Charlie Swinbourne: The day I saw Nelson Mandela making a speech in Trafalgar Square

Posted on December 6, 2013

When I heard the sad news this morning that Nelson Mandela had passed away, my mind went back to a cold morning in London in February 2005, when I was lucky enough to see him making a speech to kick off the Make Poverty History campaign.

It seems incredible to think of now, but that day, while the square was full of the world’s press and Londoners who’d come to see him speak, it wasn’t jam packed. It wasn’t a squeeze to get in. Anyone could just walk along to hear him speak.

Maybe that was because it was a weekday, and a very frosty one at that. Or maybe the event hadn’t been highly publicised – I’d only found out because it was mentioned in a tiny paragraph in that morning’s Metro newspaper.

At the time I lived 20 minutes walk away, and I was unemployed. So I grabbed my camera and walked down there as quickly as I could, just in time to hear him speak.

I wish I could remember exactly what he said, and I’m not sure how much of it I could hear clearly, but I remember being awe-struck just by hearing his distinctive voice. To be honest, just seeing the man in the flesh was enough.  And his message – about ending poverty around the world – certainly came across with some force.

I later found out that it was in Trafalgar Square – with the South African embassy at its side – where people had protested for years against apartheid.

Here are my photos – which I’ve just dug out from the attic – from that morning.












Charlie Swinbourne is the editor of Limping Chicken, as well as being a journalist and award-winning scriptwriter. He writes for the Guardian and BBC Online, and as a scriptwriter, penned the films My SongComing Out and Four Deaf Yorkshiremen.

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