Whether in or out of prison, Nelson Mandela was a crowd-puller.


Whether in or out of prison, Nelson Mandela was a crowd-puller.

The man dubbed the Unofficial President of the World could bring adoring crowds out onto the streets like no-one else on the planet.

Both rich and poor flocked to see him in Trafalgar Square in London in 1996.

And thousands more came to the square again when the frail statesman launched the Make Poverty History campaign nine years later.

An earlier generation, who knew him only through grainy black and white photographs, stood on the same spot for freedom vigils during his 27 years in jail.

It was a joyous, colourful scene when he stepped out on to the balcony at South Africa House in July 1996, two years after becoming South Africa’s President.

On that emotional state visit, he thanked the British people for their support in destroying apartheid.

He said: “I wish I had big pockets because I love each and everyone of you. I would like to put each and everyone of you in my pocket and return with you to South Africa.”

Many had waited hours in the summer sun to catch a glimpse. Many were in tears. Huge cheers erupted.

Early that morning 12ft deep crowds had gathered in Brixton, south London, to see him.

The Prince of Wales was also part of the walkabout, but it was obvious who was the main attraction.

The pomp and ceremony of the state visit quickly disappeared in scenes unprecedented for a foreign leader, as good-natured crowds leapt over security barriers to try and touch Mandela.

In the post-apartheid era, he became a tireless traveller, making up for his years of isolation.

He relished forging foreign friendships and the world’s foremost power brokers competed to host grand receptions in his honour even though his speeches were often controversial.

Mandela was said to enjoy a great friendship with the Queen. His first visit to Britain was in April 1990 as deputy president of the African National Congress.

His first meeting with the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was in July of that year. Just ahead of that meeting, he said Britain should start negotiating with the IRA, leaving Thatcher’s Government ruffled. But their talks ended with Mr Mandela describing her as “a woman I can do business with”.

They differed in attitude to economic sanctions against Pretoria and the use of violence by the ANC, but they found common ground in their opposition to apartheid.

In May 1993, Mandela shone a light on Britain’s own racial problems when he met the grieving parents of murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence.

Mandela, who had addressed both Houses of Parliament the night before, said: “We are deeply touched by the brutality of this murder, even though it is commonplace in our country. It seems black lives are cheap.

“The evil of racism is taking away innocent lives. The problems of racism and fascism is threatening the whole world.”

He received numerous awards. Glasgow gave him the Freedom of the City in 1981 while he was in his 17th year of imprisonment.

By the time he collected the award in October 1993, nine regions - Aberdeen, Dundee, Glasgow, Greenwich, Islwyn, Hull, Midlothian, Newcastle and Sheffield - had granted him the honour.

Mandela was awarded the Freedom of the City of Dublin while in prison in September 1988, almost 18-years before local hero Bob Geldof.

He was named the greatest humanitarian hero of the past 60 years in a poll by the Red Cross in 2004. More than a quarter of the 2,000 people surveyed chose him ahead of Princess Diana, followed by Bob Geldof, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Kofi Annan and Tony Blair, and Winston Churchill.

An appearance at the opening of the June 2003 Dublin Special Olympics triggered the kind of excitement last seen when Pope John Paul II visited Ireland in 1979 when a million people attended Mass in Phoenix Park.

Rock legend Bono raced on stage to hail Mandela as 85,000 fans raised the roof in Croke Park. Bono dedicated U2’s classic anthem Pride to the great man.

Mandela listened to top Irish bands in concert, danced his trademark African jig of joy and received a standing ovation as he returned to his seat.

Despite officially retiring in June 2004, his charity work for Aids victims and anti-poverty campaigns saw him continue to clock up the miles.

In February 2005, Mandela, introduced by Bob Geldof as “the Unofficial President of the World”, returned to Trafalgar Square to ask rich countries such as Britain to help make poverty history.

Ahead of addressing finance ministers from the G7 industrialised countries later that week, he told the crowds: “Poverty is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity, it’s an act of justice.”

He was back in London in 2007 when his statue joined those of other great leaders such as Sir Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Disraeli in Parliament Square.

Lord Attenborough, director of the anti-apartheid film Cry Freedom, and Wendy Woods, the widow of newspaper editor Donald Woods, campaigned for the statue.

It was the brainchild of Mr Woods, a committed anti-apartheid activist forced to flee his country with his wife and five children and come to the UK as a refugee.

And in August of that year Mr Mandela and his wife Graca Machel joined the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown at the unveiling of the 9ft-high bronze.

Talking to crowds who gathered for the unveiling, Mr Mandela said: “Though this statue is of one man, it should in actual fact symbolise all of those who have resisted oppression, especially in my country.”

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