Last night Trafalgar Square was awash with the colours, smells and tastes of Malaysia Night.
The event was the second celebration of Malaysia’s cuisine and culture hosted on the Square, and just one of hundreds of events to be held on it since Ken Livingstone annoyed motorists by pedestrianising one side and angered animal rights campaigners by ridding it of pigeons.
It’s since been further enhanced by Team Boris with new lights, reinvigorating the fountains.
Those of us with long memories recall Ken spent about £250,000 on two hawks to do away with the messy airborne menace.
Although at the time Liberal Democrat AM Mike Tuffrey questioned their “value for money”, the hawks have turned out to be fairly sane appointments compared to some of those employed by City Hall over the years.
Along with some other journalists I enjoyed yesterday’s festivities from a ‘VIP area’ on the terrace. We were joined by some actual VIPs including High Commissioner Datuk Zakaria Sulong and Deputy Mayor of London Richard Barnes.
We feasted on some truly amazing cuisine supplied by the awana restaurant – probably worth checking out if you’re looking for a night out with decent food.
Barnes was making the last of, if I counted right, around six public engagements with more to follow over the weekend, including a return trip to the Square for today’s Eid celebrations.
When Adam and I interviewed Richard last year he told us he’d attended 1,478 meetings and events the previous year and he’s done a similar number since.
Meeting and greeting people on a such an industrial scale isn’t my idea of fun, but whenever I’ve seen Barnes doing it I’ve been impressed by his enthusiasm for the task.
Last night was no different, touring the stalls and restaurant stands, Barnes happily posed for pictures, shook hands and sampled offered delicacies, adding to his waistline in the cause of good civic relations.
In our interview with him, Richard spoke of the importance of celebrating London’s diversity, telling us:
“You can’t have a London that doesn’t enjoy Chinese New Year, Russian Winter Festival, Eid, Passion play in Trafalgar Square, carol concerts at Christmas. Celebrating the diversity that is there, that is the greater legacy.”
It’s a theme he returned to last night, telling the assembled crowd:
“There are 43 communities in London with over ten thousand members and the Malaysian community is one of them.
“To be here tonight, to celebrate the music, the literature, the entertainment and the clothes [of Malaysia] truly helps us to show what a glorious Kaleidoscope London is, and what makes us the greatest city on earth.”
Is it arrogant for us to assume that accolade?
I don’t think so. Other countries and cities haven’t been as successful as London in welcoming large overseas communities. Even here in the UK, there are places where 9,000 newcomers are the cause of protest and outrage, not celebration and wonder.
Over time that’ll change. With familiarity comes first tolerance and then acceptance but we should be proud our city has already made that journey and thankful to have a space on which to regularly celebrate it.