HE arrived in Britain as a penniless asylum seeker with only a small bag of possessions to his name.
But more than 30 years after fleeing Communist-run Hungary, Gabor Bartos has been given the honour of being named mayor of his adopted home village.
And yesterday the 59-year-old said his story was a lesson to more recent immigrants on how to integrate themselves into British society.
‘It’s only right that outsiders should respect the cultures of the countries they want to live in,’ he said.
‘When I came to England, I had to learn to speak English and had to drive on the other side of the road from the rest of Europe, and I had to adopt traditions and I’m proud of that because that is what made me a British citizen.
‘That gave me a loyalty to this country. I just wish all other asylum seekers would follow the same trait. Some of the people coming to this great country won’t integrate, and it really makes me angry.
‘It’s very sad that the old saying “When in Rome do as the Romans” is much maligned and ignored these days.’
Mr Bartos grew up in Erd, south of Budapest, the son of a flower seller, but his burgeoning interest in Western pop culture after first hearing The Beatles saw him rebel against the repressive Communist regime.
Branded a dissident, he joined football fans travelling to London to watch Hungary play England in 1978, and after giving their secret police minders the slip he defected, claiming political asylum at the Home Office.
That was granted six years later, and despite the fall of Communism in 1989 Mr Bartos has made his life here, marrying a British woman, working as a piano tuner and being elected a local Conservative councillor.
Last week he was chosen as Mayor of his village, Poynton in Cheshire, which is now twinned with the town of his birth.
Yesterday he told of his gratitude for how his adopted country had given him shelter from persecution.
‘We wanted to play music and we couldn’t,’ he said.
‘We couldn’t do the things that other teenagers were naturally doing on the other side of the Iron Curtain.
‘We just wanted to have our long hair–I was beaten up many times by the police for having long hair, we were seen to be an enemy of the system.’
He told no-one of his plan to defect, packing only a small bag to avoid raising suspicion.
He was later sentenced to jail in his absence and was unable to visit relatives until the regime collapsed.
‘I didn’t tell anybody what I was planning–I couldn’t even tell my mum. It was a hard decision at the time,’ he said.
‘I was frightened of the secret service, that they might follow me.’
Learning English and building a career tuning pianos for the BBC and a Manchester theatre he was determined to make the most of his new opportunity, however, earning enough to buy a small flat.
‘When I got British citizenship in 1984 I felt like the proudest man in the world, really–because at last a great country like the UK was giving me the opportunity to be a citizen.
‘Although when I went to the Home Office, the lady joked that now I was British, I had to support England at football. I told her I would!’
When it was eventually safe to return to Hungary he paid an emotional visit to relatives, discovering that an old schoolfriend was now mayor of Erd, and they arranged for it to be twinned with Poynton.
But the father-of-two–whose wife Jennifer works as a financial director–was now settled in England, and yesterday he spoke of his pride at being chosen as mayor.
‘I’m absolutely humbled to get this position. I came to this country as an outsider and this job is the very least I can do after the UK made me a citizen.’