Sheffield's Youngest Ever Mayor Is Everything Middle England Hates
Photos by Daniel Dylan Wra
"I'm everything the Daily Mail probably hates," Magid Magid announced this month. Given that the Daily Mail's hate list is as long as time itself, this may seem hyperbolic – but Magid really does tick just about every past and present Middle England moral-panic box.
Sheffield's new Lord Mayor is black, a Muslim, an immigrant, a Green Party member, a millennial – the city's youngest ever Lord Mayor, in fact, at 28 – and he came to this country as a refugee.
Unsurprisingly, he's already made quite the impression. He chose to soundtrack his Mayor-making ceremony with the Imperial March from Star Wars; his rap-squat pose in his official mayoral portrait went viral; and articles soon cropped up around the world with the word "zaddy" thrown around liberally. Even the overflowing cesspit that is the Mail Online comments section struggled for insults. "I feel his pose is disrespectful," remarked James from Surrey.
Seizing the opportunity to cover a rare piece of positive news, I arrange a meeting with Magid in his new office.
Inviting me in, he laughs at the palatial ostentatiousness of it all. "It's been mad, mate," he tells me of the last couple of weeks and the interest he's garnered. This is something that becomes evident when we leave the town hall to take photographs, as he is stopped numerous times by the public. Sheffield haven't just welcomed him; it seems they have wholeheartedly embraced him.
At five years old, Magid moved to Sheffield from war-torn Somalia, after a six-month stint in an Ethiopian refugee camp. His memories of this period are scant; he couldn’t speak a word of English upon his arrival in Sheffield, but soon made friends and began to communicate through body language, gradually learning English.
Growing up in Burngreave – one of Sheffield's most economically-deprived areas – in the mid-2000s, Magid says he had some bad influences in his early teens.
"I didn't have much in the way of a male role model, so your role models become the people you see around you – and there was a lot of negative influences," he says. "It is easy to become a product of your own environment, and a lot of my environment was negative. So I was a bit of a pain in the arse for a while."
Rather than following these negative influences, Magid lost himself in hip-hop, daydreaming and the internet. "I would just spend hours online," he recalls. "Music was a very big part of my life. I used Kazaa and Limewire to illegally download music and make my own CDs. I'd sell them in school for £2. They were called Magid's Master Mix. I think I got up to volume four." His daydreaming led to him ordering online holiday brochures just to study the countries and imagine his travels there.
As an older teenager, he turned these daydreams into reality, working two jobs in warehouses to save money to travel to places like Saudi Arabia, Brazil and Kilimanjaro – the last of which he flew to by himself, before finding a local to take him up the mountain.
"There's always been an element of taking risks in what I do," he tells me. "I was a bit reckless, but it used to excite me. I've always been someone who just throws themselves into the deep end and thinks, 'Right, let's work from here.' It's a case of me pushing myself out of my comfort zone and getting stuck in. That's where opportunities happen, and I just take those opportunities – and I'm now fucking Lord Mayor of Sheffield! My friends are just like: 'How the fuck has this happened? How is this possible?'"
Even though he's served two years as a Green Party councillor in the city, Magid suggests he's been fortuitous to land the role. "There's a lot of luck involved," he says. "I'm not going to sit here and say it's all down to hard work – that's bullshit. If only hard work was involved in reaching accomplishments, then every woman in Africa would have got something amazing out of their hard work."
Magid's political interests grew while at University in Hull during the rise of UKIP.
"They were a catalyst to it all," he says. "Although, I've always wanted to be involved and to contribute – so even if UKIP hadn't come around, I still think I would have got involved somehow." He feels that the party have left a dark shadow over UK politics, but it's one he's hopeful of lifting. "They exploited people's disengagement with politics and their frustration," he says. "There was a lot of rhetoric around fear and hate. I believe people wanted change, and UKIP knew that, so they began to say things like, 'The reason you can't get a house or can't find school places is all because of immigrants.' When, actually, it was failed government policy.
"They were smart, competent people in that respect. They were competent at being evil. They have left lasting damage, but it's given us opportunity – there's light coming from the darkness. I'm hopeful we can win the fight, and thank god they are a dying breed. But it's not just the UK, look at Trump."
So will Magid be welcoming President Trump to the UK for his state visit? He laughs hard before being able to answer me. "God, no! I definitely would be supporting those protesting. Honestly, he's a piece of shit. He has legitimised all these racists and xenophobes."
Currently without a partner, Magid is offering up his plus ones to various Mayoral events to members of the public, with a focus on encouraging young people to get involved in politics. "We really need to value young people a lot more," he says. "I'd love it if politics became part of the curriculum, to get more people engaged at a very young age so that when they get to voting age they feel included and have the skills to sift through all the bullshit."
Less than a week into his role, Magid has already found himself on the Daily Politics Show shutting down Jacob Rees-Mogg's bogus talk about how "brilliant and refreshing" Magid's story is. "Of course I didn't buy it – it was fake," he says. "So I felt I had the responsibility to state that his government’s policies don't allow these stories to actually happen.”
As for what lies ahead? "God knows what I could be doing in two years' time," he says. "I could be on the dole... I literally have no idea, and that really excites me. Regardless of what I'm doing, as long as I feel like I’m pushing myself and taking myself out of my comfort zone – and, most importantly, contributing positively to those around me – then I'm happy."