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Tuesday, December 22, 2015
Star Wars hero John Boyega was close pals with tragic schoolboy Damilola Taylor
Star Wars actor John Boyega was a close pal of tragic Damilola Taylor and one of the last people to see him alive, the stabbed schoolboy’s dad has revealed.
John has won worldwide acclaim for his role as rogue stormtrooper Finn in The Force Awakens – but has never forgotten the beloved pal who never got to grow up and fulfil his own potential.
Damilola ’s dad Richard Taylor attended the London premiere of the blockbuster alongside the actor’s proud family last week, just over 15 years after his son was stabbed to death with a broken bottle in Peckham, south east London.
John even nominated the Damilola Taylor Trust as one of the 15 good causes to share £1.35million from the charitable initiative Star Wars : Force for Change
Now Mr Taylor, 60, has told how John and his sister Grace were the two children seen on CCTV with Damilola just moments before he was stabbed.
He said John and his older sister Grace had wanted to escort Nigerian refugee Damilola home on that fateful day but he told them he would be fine to walk alone.
Mr Taylor said: “Damilola and John and Grace were so close. They were looking after him when he arrived in the UK, because they went to school together.
“The three of them were captured in the CCTV recording that the police used when they asked people to come forward to assist with the investigation.
“Grace became so close to Damilola – it was almost like boyfriend and girlfriend.”
Damilola was killed on November 27 2000 – 10 days before his 11th birthday.
He had left a computer class at Peckham Library before walking home to his flat on the North Peckham estate when two youths stabbed him with a broken bottle.
He was found bleeding to death in a stairwell, having left a 30-metre trail of blood as he tried to crawl to safety.
As he left the library Damilola was captured on CCTV getting into a lift with two friends, who were not identified at the time.
Mr Taylor now reveals it was John, who was eight years old at the time, and his sister who was then 10.
“They were the last to see him,” he said.
“They wanted to escort him home, but he said he was going to be OK. They left him by the junction then he went around the corner and the gang were waiting for him.”
Brothers Danny and Ricky Preddie, aged 12 and 13 at the time, were convicted of his manslaughter six years later.
In 2006 they each got eight years’ youth custody for the attack, which came as they tried to rob the silver coat Damilola was seen wearing shortly before his death.
It was a tragedy that scarred the estate – and the nation. But Mr Taylor said seeing John become such a success is helping to heal the wounds.
He said: “We have been close to the family ever since. His father Samson is a pastor, and we often speak.
“Recently there was an email from the US saying that John had nominated the Damilola Taylor Trust to receive a donation from the film’s launch.
"I was overwhelmed. It filled me with joy.”
John’s rise to stardom has also made Mr Taylor wonder about what the future could have held for Damilola.
He said: “I thought ‘Oh wow, Damilola could have been working with him as an actor.’
“Damilola was acting in primary school – in Christmas plays, school plays, reciting poems and all that kind of thing.
“They both had a great interest in computer games, and used to play together all the time.
"I think that might be what led John to want to act in science fiction films.”
John was brought up on the same North Peckham estate as Damilola by his Nigerian-born parents Samson, 56, and mother Abigail, 57, a carer for the disabled.
They shared a flat with his sisters Grace, now 26 and a singer, and Blessing, now a 28-year-old model.
Damilola joined John’s school Oliver Goldsmith Primary four months before his death, after his mum Gloria brought him to Britain from Nigeria.
John became involved with the local drama group, Theatre Peckham, aged nine in 2001 – a year after Damilola’s death – after being spotted in a school production by artistic director Teresa Early.
He carried on with the theatre while at Westmster City School, a Christian foundation school, before going on to study performing arts at South Thames College at the age of 16.
After that he progressed to the Identity School of Acting in Hackney, before getting his first break in BBC vampire drama Being Human aged 18.
Aged 19, he landed his first film role in 2011’s Attack the Block, playing Moses, the leader of a group of teenagers who fight off an alien invasion on their London estate.
He then starred as Chris Tanner in 24: Live Another Day alongside Kiefer Sutherland.
He got the part in JJ Abrams’ Star Wars sequel – alongside Daisy Ridley as Rey – after the Star Trek and Cloverfield director invited him to audition.
Now a household name, some sources estimate him to be worth £1.8million – and is set to rake in even more as he starts filming for Star Wars VIII in London in the next few weeks.
Mr Taylor set up the Damilola Taylor Trust with Gloria in 2001 to help improve the lives of inner city youngsters.
After Gloria died of a heart attack in 2008 he has continued their work with the help of Damilola’s brother Babatunde, 36.
They both joined John and the Boyega family at the Leicester Square premiere last week, alongside stars Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill.
“It was a great privilege for us to mingle with great film stars of the old and new generation,” said Mr Taylor.
“John’s friends from Peckham were there, so also was Mark Parson, the retired head teacher at Oliver Goldsmith Primary School.
"John was happy to see every guest. He was down to earth and pleased to be a success story from Peckham.
"I wish him the best of luck as he progresses in his film career.”
Mr Taylor is delighted something good has come out of their North Peckham estate after so many years of pain.
He said: “There’s good coming out of the place. John’s promoting Peckham, not denying his roots. Damilola would have been doing the same thing.”
A spokesman for Boyega did not want to comment about John’s appearance on CCTV with Damilola.
Since the film launched last week John has been surprising Star Wars fans on both side of the Atlantic with unannounced appearances at cinemas in New York and London.
He also took co-star Harrison Ford , 73, for a meal of egusi soup and pounded yam at Nigerian restaurant 805, one of his old haunts in Peckham.
Owner Emmanuel James said: “Someone came out the back and said ‘Harrison Ford’s here’ and I didn’t believe it.
"Staff were saying, ‘Are we absolutely sure that’s him?’ It’s hard for it to sink in.”