The President of the World

It’s taken me a little while to get round to writing this but still thought it was worth posting…

It’s a stone grey day in Trafalgar Square. Pigeons swirling and swooping, London traffic beeping and revving. It would look and feel like an ordinary February weekday if it weren’t for the tens of thousands of people crammed into the square.

Hundreds of long lens photographers and TV cameramen are perched on a platform under Nelson’s column, their lenses trained on a lone microphone standing on the steps of the National Gallery. The Gallery itself is covered in scaffolding for renovation. Across it is a banner with letters twenty feet high spelling ‘Make Poverty History’.

Backstage celebrities mingle dressed in long, dark, expensive coats. Colin Firth is chatting to Alan Rickman. June Sarpong is checking her lines. Jamelia has just arrived. The audience gently jostle for position. People standing on tip-toes to try and see what’s going on. People are looking down from the balconies and windows of the buildings around the square. It feels as if even the giant lions at (Lord) Nelson’s feet might be straining to see.

Then on the stroke of midday the huge fountains are turned off.

There’s African music, The Man from Oxfam, wearing a suit and tie, steps up to the mic to tell the crowd what it’s all about. School children from Scotland invite us to the G8 Summit in the summer, Jamelia sings and then Bob Geldof steps up to introduce the main event.

‘My friend Bono calls him the President of Africa,’ he says, ‘For once I think he’s underselling it. Ladies and gentleman, please welcome the President of the World.’

As the crowd cheer, an achingly frail Nelson Mandela makes his way with the aid of a stick and the arm of his wife onto the stage. He waves and then opens his mouth to speak as clearly and authoritatively as you could ever imagine the great man would. ‘My Friends’, he says. The crowd fall silent.

He talks about the injustice and crime of poverty. About how this is the most important year. About how leaders can do what they want when they want to. About how sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great. About how we can be that great generation. ‘Let your greatness blossom’ he says.

Then he won’t leave. He doesn’t look like he ever wants to. Eventually Geldof takes him by the arm joking to the crowd ‘He’s got to go. He’s too old’. He makes it to a waiting car which edges away. The crowd are still cheering.

The fountains come back on and the crowd stream out, smiling and chatting. London returns to normal but in the background the drum beat of the African music goes on.

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