23-year-old Nigerian heiress Cuppy posing outside Harrods
Following an episode of Made In Chelsea recently an advert came on E4 for ‘Lagos to London: Britain’s new super-rich” and the voice over described a show about a group of people whose wealth and lavish style would dwarf that of the Chelsea gang who usually fill our screens : enter the super wealth of Nigeria’s richest.
Here was a programme which appeared to be presenting a tired and saturated theme – the opportunity for viewers to vicariously enter the lives of a wealthy minority. With shows like of Keeping Up with the Kardashians and the various offshoots of Real Housewives and endless other reality TV shows of a similar vein, which follow the rich from all walks of life – from mob wives to Essex youngsters – filling our screens daily there was one key thing which ‘Lagos to London’ promised that would set it apart from the rest: here we were going to see rich Africans, something so rarely portrayed in mainstream media.
American dramas, reality shows and, to a lesser extent, films – from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air to The Real Housewives of Atlanta and Love & Hip Hop – have familiarised us to some extent with the image of rich blacks on screen but nearly always these are Americans.
To this day the image of Africa which is popularised around the world and often propelled by the media is solely that of a poor continent, lagging behind Europe and the West, riddled with a series of misfortunes hindering progress including corruption, disease and a low levels of education; it is a consistently negative portrayal which has not escaped the predominating ideas of the colonial era.
Last night’s ‘Lagos to London’ was refreshing – indeed necessary and overdue – as a program on prime time British television which went some way to dispelling this myth and showing that there is much more to Africa and Africans, who of course cannot be painted with a single brush.
A very interesting moment in the show comes right at the beginning when 19-year-old Nigerian Temi explains what London is to her and other wealthy Nigerians: “you have the luxury shopping, you have the luxury cars, the luxury homes so it’s really like a playground you know, spend the money you have worked hard making.” The notion that London and in turn England is a “playground” for wealthy Africans, where they can splash their cash and have fun, is brilliantly modern and really encapsulates just how much things are changing and how the colonial hierarchy is being shaken up, in this instance turned on its head. In a scene where Cuppy has her extremely lavish Marie Antoinette era themed graduation party and she and her family are all dressed in the old-style European attire while being served by white waiting staff in one of London’s most prestigious venues further reinforces how having wealthy Africans visible in London is helping to dismantle the stale, commonly-held view of Nigeria, and more broadly Africa, as an ubiquitously impoverished place.
Later in the show when self-made multi-millionaire Alexander Amosu, whose business involves providing unique, extravagant items ranging from diamond encrusted buttons to a suit with gold woven into it, to the super-rich, reveals that he thinks the African market offers him better prospects than that in England and that he is therefore going to make the African wealthy his primary target market really cements and makes perceptible the changing global positions of Nigeria and Britain in the twenty-first century, post-colonial era. As Amosu explains: “I say to myself ‘could I be a billionaire in this country?’ and the answer’s no but I know a hundred percent that if I go back to Africa, Nigeria, that opportunity is at my feet.”
The show avoided becoming just another show where viewers have the wealth of an elite minority shoved down their throats in a completely tasteless way – as is the case with the to name just two – by providing interesting back stories and exploring broader themes such as the immigrant experience, globalisation, and perceptions of Africa.
Part of the show’s success was its decision to focus on a variety of people who although they occupy the same social class are quite different – male and female, younger and older, self-made and heirs and heiresses; this prevented the stories being repetitive.
Take for example 23-year-old Cuppy, the aspiring DJ, who is an heiress and is initially presented as the stereotypical spoilt child. At the beginning of the programme it seems that Cuppy, and the show as a whole, are going to be predictable and entirely superficial as she jokes with “I don’t think I’m use to opening champagne myself” and then toasts to “health and wealth” and pauses before adding “and happiness.” Telling the audience how she loves shopping at Harrods and later posing in a £1,000 pair of pink Swarovski encrusted headphones which she says she has fifteen pairs of, at times it is difficult to take Cuppy too seriously at first but as the show goes on a more interesting, thoughtful character emerges. On the surface a very confident woman who has it all, Cuppy later reveals that one of her greatest fears is that she will never escape her father’s shadow and be respected, admired and recognised in her own right – a brave confession of a fear which must haunt most heirs and heiresses. Along with a clip were she is riding in a bullet-proof car through the streets of Lagos and she explains the joy at not having to fear kidnappings or robberies while walking around London it becomes clear that this young lady, despite her privileged position, is still vulnerable on different levels and having to fight her own battles. She does not seem to expect thing to fall into her lap and seeing her nervousness before performing and hearing her talk about her hope to inspire other young Nigerian women that they can chase their dream career make her more and more endearing as the documentary goes on.
Then there is Alexander, mentioned already, who has built something from nothing. He revisits the council flat where he grew up and times were hard and recalls with admiration how much his mum – who despite having a relatively high quality of life in Nigeria came to the UK and worked menial jobs – sacrificed to secure him a better future. Alexander is a humorous character (joking about his disbelief when he first saw over a million pounds in his bank account so asking other people to look) who is infectiously positive. At the end of the programme as he prepares to fully launch his business in Africa he considers that “it’s an exciting time for [him]” and what Channel 4 has captured in ‘Lagos to London’ is that it is an exciting time now for Africa, in particular Nigeria, both of which are on the rise. Certainly there are major challenges to face and which will continue to hinder progress across Africa but we need more positivity and more media coverage like this which focuses on what innovations, growth, fresh ideas, wealth and success stories are coming out of Africa right now because Africa’s potential, like that of the stars of the show, is immense.
Further viewing on Lagos and London: