John Boyega tells of ‘life-changing’ friendship with Damilola Taylor

John Boyega tells of ‘life-changing’ friendship with Damilola Taylor

The actor John Boyega has spoken about the “life-changing” impact of his friendship with Damilola Taylor and the way his sudden death spurred him and others to “aim further”.

Boyega, 32, best known for his work in the Star Wars franchise, was school friends with Damilola growing up in south-east London. Damilola was 10 when he was stabbed in the leg with a broken bottle walking home from a computer class in Peckham in November 2000.

Boyega was eight at the time and he and his sister Grace were among the last people to see Damilola. He said he was motivated to speak about his friend after the death of Damilola’s father, Richard Taylor, earlier this week.

“I just think from the hours we left him in Peckham to the hours from when I went home and then the police were at our door was definitely life changing for me,” Boyega told John Wilson on BBC Radio 4’s Last Word.

Damilola TaylorView image in fullscreen

“To be involved in that way, even in passing, makes you feel like you’re inches away from something so tragic,” he said, adding that he wanted “to keep the memory of Damilola Taylor alive because [he] was a funny, very energetic guy that everybody really, really loved in the community”.

Boyega said Damilola’s killing had had “a huge impact” on him and others and made them more determined to succeed. “The effect of this guy, unfortunately, obviously, some of it being through tragedy, but the effect of his personality going through something like that has been a really positive one to everybody that grew up in the community to aim further and to not see any limits. And that’s exactly what I did.”

Damilola had moved to London from Nigeria a few months before he was killed but Boyega said in that time the 10-year-old had made a big impression. “I just remember Damilola Taylor with a silver jacket, running through the playground of Oliver Goldsmith primary school, already sweating as if he just had run a marathon at near enough 9am in the morning, drinking from the water fountains, flirting with my bloody sister. And just being around us and cracking jokes and being flamboyant and charismatic, and I just remember him being a big personality.”

Boyega, whose family were also of Yoruba descent, said people had felt protective of Damilola having newly arrived in the country. “It was such a short time but everybody knew he was this new kid in school and he came straight from Nigeria, so there was something about that energy that in the Nigerian community, especially the Yoruba community is like, protect this guy and make sure he’s good, that’s your brother.”

Boyega said he believed Damilola “would have gone on to do some very great things and whatever his chosen field would be, he’d definitely still be funny”.