The street where I grew up: Omid Djalili, 56
The street where I grew up: Omid Djalili, 56, award-winning comedian and actor shares memories of Kelso Place, Kensington, London
I was raised in a block of flats in a small cul-de-sac called Kelso Place in Kensington, west London. It was a very middle-class area.
The other kids in our street were the children of foreign diplomats from the neighbouring embassies and I’m ashamed to say I made fun of their poor English. When one of them said, ‘Don’t make laugh of him,’ meaning don’t make fun of my brother, we all fell about giggling.
In contrast, down the street a little pathway took you to SW7, where the hard kids lived. One of them terrorised me, and I once hit him with a water balloon which exploded on his head.
He never forgave me. When I was 19, I bumped into him on Kensington High Street and he shoved me. He’d held a grudge since the 1970s.
Omid Djalili, 56, (pictured) award-winning comedian and actor shares memories of Kelso Place, Kensington, London
I was an extrovert child and organised all the street games – from cricket and football to an extreme version of hide and seek which covered such a wide area that a single game would last up to three hours.
My parents, who’d come here from Iran in 1958, let me play outside for hours because they trusted the English. They’d started a new life because my mother, a dress designer for the famous Iranian singer Googoosh, had this romantic idea of making dresses in London.
They’d intended to go back to Iran, which horrified me and my older brother and sister, but they stayed on, and there was no question of returning after the Islamic Revolution in 1979 because my family were Baha’is, a persecuted minority who were rounded up and killed.
My father had been a celebrated news photographer in Iran, but made a new career in England taking in sick Iranian lodgers who’d travelled to the UK to get medical assistance. I had to give up my bedroom to the guests and slept on the couch in the living room.
Omid (front left) with his mother behind him and friends. He’s in the jumper he wore for a year
My parents just put a blanket over me while they played backgammon until 1am. I became fluent in Persian because I hung around with the adults, and by the age of eight nobody could beat me at backgammon.
Not having a bedroom meant I had nowhere to be, so I became pretty much a street urchin. My parents were so busy looking after the guests that they took their eye off the ball.
I wore the same jumper and jeans every day for a year. A teacher sent a note saying, ‘Your child is very smelly. Do you need some help with hygiene?’
My mother was mortified and said, ‘I’m a seamstress. This won’t happen again.’ Sure enough, the next day I went to school in a suit, so everybody made fun of me because I’d gone from being the worst-dressed, smelliest boy to the most overdressed and sweetest-smelling.
I’d like to stress that my parents loved me. But they’d look out the window, see me playing and assume I wouldn’t come to harm.
When you’ve been raised on a couch and had no privacy, you long for solitude. So, when I got a place at the University of Ulster, I rented a seaside cottage, bunked off my lectures, and went for long walks instead.
Even now, when an audience gives me a standing ovation I tell them I only do this job to heal the wounds of my childhood because I need the laughter of strangers to validate my existence. That makes them clap even more.
- Omid Djalili is touring the UK in The Good Times Tour until December and performing at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August. For tickets and more information visit omidnoagenda.com
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