A short story about how I thought I was going to meet the royal family, but instead ended up in a park in South London
May 31st, 2019, Croydon, London, United Kingdom
London was never on my bucket list. Literally, none of the United Kingdom ever sparked an excitement or, “need to go ASAP,” attitude out of me. This is ignorant as hell, but I just pictured the UK as a land filled with a bunch of old white guys in 18th-century curlycue wigs, tights, scrolls of parchment that had scribbled plans and plots of how to steal land. In 7th grade, I was Mary, Queen of Scots (or Mary Stuart) in my school play. Queen Elizabeth I of England had me executed, (the scene was set with a dim backlight, I got to make this dramatic monologue before kneeling for my execution, the curtains dropped with a sudden blackout and a loud thud from backstage, super spooky and dramatic,) maybe that’s why I’ve always been a hater.
Listen, I admit to my narrow mindedness, and I held myself accountable enough to know that in order for me to reach my goal of visiting every country, I was going to have to get to Great Britain at some point. I was scrolling on Instagram and saw a post about an outdoor musical festival happening in London with a multitude of artists that I liked. I saved the post and figured I’d circle back around to it.
Alexis and I landed at Heathrow airport Thursday morning, and set out for a small Airbnb we rented for the weekend. We sat in the first row, on the top floor of the double-decker bus, and calmly tried to keep it together. We were so thrown off by, of course, the bus driving on the opposite side of the road, and the speed at which the driver was whipping this huge vehicle around bends in these very narrow streets. I had no idea how big and spread out London is, it took us over an hour to reach our destination. We were greeted by our Airbnb host, who asked us if we were sure we meant to book at their place. She actually was confused at how we even found her part of town, “Isn’t this Croydon?” I asked, “Than we’re in the right place.”
Friday morning we got up and ready, not sure what to expect about the day’s events. We hopped on a train that took us into Lloyd Park, where we disembarked and made our way into the festival area. The set up was huge, there were food vendors, bars, and multiple stages. I guess we came on the early side, the crowd was rather minimal, but that completely changed within a few hours. Midway through the event, Alexis and I were in the front row of the main stage, keeping up with the massive crowd that formed behind us and just taking it all in. Taking it all in included jumping up and down and participating in the crowd hype, to our new favorite UK songs. One guy, in particular, caught our fancy. The man was tall, wore a black tactical vest, and was soft-spoken. He became an entirely different person when his favorite song rang out.
There were a few UK artists that we had never heard of, but we became fake fans instantly because of the crowd response. Nipsey Hussle had been listed as a headliner originally (RIP). The festival presented a beautiful and emotional dedication to the late rapper, and it was an impactful reminder of how precious life is. We closed the night out to Nas and made our way back to our BnB.
Small side story: Nas was on my flight from LAX to JFK about two weeks later. He’s super cool and down to earth in person, didn’t eat our airplane food, and spent the entire flight reading a book. Very strange, in 2020 books are rare sights you know. I mentioned the festival, and he thanked me for traveling all the way there just to see him. I felt a little guilty, I actually left during his set to try to beat the crowd, but I guess what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him. Sorry, Nas.
Alexis left for the US, Saturday morning. Yes. Flight attendants do ridiculous things like two-day Euro trips. Actually, she had gone back and forth on coming in the first place, but we decided to, “just do it.” I chose to stay, and I went to the festival solo on Saturday. Traveling with a friend can be really enjoyable, but there is something so special about doing things out of your comfort zone on your own. The lineup for Saturday had some fantastic artists that I didn’t want to miss, so it didn’t take much convincing for me to decide to stay.
I don’t even know whose set it was, but at some point, I had an entirely new pack of friends. I met Oluwaseun, who today I call my UK sister, possibly during Wande Coal’s performance. She’s just a smidge taller than me, so we instantly connected as fellow tall mates still wanting to be front and center of a festival, blocking out all the vertically challenged views. I was excited to see Maleek Berry, and she was waiting for WizKid. We stuck together, got pushed around as the crowd quadrupled from the day before, and sung our hearts out together.
So the funny thing about this entire experience, remember my ignorance on what I believed the demographics of London were? The majority of the festival-goers were of African and Afro-Caribbean descent. I saw no man in wigs, tights, or buttoned trousers. I don’t think I saw any my entire short weekend in the UK. I left Sunday morning, landed in JFK around 2 pm, took a nap, and worked a flight to Zürich, Switzerland the same day. I was on such a high from the festival, I spent the day wandering Zürich playing Afrobeats around town.
I mentioned that Seun and I became friends. I actually traveled back to London a couple of months later to meet up with her, and we went to see WizKid in concert again at the O2 (and he brought out Burna Boy, it made my whole trip!) As I said, there is something special about traveling alone, and a major part of that is it forces you to be social with new people. To date, I’ve been back to London a few times and I’ve always left with a new friend. I’ve completely fallen in love with the place and the people, and am hoping to call it home one day. If you’re still second-guessing visiting a place alone, don’t, literally just go. Oh, and definitely go see my peeps in Croydon. Whenever I visit London, the locals get a real laugh out of me saying Croydon is my favorite part of London.