fifteen years, but still his record lives on. At least for those few who know about it.

Seventy-five trophies in a career that spanned nearly thirty years. Twelve British championships, five European ones, Narendra made the Guinness Book of Records for lifting eight times his tiny body weight; a world record which held from 1982 to 1990.

Born in Cornelia Ida (CI), West Coast Demerara, fifty-five years ago, "Guyana was lovely in those days," he now says.

Narendra was frail as a boy. An asthmatic. His father, the pharmacist in Leonora, recommended bodybuilding, but the body to be built was small. "I was only small, not a giant, just ninety-eight pounds - seven stone."

Bhairo came to England in 1964 with his six brothers and sisters and almost immediately converted from bodybuilding to power-lifting. Interestingly, this sport was in his genes. His uncle had done the same and competed for the British Guiana power-lifting team from 1910 to 1915.

Just a year after taking up lifting in London, Narendra entered and won the British flyweight championship. Then, after some success all over Europe, injury hit and he had to return to Guyana and CI to recuperate and recharge his batteries. That month-long Caribbean sabbatical helped. He returned to the UK and resumed training four years later, a renewed man.

In 1975, he won the British championship again; two years later, the British team went to Australia where he was placed second in the world championship in 1979. He came third in the world championship games in Ohio, USA. In 1980, he again came third in Arlington, Texas, and then in 1981, the pretender became king. He won the world championship in, symbolically for an Indo-Guyanese, Calcutta. When he pointed out this irony to one of his British team-mates they told him, "You're here representing Britain."

Those were the Corinthian days of sport. Narendra was able to achieve all the above records, working full-time, training and paying his way on his own. No lottery money, no winners' purses and definitely no drugs. "Just grit and dhal and rice, man!" as he put it so well.

Today, ruefully he says of the sport he served and loved, "they say they don't take drugs... but they all take drugs..."

In the mid-1980's Narendra went into business and stopped competing professionally. There was then a short-lived comeback. Today he works in the garment trade, where he is a professional marker and cutter. The London East End sweatshops are somewhat removed from the world of snatch and jerk. But his Turkish employers and workmates still acknowledge those world-beating skills.

He was back 'home' three years ago but was disappointed because "my schoolmates not there any more" - emigrated every one - and "it was raining every day. I went at the wrong time."

There was a Guyanese power-lifting championship on at the time. Nobody called on his expertise. Then or since. Narendra is a born Guyanese and like so many, he still hopes to return 'home' to give others the benefits of his power-lifting skills. "If the country gets better I might think of going back to help youngsters there," he says. Cornela Ida's gain would be Canning Town's loss.

Howard Eastman

'Sixheads' Lewis may not be alone for much longer. So far, he's the only Guyanese world boxing champion. But, soon he might be joined by another Guyanese belt-holder. Howard Eastman of Deptford in South-East London is looking towards a world title middleweight fight before the end of 2001.

Already he is the European, Commonweatlh, EBU and IBO Champion at that weight. Ranked number one in the world by two of professional boxing's warring bodies, he now wants to win the world championship for Guyana. But, first he has to defend his European title in Italy this October. 'The Battersea Bomber' is in training for that now.

But he says he cannot do it alone. He needs support from his homeland - moral and financial. "I'm looking for some Guyanese sponsors to help me with my training costs. I've gone all this way on my own, now I need their help."

He has, in the past, done his bit in the opposite direction sending back barrels and money to his family. He says he wants to return to Guyana soon as his last trip was "a long time ago." Hopefully next time he will be bathed in triumph.

Back in Berbice as a boy, brought up by his stepmother Mavis Hooper, he had no history of boxing. "I just did what every Guyanese child does - cricket, lime and so on," until migrating to England in 1985 at the age of fifteen with his brothers. It was only through the Ernest Bevin School in Tooting and then the Battersea Boxing Club that he caught the boxing bug.

He got serious, rising to Southern Area Amateur Champion of England for three years running before turning professional. That career has not been without its rewards and high spots, culminating this year in his winning the IBO title in a fight against Rod McCracken.

Boxing is not the sport it once was in Britain. Its heyday of the nineteen fifties and sixties is far behind. It has, simply, gone out of fashion. So purses and belts are barely enough to keep a professional, even a successful one like Howard, in the style and shape for a world champion. Hence his cry for Guyanese help. He wants some sponsorship from back home and says he also wants to come back to Guyana "with government help" to set up a training camp for youngsters to learn from him.

And as for when (and importantly if) he wins that world belt and which country can claim it as their own, his comment is brief and to the point, "Man I am Guyanese."

First though, there's the small matter of that European title defence and the world championship bout itself before the 'British Sixheads' can contemplate balmy days once more on the Corentyne coast passing on his pugilistic skills. (Howard is happy for any offers of help. They should be sent to <> or

Air Commodore David Case: Reaching for the sky

Britain is tough country. Especially for immigrants. The old institution - like royalty, the armed forces and the BBC - are the toughest nuts of all to crack. Hierarchy and tradition rule and in the words of BBC Director General Greg Dyke the organisations are "hideously white." Yet Guyanese-born David Case has managed to penetrate all the ceilings, glass or otherwise. Air Commodore Case is the highest ranking black man in the RAF and indeed in the entire British armed forces. He could before that long be the first ever black Air Vice Marshal. The boy from Werk-en-Rust has reached for the sky and very nearly touched it.

The glittering career started in very modest circumstances. His mother Enid came first to England in 1955 then sent for her only son the year after. Not that David has many memories of Guyana. He left at the tender age of five. "But I do remember arriving in

Britain and the fact that it was cold, dark and gloomy," he says.

He remembers much of Beckenham in Kent where they settled. Enid Case applied herself as a seamstress and scrimped and saved for her only son to get the education he deserved. He attributes much of his current position to her endeavour and drive. He made Beckenham Grammar School and head boy then the RAF, the most open of the services to non-white recruits, after a flying scholarship at school. He took off to Belfast in Northern Ireland to read aeronautical engineering at the Queen's University which he remembers fondly: "The university had a reputation, then and now, for running an excellent course... It had its own air squadron." Being a black man in Belfast then and now was a fairly unique experience: "It wasn't an issue. I suppose I was something of a novelty but I always had the feeling of being warmly welcomed in Northern Ireland."

After Belfast he went to the RAF's academy for their cream, Cranwell, where he emerged with the Sword of Honour as the best cadet of his year. Sadly, flying as a career option was ruled out on the grounds of eyesight. Instead, he climbed the RAF engineering and management ladder through postings in Britain and Germany.

Today he is based at RAF Innsworth in Gloucestershire and is Director of Policy and Planning for the force responsible for aspects of welfare support for servicemen and women, or, as he puts it, "supporting our people." To him, his colour has been neutral in his rise up to the higher echelons. "Colour is not an issue that I have been dragging around with me, nor has it been pushed in my face, either positively or negatively. Advancement here is on merit, and though I don't necessarily see myself as a role model for members of the black or ethnic communities, if my success reflects positively on them and on the RAF then that is a good thing." The lesson for others, he says is with commitment and determination you can, as stated in the RAF slogan 'Rise above the Rest."

David Case is married to a fellow Guyanese Joan whom he met in south-east London. They have two children, Timothy, aged 15, and Jonathan, 13, and he is now waiting for the right moment to take them to his homeland which he has not seen for forty-four years.

His undoubted expertise in matters military has not been exploited by the GDF. "Just a brief flurry," he says after his promotion to Air Commodore became public last year; "it never went anywhere." But although he sees himself as 'British' his Guyanese roots still remain: "I like cassava bread, chowmein and curry, but I'm not too fond of the dry food which my mother used to tell me was good for me."

Air Commodore Case is yet another example of a Guyanese who has made it in the motherland but whose mother's land is yet to tap into that expertise.

Baroness Amos: Breaking two barriers with one person

Guyanese born Baroness Valerie Amos is the first black woman to sit in the House of Lords. Today she is well up the political ladder with her appointment last June as the Parliamentary Under Secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. She is at the centre of the UK's policy as it supports the USA in their reaction to the World Trade Center atrocity.

She speaks for Tony Blair's government in the Lords on foreign affairs and international development and was trusted enough to head the UK delegation to the recent anti-racism conference in South Africa.

She spent the first seven years of her life at Wakenaam on the Essequibo, and that has stayed with her:

"My first memories are all associated with my childhood and in particular school holidays. It was a rural lifestyle - running around all day with friends - helping ourselves to wonderful fruit from all the trees around, picnics with plenty of food on days out to the creeks and of course the rituals at Easter with kite flying and Christmas with masquerade."

And even today when she visits her homeland on official or personal business, the lure of the country calls.

"I always feel happy when I am on the water and take every opportunity to travel out of Georgetown to the Essequibo or to other parts of the country. Guyana has tremendous natural beauty. One of my most treasured memories is spending my parents 40th wedding anniversary on a trip to Kaieteur Falls and Orinduik."

As plain Valerie Amos in the UK, she had a career in mediation and in quasi-public service.

She trod the well-recognised paths of working first in 'challenging' (a code for majority non-white) London boroughs like Lambeth and Hackney before assuming the mantle of the chief executive of the Equal Opportunities Commission (charged by statute with removing gender discrimination from the workplace) from 1989 to 1994. One of her press officers at the EOC described her as "the best ever chief executive."

That was followed by her own 'change' consultancy, among whose clients was the government of post-apartheid South Africa. She advised them on public service reform, human rights and equality at work between 1995 and 1998.

After the euphoric May Day labour victory in 1997, Tony Blair soon set about transfusing new blood into the near moribund body of the Lords. Valerie Amos became a Baroness in August 1997 and nine months later a government front bench spokesman as well - initially on International Development and Social Security. Now it's the Foreign and Commonwealth Office where her responsibilities include Britain and the Caribbean: "I have a lot of family and friends in Guyana. Last year I accompanied the Prince of Wales on his trip. As Minister at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with responsibility for the Caribbean I now have both a personal and a professional interest."

Baroness Amos is seen as a steady pair of hands in this job as she has been in her other 'Quango' roles on the boards of the Institute of Public Policy Research (a Blairite think tank), the University College London Hospitals Trust and the Hampstead Theatre. Baroness Amos has honorary degrees from three universities - Manchester, Warwick (her alma mater) and Stafford - and an honorary professorship at another - Thames Valley. The sunny uplands of real political power.

But she has some good advice for the up and coming Valerie Amos's of the Guyanese diaspora: "It is always useful to know one's history. I also think that it is important to be clear about the values and principles which underpin one's life. And be clear about where you want to be and how to get there."

She has, firmly, 'got there.' Valerie, Baroness Amos kills prejudices wherever she goes.

Mark Ramprakash: playing for the wrong side?

It might all have been so different. He could have been returning to his English home this week having helped win the Red Stripe tournament for his father's land: Guyana. Instead, he's just off a plane from Zimbabwe and a quick England tour which was much under-reported - even ignored. Cricketer Mark Ramprakash- 'Ramps' to his fans - has chosen to butter his mixed parentage bread on the English side.

His father is a Guyanese of Wind-rush vintage. Coming across on the same boat as the current London High Commissioner Laleshwar Singh. He married an Englishwoman and settled in Harrow, then one of the more twee London suburbs, today one of the centres of Asian London. Mark was born in September 1969.

His cricketing talent at Gayton High School and Harrow Weald Sixth Form College was precocious, and soon his reputation spread. At ten he was trialing for Middlesex County, at sixteen he was in their second XI, at seventeen in the County first XI, winning the man of the match award in the Nat West trophy final that year.

Mark's earliest hero was from his father's genes - the great West Indian stroke players like Viv Richards. But it was under England and Middlesex captain Mike 'Bulldog' Gatting that he flourished as a young professional.

That might explain his jumping into the English rather than the West Indian camp when an international call came and he was given an England Test place in 1991.

But in the decade since, his England career has been uneven.

He has made forty-six appearances, scored 2114 runs, including two centuries, yet 'Ramps' has never fully claimed a permanent Test place as his own; he comes and goes into the team like a cuckoo in spring.

But his Guyanese 'temperament' - as you say - may be Mark's strength and his weakness. He is not the cold fish that so many white English cricketers are- or become. He is a Caribbean - emotional, combative and says just what he feels out in the square. This does not make for popularity. On or off the field. He told one umpire, Darrell Hair, that he could not give him out as that would jeopardise his career and openly contested his decision. He was disciplined by the relevant authorities for that.

But he seems to have found a new sponsor and champion in fellow 'outsider,' the England Captain Naseer Hussain.

They share a mixed race(same mixture) and a not surprising restlessness. For the moment, the cuckoo is in the team, his place secure. Soon he will be off to the land of both of their distant forefathers-India - on the winter tour if it goes ahead in the uncertain international situation.

This time Mark is in the starting line-up. On some previous tours, like to South Africa in 1998, he has been the substitute player, parachuted in half way along to bolster a flagging, exhausted, batting order. Coming in on collapse has done nothing to bolster his Test batting confidence. The greatest stroke player of his generation is yet to translate that consistently match after match and year after year to the Test arena.

He changed counties - from Middlesex to Surrey - last season in order to bolster his chances. That seems to be paying dividends.

But what might have been had 'Ramps' chosen the Lara way and not the Lords way? Imagine a current West Indian batting order of Sarwan, Chanderpaul, Ramprakash, Hooper and Campbell. Imagine going down to Bourda and catching a Guyanese team graced by his master stroke play.

Imagine. That's all you can do.

Wahid Alli: The youngest peer in the House of Lords

It's one of the biggest and best jobs in British TV: Chief Executive of Channel Four Television. A second generation Guyanese, Lord Wahid Alli, is on the short list for this most prestigious appointment.

It's a sign of his acceptance into the British establishment for the boy from humble immigrant beginnings in south London.

He is the youngest peer (Lord) in the British House of Lords. His role is one of the 'fixers' for a Labour Party which thrives on 'spin' but yet he does not need this work. He is independently wealthy in his own right.

Wahid has always had a way with figures - money and television, audience ones. His fortune earned in finance and television production. His official title reflects his origins: Lord Alli of Norbury (another little Guyana).

His mother is Trinidadian but his estranged father, Guyanese.

Wahid made it from the local south London comprehensive to the head of investment research at Save and Prosper at a very young age.

But then he got bored with finance. The glittering light of the cathode ray tube called. TV became his field of operations.

His big break came with The Big Breakfast. Channel Four had a problem with its breakfast show. Serious show.

No audience. Wahid, his partner Charlie, and 'Saint' Bob Geldof (the pop star turned fund-raiser) invented The Big Breakfast - early morning TV with attitude. Another mould breaker. It was a big hit for the first few years. Their company, Planet 24, prospered so much that the giant ITV company Carlton swallowed them whole in 1999.

The three partners were five million pounds richer each. Wahid became managing director (Content) at Carlton for the next year.

His biggest legacy there - putting some life back into an old corpse - the much derided daytime 'soap' Crossroads. That had been pulled off-screen years before after some unsteady days. Now it has returned to British TV screens but is proving not to be a success on its return from the TV graveyard.

But it was not so much TV but his political connections that ensured his elevation to a peerage in 1998. He is a long-time Labour supporter associated with the core members of 'New Labour.'

Now, Lord Alli has teamed up with a new power friend: Elizabeth Murdoch, daughter of media mogul Rupert, in a new production company 'Shine Entertain-ment.' But he also chums up with his Guyanese political power friends - London Assembly Chairman Trevor Phillips and Foreign Office Minister Baroness Valerie Amos - to make sure the Guyanese voice is heard in the inner sanctums of power. He was an honoured guest on the royal visit to Guyana two years ago.

So the boy from Norbury has done very well. Lord Wahid Alli is a son of Guyana (and Trinidad) and should be taken to its breast.