When I hear the name Galliano, I don’t really associate it with Streatham.
My first thought is of the tall thin bottle of Galliano, a sickly yellow Italian liqueur, that used to stand behind the bar in the pub my parents ran. It’s the main ingredient of a Harvey Wallbanger, which in the Iron Duke wasn’t the usual tipple of choice – a pint of best was more the thing. But my parents had to keep a small supply of such things in an unassuming Berkshire pub, and keep dusting them, just in case the cocktail set pranced in.
My second thought would be of the excellent journalist Joseph Galliano, who I used to have dealings with when I was a Labour press officer.
Only thirdly would come fashion designer John Galliano. I knew vaguely of his connection with Streatham before his whole shameful ‘I love Hitler’ drunken tirade blew made the news. Galliano’s Streathamite credentials have been much quoted in the past few days, though only in the off-hand way that Naomi Campbell is always mentioned by journalists as being ‘Streatham-born’ when she does something wrong. Galliano, when he transgresses, is written about as ‘Streatham-raised’.
It’s all a shorthand for ‘Isn’t he or she actually a bit of a bad ‘un, a bit common, dodgy, dangerous?’, which of course ends up characterising Streatham in the minds of people who don’t live here.
Simon Callow, the distinguished actor, is ‘Streatham-born’ but you don’t read about that very often, if at all, in coverage of his career. Perhaps it’s because he talks with a plummy accent. Perhaps because he hasn’t committed any offence – if he did, I imagine he’d be written up as ‘Streatham-born’ in every paper.
Streatham has, and has always had, many good and strong things to recommend it, not least of which today is its diverse and vibrant community. Streatham’s history, its past, is fascinating. Its present is promising, despite the recession. And its future is in the hands, not so much of local councillors like me, but of its young people. So it’s not fair to them that journalists persist, deliberately and lazily, in using and abusing Streatham as a badge of disrepute.
That said, what is John Galliano’s connection with Streatham anyway? We know, through the official blurb, that he arrived here from Gibraltar at the age of 6 in 1966. His father worked as a plumber, apparently in the area. The family seems to have moved quite soon after arriving in the UK, decamping to Brockley (Lewisham). So ‘Streatham-raised’ is therefore pretty tenuous. We know he attended St Anthony’s, a Roman Catholic primary in Peckham Rye (Southwark), some distance away. After that, Wilson’s Grammar School for Boys in Camberwell (Southwark). Thereafter, St Martins College of Art, also not in Streatham. So is he really all that connected with Streatham?
Galliano’s anti-semitic comments, made in a bar in Paris, were disgusting. We have two synagogues in Streatham, numerous churches and mosques. Streatham, a diverse place which is its strength, does not represent the mindset of people like John Galliano. As an openly gay man, he should also know and feel sorrow and anger for the 100,000 homosexuals imprisoned or locked away in mental institutions by the Nazis, and of the 15,000 who died in death camps wearing pink triangles. Being brought up a Catholic, he should feel sorrow and anger for the deaths of 3,000 Polish clergy at the hands of the Nazis. Above all, he should feel sorrow and anger at the fate of 6 million Jews.
It is obvious to me that living in the glittering, pampered bubble of high fashion in Paris, and being indulged for years in his behaviour, has been Galliano’s downfall, not any vague connection with SW2 or SW16.