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‘I am so proud of Jamaicans in England'

PATRIOTIC: Oliver Samuels

FOR YEARS, he has been coming to the UK to deliver his unique and hilarious brand of comedy. So it goes without saying that Jamaican comedy star Oliver Samuels is no stranger to Britain – and in particular, to the British Jamaican audience.

Having performed throughout the UK in a host of theatrical shows including Guava Jelly, It’s A Dancehall Ting, and most recently, Who A Di Don, the much-loved performer continues to excite and entertain British Jamaicans – and wider audiences too – with his sharp wit, quick-fire delivery and generally comedic antics.

But the love shown to him by Jamaicans in the UK is by no means one-way. Samuels sends that appreciation right back to his UK fans.

“I am absolutely proud to be Jamaican and I will do anything in my power to promote the Jamaican brand,” said the comedian, during his recent trip to he UK.

“And while we’re talking about pride, I would like to say that I am so proud of the Jamaicans living in England because I feel there is a greater hype and sense of pride about the 50th year of independence amongst Jamaicans in England, than there is amongst those in Jamaica. The feeling here is really nice.

“I really want to thank the generations of Jamaicans here in the UK for their continued support. And I pray that we, as inhabitants of that little piece of rock, will make them even more proud and enable them to say, ‘even though I no longer live there’ or ‘even though I wasn’t born there, my roots are deeply embedded in the soil of Jamaica.’”

It’s perhaps fitting that the 63-year-old should speak of Jamaican soil, considering he knows of it all too well. Hailing from the area of Tremolesworth in the Jamaican parish of St. Mary, Samuels recalls growing up in impoverished conditions, where many were forced to trail barefoot through muddy conditions.

In fact, Samuels says it was his desire to get out of poverty that sparked his sense of ambition.

“Having to walk in the mud, having to deal with the unsanitary conditions of the public latrines – it was horrible and unhygienic, and ever since I was a young child, I knew this wasn’t the life I wanted for myself when I grew up.

“I realised very quickly that the only way out of poverty is either being a genius in some sense of the word, or education and ambition. I certainly am not a genius – I don’t have that gift [laughs]. But I had ambition so I had to try and work with that.”

The work paid off. After moving to Kingston and enrolling in the Jamaica Theatre School, the budding performer worked his way up through the ranks of theatre, before finding fame with his hilarious comedy television series, Oliver At Large.

(Anyone remember episodes including Mad Max, where Samuels’ character is sent to prison, or Flight 007 when he travels on an aeroplane for the first time?)

Having made a name for himself on both the screen and the stage, Samuels is widely regarded as one of Jamaica’s greatest comedic exports. But while he is proud to represent his homeland through his comedy, Samuels views the political landscape of his country as no laughing matter.

“I am happy that I have lived to see Jamaica reach 50 years of independence,” he says. “But how independent are we and what have we achieved in the last 50 years?

“Of course, in terms of education and infrastructure, we have made some strides. But my great concern is the political landscape of my country. We have too many dishonest politicians and I think the system is there to protect them. There are so many people in Jamaica who have gone into politics poor and come out rich and fat – to the detriment of our poor nation. There are a few people in politics who may have tried to do good. But it doesn’t seem that the majority are.”

However, Samuels says he is “optimistic” that the tide is turning for the better in Jamaican politics, and that the country’s current ruling government, led by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, is moving in the right direction.

“For the first time, it would seem that this administration is listening and they are attending to the promises they made during the election campaign. And the Jamaican people are being more vigilant and more vocal, which is wonderful. I do believe that is a positive thing and I am optimistic."

“Looking back at the last 50 years, I’m not sure if there are many of our past leaders that history will be kind to. So I’m hoping – with a certain amount of trepidation – that the current administration will allow people to look back and say, ‘well... dis administration never do so bad.’”

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