I arrived at Heathrow airport on an overnight flight from Cape Town on 7 March 1996; a grey, drizzly and chilly morning. I remember looking out the South African Airways Boeing window thinking ‘Wow, I never knew it would be so green!’
Since then I’ve visited 27 countries and lived in London, Edinburgh, the USA (Boston and Kansas City), the middle East (UAE), Australia (Sydney and Melbourne), South Africa (Cape Town) and Amsterdam – yet somehow the UK always seemed home. Every time I flew back from somewhere and was met by a grumpy cabbie complaining about the weather, traffic and politics I couldn’t help smiling and feeling welcomed.
Because I spent so much time out of the country I did not meet the requirements for permanent residency and my application was denied twice. Then when I almost qualified the waiting period was extended from 4 to 5 years. There were times when I was disappointed, times when I was angry at ‘the system’ and thought of leaving the country and times when I was in total apathy and just could not be bothered.
Yet, for some reason I persisted.
I changed jobs so I could travel less and be home more. I waited until I met the requirements and applied again. Maybe because this felt like home, maybe because my Dad encouraged me to stick it out, maybe just because it felt like the right thing to do.
A few weeks ago I received a letter from the UK Border Agency saying that I had been granted British Citizenship and so this morning I drove to the beautiful Weybridge Registry Office in Surrey to attend my ‘ceremony’.
I noticed the same grey and drizzly weather of that Thursday over 14 years ago although at 20 degrees today was a lot warmer than that March morning in ’96. I was met with the cheer and joy of a wedding party (I do love weddings) before it was my turn. The short, respectful and professional ceremony touched me more than I could have imagined. In all honesty it started out as just something else to do in a very busy day, but hearing the words I realised what an honour it is to be bestowed the citizenship of a country.
With all it’s woes and budget deficit and weather (just as well I like rain) I love living in this country and I’m hugely grateful for the privilege to live in a place where I feel safe to be who I am.
I know that some people hate living here and they only do so to get away from where they’re from. Thankfully I love the land, the people, the diversity, the opportunities, the technology, and yes, even the weather. It’s not perfect for sure, but then nowhere is – whilst we have expectations of how things ‘should be’, disappointment always follows.
I look forward to continue contributing to this country that has finally and officially opened it doors on me and bestowed on me the rights and responsibilities of a British Citizen.
And this is where I cannot resist but say ‘And God save the Queen!’