Posted on August 24, 2018

The Lord Mayor in Doc Martens and a Baseball Cap Who Is Dividing Sheffield

Jenny Johnston, Daily Mail, August 22, 2018

On a chintzy sofa in the mayor’s parlour, under a portrait of the Queen, the Lord Mayor of Sheffield reels off his full title. ‘It’s His Right Worshipful First Citizen of Sheffield, the Lord Mayor, Councillor Magid Magid,’ he explains.

There is a pause as he recognises this is quite a mouthful. ‘Or just call me Magid,’ he says.

As for what to call the Queen, there is an odd moment when he seems to forget her name.

This is not something you expect from a Lord Mayor, even one who accessorises his ceremonial chain with Doc Martens boots, jeans and a yellow baseball cap turned backwards.

The slip comes when he is explaining how he squares his republican views with his role in a post created in the mid-19th century. ‘Queen Victoria, Harry, William… they are all lovely people, hard-working. Nothing personal.’

I point out that our Queen is Elizabeth, not Victoria. ‘Yeah, yeah,’ he replies. ‘What’s the name of the Queen? Elizabeth? Yeah. Liz.’

Then, making amends for his error, he adds: ‘I’d take her out for dinner. I’d buy the Queen a drink.’

Quite obviously, Magid Magid is not a typical city mayor.

A former refugee from Somalia who came to Sheffield at the age of five with his mother and five siblings ‘to find a better life’, he was appointed to the post in May. At the age of 28 he became the city’s youngest-ever mayor, with lofty plans to bring the role ‘into the 21st century’.

His predecessors include a colliery owner, a steel maker, the 7th Earl Fitzwilliam, a former Welsh rugby international and Labour politician Roy Hattersley’s mother Enid, who, in the Eighties, battled Conservative governments as they waged war on the so-called ‘socialist republic of South Yorkshire’.

Another previous mayor, the 15th Duke of Norfolk, owned vast tracts of land and his tenure in the 1890s was marked by his role as postmaster general. He is best remembered for his philanthropic work.

Magid could hardly be more different.

‘Just being me brings an element of difference to the role,’ he says.

One of the first things he did as mayor was to extend an open invitation to the city’s 518,000 inhabitants to join him to watch a screening of the new Mamma Mia! film.

Dozens took up the offer.

However, such hospitality will not be extended to the Queen if she wants to make an official visit to Sheffield.

Magid says: ‘I would have an objection because when it’s an official visit, the council has to pick up the bill — and that’s thousands. It means cutting vital services when we are already stretched. I’d say to the Queen: ‘You are more than welcome. We will show you a great time, but as a city we can’t afford it. You will have to pay for it.’

At a time when so many people are fed up with the lies, incompetence and venality of so many politicians, Mayor Magid Magid is seen — by his fans, anyway — as rather a refreshing change.

Representing the Green Party and having appeared on Channel 4’s reality show Hunted (in which contestants go on the run and have to evade capture), he was sworn in to the sound of the Imperial March from Star Wars, followed by the Superman theme tune.

He wears his populism with pride and issues rules about how the good folk of Sheffield ought to behave. Rule No 1: ‘Don’t be a pr*ck’ (his asterisk).

To much acclaim, he has decried Donald Trump, calling him a ‘wasteman’ and condemning his ‘ban’ on Muslims visiting America and his decision to withdraw from the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, in which many countries agreed a wide-ranging package of measures to protect the environment.

Magid, now 29, says: ‘I don’t have any hard powers, but I do have soft powers. I have a voice now, and I’m going to use it.’

He is relishing the challenge.

After fleeing war-torn Somalia, he, his mum, four elder sisters and elder brother spent six months in an Ethiopian refugee camp before arriving in the UK in 1994, having been given asylum.

‘We made Sheffield our home,’ he says. ‘My mum left her friends, her family and her identity, but she had to do what was best for her children. No mother would take her kids to another country if it wasn’t needed.’

He remembers little about his early days here, apart from the weather. ‘It was always raining. None of us spoke English, but I learnt it very quickly — quicker than my mum. I remember being the one to fill in forms for her.’

He soon thrived and as a result, like his mother, who worked as a cleaner to support her family and get them a good schooling, he likes to stress the importance of education.

‘It was a case of knowing that I’d have to work twice as hard as the white kids,’ he says.

After school, he studied aquatic zoology at Hull University (‘it was a bit left-field, yes, but I’d just been diving’). His mum had wanted him to train as a lawyer, a doctor or an engineer.

At university he founded the mixed martial arts club, where he was given the fight name ‘Magic Magid the Submission Magician’, got into student politics, joined the Green Party and was voted student union president.

Explaining his interest in politics, he says he wanted to tackle racism. ‘I couldn’t just sit on the sidelines. It was a case of ‘if you don’t do politics then politics will do you’.

‘I want people to see that being different is a positive thing. Immigrants, refugees, asylum-seekers — they all enrich our society.’

When he returned home to Sheffield after a stint working in digital marketing, he says: ‘I was fed up with objecting. I thought I must get involved.’

In 2016, he was elected as a Green councillor in the city.

The Lord Mayor role in Sheffield is rotated between all the parties, and there were no objections when the Greens suggested him. ‘It’s mad, isn’t it?’ he says with a smile.

Not mad, but unarguably Lord Mayor Magid Magid represents the face of modern Britain.

Also, unlike his more traditional predecessors who donned their ceremonial chains to plant trees in civic spaces and open new school canteen buildings, he is more likely to be found on social media.

Asked about his role models, he rejects figures such as Churchill, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King. ‘I think my role model is the internet,’ he says.

Recently, for example, he re-tweeted an online posting from a former prisoner who is a grime performer in Sheffield that read: ‘Legendary business who’s coming my bday bash to see the mayor of sheff do the 1 foot skank’.

What Sheffield’s no-nonsense citizens, renowned for being as steely as the city’s most famous manufactured product, make of such interventions is anyone’s guess — particularly at a time when headteachers claim to be woefully underfunded, local hospitals saw a surge in A&E patients during the heatwave, and the city council has been heavily criticised for giving trade union representatives a bumper pay rise.

Inevitably, too, Magid’s unusual background has attracted notice abroad and he has been invited on TV chat shows in several countries. He has just been to Amsterdam to ‘speak about panel politics and youth culture’ and is planning trips to Brussels, Germany and maybe New York next year.

Do the people of Sheffield really want their Lord Mayor to be gadding around New York, though? Wouldn’t they rather he was at home, making sure the bins are collected properly?

‘My job is to be an ambassador,’ he argues. ‘What better way to shout about what an amazing place Sheffield is?’

As he gives me a tour of Sheffield’s City Hall, his style is informal, to say the least.

What I learn about past Lord Mayors is minimal. ‘No,’ he says, ‘I don’t really know much about them. I could Google them…’

The same applies to his knowledge of the town hall itself. He is rather vague about when it was built, but you can’t argue with his view of what the Victorian architects would think now.

He says: ‘I’m sure the people who built this in 18-something wouldn’t have thought that in 2018 a black Muslim would be breaking the fast of Ramadan in here.’

So, just three months into the job, is he still finding his feet? Yes.

Today, those feet are in a pair of green Doc Martens — he has a selection of them in different colours. I ask whether he’ll get in trouble if he is photographed with his feet on the fine mahogany desk. Possibly, he says, but he ‘doesn’t give a s**t’.

Warming to his theme, he adds: ‘One woman said she cried when she saw a picture of me standing on a table. Said I was being disrespectful. She said: ‘What’s the point of being Lord Mayor if you aren’t going to respect the traditions?’.

‘I thought: ‘What is she talking about? That table is 20 years old. What is tradition anyway? It used to be tradition in this country that women couldn’t vote. Traditions change. Is the rule for this job that you have to do things in a certain way just because they’ve always been done this way? Who says so?’ ‘

Out of interest, I ask if there is a rule book for Lord Mayors.

‘Nah! Well, there is. They gave me this thing called The Protocol, but I haven’t read it.’

So, instead, what is his mission for the coming year?

He says he wants to target young people, encourage creativity (he would like to appoint a Sheffield Poet Laureate and has a rapper in mind), and be the antithesis of the Lord Major who ‘just turns up at fetes and shakes hands’.

Indeed, such traditional hand-shaking events are not his thing.

He recalls a dinner he recently attended, organised by the Master Cutlers of Sheffield — an ancient body linked to the cutlery trade for which Sheffield is world-famous.

‘It’s a big thing here — 370 years old but all people of the same background, same class. The dinner was one of those events where they do slow handclaps and there are people with swords and every bloody ten minutes there is a toast to someone. Very la-di-da.’

Suffice to say, Mayor Magid Magid won’t be spending his year in post kowtowing to the great and the good.

‘I’ve already turned down 85, 90 per cent of the stuff I’ve been invited to. I mean, I’d be stupid not to go to Remembrance Day but a lot of the stuff… well, no.’

Some, like his grime chum on Twitter, will say: ‘Bravo that man!’

Others, less so.

An online petition calling for his removal from office (‘he’s turning Sheffield into a laughing stock’ was a typical comment) collected 6,000 signatures, but was rejected by the Government on the grounds that his appointment was not its responsibility — and, in any case, his fans rallied with a counter-petition.

Magid has one word for his detractors: racist. ‘There have been people writing to the local paper saying ‘we are losing our identity. Sheffield has fallen’. It’s really over the top and ridiculous.’ But he concedes that his style isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Indeed, he admits his mother would prefer it if he wore a suit.

But what one wears, he says, is not the point. ‘Even if I put on a suit, these people would find another excuse. There is no pleasing some. They call me ‘radical’. If being determined to do things differently makes me radical, then yes, I am.

‘I’m a reflection of Sheffield. I didn’t barge my way in here and insist someone made me mayor.’

Consistent with his own passionate ideas about ‘democracy in action’, he says: ‘If you don’t like it, do something about it. Don’t just sign an anonymous petition. Get involved yourself.’

One thing is for sure. With his combat jackets, ceremonial chain worn like a rapper’s bling and giving a ‘shout-out’ on Twitter to everyone who joined him to sing Abba hits at Mamma Mia 2, the 122nd mayor of Sheffield is unlike anything the city has seen before.