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John Boyega said the death of Damilola’s father Richard motivated him to speak out
By Mattea Bubalo
BBC News

Actor John Boyega has spoken publicly for the first time about the impact of childhood friend Damilola Taylor’s killing, calling it “life-changing”.

The recent death of Damilola’s father, campaigner Richard Taylor, had “motivated” him to speak about his experience, he told the BBC.

The Star Wars actor says the tragedy has “shaped me through the years”.

He was one of the last people to see 10-year-old Damilola alive before the fatal stabbing in south London in 2000.

The boy’s death shocked the nation and became one of London’s most high-profile killings.

His father, who died last week aged 75 with prostate cancer, campaigned against knife crime and dedicated years to improving the lives of disadvantaged children in the wake of his son’s death.

Boyega and Damilola were school friends in Peckham, in south-east London. Boyega, who was eight when Damilola was killed, described him as “flamboyant and charismatic”.

Speaking about the last day he saw his friend, Boyega said: “From the hours we left him in Peckham to the hours when I went home, and then the police were at our door and there was a whole investigation that we were involved in, was definitely life-changing for me, definitely altered my perspective.”

“Even though I was young, it was a shock to understand how mortality worked,” he told John Wilson on BBC Radio 4’s Last Word, a weekly obituary show which was featuring the life story of Richard Taylor.

“To think that somebody as young as me could pass away in such a horrific way was hard for me to understand or comprehend.

Damilola was stabbed with a broken beer bottle 24 years ago

“And I definitely think [Damilola’s death] has shaped me through the years and just affected my perspective on certain things.”

He said he had deliberately not spoken about his relationship with Damilola in public before.

“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,” Boyega said.

But after Richard Taylor’s death, he said he was “motivated to speak up”, adding: “Now that he’s gone, if I don’t speak up now, when am I ever going to speak up?”

Mr Taylor, a former Nigerian civil servant, and his wife Gloria set up the Damilola Taylor Trust after their son’s death.

Gloria died in 2008 and Mr Taylor continued their work, saying he wanted his son to be remembered as a boy of hope and for his legacy to be a better life and opportunities for underprivileged young people.

Boyega praised the trust and Mr Taylor, a man “for the people and the community” who turned his son’s “tragic loss into something triumphant”.

He recalled a poem written by Damilola, read by Mr Taylor at his son’s funeral, where the boy explored “how far he wanted his dreams to spread”.

The poem, Boyega said, “gave birth to this mentality that I had”.

He said: “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.”

Damilola was killed on 27 November 2000, months after he moved to the UK from Nigeria with his mother, brother Tunde and sister Gbemi.

He was left bleeding to death in a stairwell in Peckham, south-east London, after he was attacked and slashed with a broken bottle on his way home from a library.

After three crown court trials, his killers – brothers Ricky and Danny Preddie – were jailed in 2006.

You can hear Last Word’s full interview with John Boyega on BBC Sounds.

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