John Boyega: Damilola Taylor’s ‘dream to be more’ spurred me on to Hollywood

Star Wars actor John Boyega
Boyega has for the first time spoken publicly about the death of his childhood friend - VARIETY

Star Wars actor John Boyega has said the murder of his childhood friend Damilola Taylor was a “life-changing event” that spurred him on to become a film star.

Speaking publicly for the first time about the 10-year-old’s death in November 2000, Boyega said a poem written by Damilola, read out at his funeral, had shown him that another child from the same environment “dreamed to be more”.

Boyega and his sister, Grace, were among the last people to see Damilola alive, before he was slashed with a broken bottle and left to die while on his way home from a library in Peckham, south-east London.

The 32-year-old actor, who played Finn in the Star Wars saga, said he had previously been reluctant to talk about his friend’s murder, but felt compelled to do so following the death of Damilola’s father, Richard Taylor, on Saturday.

Speaking to John Wilson on BBC Radio 4’s Last Word, Boyega said: “I definitely think Damilola’s tragic murder has definitely shaped me through the years and just affected my perspective on certain things, and it definitely affected the community too.”

Damilola Taylor
Damilola was just 10 years old when he was attacked with a bottle and left to die - PA

Reflecting on the poem Damilola had written, he said: “It was during the time of the funeral his dad had read the poem that Damilola had written down for himself. And that was a poem that spoke about what Damilola wanted to achieve, how far he wanted his dreams to spread, who he wanted to impact and touch.

“I found that quite profound because I was just kind of like, ‘Man you’re so young, why are you even thinking about that kind of stuff?’ I’m here, wondering when the ice cream van is going to pull up and why he’s an hour late from Monday.”

Boyega added: “You’re thinking about all this stuff that you’re going to do and how you’re going to use your skillset to impact the world. And I guess that, just amongst other things, just gave birth to this mentality that I had.

“What is truly my dream? Do I have the guts to identify what my dream is? Am I too young to identify my dream and work towards it? After reading that poem, I was just like, ‘Yeah, I have no excuse. I want to be a movie star.’

“And not just because I want to be [one], but because someone else like Damilola Taylor, in my environment too, dreamed to be more. And I think that’s worth it. And it definitely has impacted me till today.”

John Boyega as Finn in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
The actor playing Finn in 2019 movie Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker - JONATHAN OLLEY/DISNEY/LUCASFILM LTD

Damilola’s father, who died aged 75 after a long illness, devoted much of his life following his son’s murder to campaigning against knife crime, setting up the Damilola Taylor Trust with his wife Gloria, who died in 2008.

Boyega said Mr Taylor had been “a man that was for the people and for the community” who “turned his tragic loss into something triumphant”.

Asked if he had spoken publicly about Damilola’s murder before, Boyega said: “I haven’t and on purpose too. I’m quite private in general, but with this specifically... it’s that celebrity thing of not wanting to get in front of very real-life news. But on Richard Taylor’s passing, I just was motivated to speak up.”

Boyega praised the work of the Damilola Taylor Trust and said: “I’ve been a big beneficiary of the work that they’ve been doing.”

The actor from Peckham said he and his sister used to imagine what Damilola might have been like today. He was convinced his friend would have grown up to be a “handsome young man with great opportunities and great morals”.

“Whatever his chosen field would be, he’d definitely still be funny,” he said. “But I think that he would have grown up to be someone great and someone that is an important part of our community.”

John Boyega with his sister, Grace
Boyega pictured with his sister, Grace, in 2017 - MICHAEL TULLBERG/GETTY

After three crown court trials, Damilola’s killers, brothers Ricky and Danny Preddie, were jailed in 2006.

Boyega said Damilola’s murder had shaped the man he is today.

“From the hours we left him in Peckham to the hours when I went home, and then the police was at our door and there was a whole investigation that we were involved in, [it] was definitely life changing for me, definitely altered my perspective,” he said.

“To think that somebody as young as me could pass away in such a horrific way was hard for me to understand or comprehend.

“My sister, Grace, in particular, who was very, very close with Damilola, went through a lot, and my dad had to front that and try to protect her in that journey. It was definitely a lot for everybody to take.”

Last Word with John Wilson airs on BBC Radio 4 at 4pm on Friday.