Monday May 21, 2018
Councillor Magid Magid reveals the story behind that image - and whether he plans to stand for MP... or join a samba band
Councillor Magid Magid, in his now famous pose after inauguration as Sheffield's lord mayor Chris Saunders
When I’m ushered into his parlour, the new Lord Mayor of Sheffield is sat with his feet on his desk, firing off emails about creating a post of Sheffield Poet Laureate.
Despite the rarified surroundings – mahogany furniture, upholstered
sofas, fine china teacups – he swears like a Yorkshire trooper and
laughs infectiously. He is still wearing his Dr Martens and his
“It’s a good accessory,” he smiles.
Asked how he feels about the global reaction to his now famous
official inauguration photo, Councillor Magid Magid’s response is as
unorthodox as the image itself.
“Mate… f*****g hell…” he tells The Independent, still apparently struggling for words. “It’s been surreal. Mad. I wasn’t expecting any of this.”
The 28-year-old’s election as the South Yorkshire city’s official
first citizen last week made headlines around the world. He has received
messages of goodwill from people as far and wide as New York and Syria.
ITV News anchor Charlene White declared on Twitter that she might be “a little bit in love”.
This is partly because of who he is and what he’s achieved.
Councillor Magid is not only the city’s youngest ever lord mayor – and
the first from the Green Party – he is also a Muslim former Somalian refugee who arrived in the UK at the age of five, unable to speak English.
And it is partly because of that picture. In it, amid the shadowy,
gilded confines of Sheffield’s Victorian Town Hall, he squats – complete
with ceremonial chain, Dr Martens boots and wide-eyed smile – high on a
“I’ve no idea why I got up there, mate,” he says. “It wasn’t planned.
It was just me being myself. There’ve been  lord mayors before and
I respect them all but I wanted to show I’ll be doing things
differently. It just came out of that. I wanted to say this town belongs
to all of us.”
That Councillor Magid – who once appeared on Channel 4 reality show Hunted – is different there is no doubt.
He was elected here after being nominated by his three Green Party
council colleagues. When I later ask one, Alison Teal, why they put him
forward, her response is simple. “He’s charming and magnetic,” she says.
“I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like him. He’s a born lord mayor.”
The main message he wants to get across during his year in post is one of inspiring others.
“If me doing this – as a black, Muslim immigrant – can spark someone
to go out and change their bit of the world, that’s my job done,” he
says. “That, and to get people talking about Sheffield, about what a
brilliant, diverse city it is.”
At his inauguration, he entered the chamber to Star Wars music and thanked his mum for “putting up with all my shit” growing up.
“I was a handful,” he explains today. “Typical teenager. The
important thing was thanking my mum because she’s the reason I’m here,
her courage and determination for a better life.”
It was his mother, Amina Deria, indeed, who took young Magid – along
with his older sister Hanan Mah – out of war torn Burao in northern
Somalia. After six months in an Ethiopian refugee camp, they arrived in
the Burngreave area of Sheffield where she worked as a cleaner.
“To me,” he says, “it’s always been home.”
He did well enough at school and, after some time out in which he
climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, went to the University of Hull to study
marine biology. There, he was elected president of the students’ union.
“I cared about issues but I was pretty naive about politics,” he
says. “I remember a hustings, someone asked if I was going to join a
picket line. I was thinking: ‘What the fuck is a picket line?’ But I
gambled and said, ‘Yeah, of course I am’, and there was a round of
Lord Mayor of Sheffield Magid Magid (Chris Saunders)
Around 2015, alarmed by the rise of Ukip and anti-immigration
rhetoric, he joined the Greens back in Sheffield where he was working in
digital marketing. He was elected to the city council a year later.
“This rising xenophobic language affects me and my loved ones,” he
explains. “There’s that expression that if you don’t do politics,
politics will do you. I just felt I couldn’t sit on the sidelines and
let that language go unchallenged. It legitimises racism and it needs to
be tackled. I wanted my voice in the debate. Local politics was a way
to do that.”
Among his main beliefs are devolved local power, free education, an end to PFI and the creation of a republic.
“I think Liz [Queen Elizabeth] is great,” he says. “F*****g amazing
woman. But hereditary heads of state? Come on. It’s outdated.”
Now, as lord mayor, he will, as convention dictates, act as a city
figurehead. “I had a white tie dinner last night,” he tells me. “I went
to hire the suit – £120! I was saying: ‘I want to hire it, not buy it.’”
But he plans to open the role up too. He promises to go to more
events involving underrepresented communities, and wants magicians and
musicians to perform in council meeting intervals – as a way of
encouraging more people to interact with local democracy.
Talking of which: trees. As a Green Party member, he is surprisingly consensual on Sheffield’s nationally notorious saga, which has seen the Labour authority cut down thousands of trees amid widespread protests.
“We all need to get together and find a solution,” he says. “Because
everyone involved – on both sides – wants the best for the city. It’s
just about how we get there.”
He speaks, I suggest, like someone who could go far in national politics. Might he become an MP?
“No, mate, no way,” he says. Then: “I don’t know, never say never… I
don’t think being an MP is the only way to make a difference but I never
have a plan.
“As long as I’m pushing myself and I feel I’m contributing to the
betterment of society, I’m happy. This time next year who knows? I could
be in a samba band. I’m just going with what happens.”