David Adjaye is hailed as the UK’s most inspirational black figure by the 2013 PowerList. Photograph: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian
David Adjaye, the architect chosen to design Washington DC’s $500 million National Museum of African American History and Culture, has topped a list of Britain’s most influential black people, ahead of double Olympic gold medalist Mo Farah and “The Wire” star Idris Elba.
In the sixth edition of the annual PowerList, the top 100 people regarded as role models in their fields, the Tanzanian-born founder of Adjaye Associates is hailed as an inspirational figure who saw off financial crisis during the recession to become one of the country’s most high-profile architects.
At No 2 is Pat McGrath, a make-up artist from Northampton who has worked with designers including Prada and Armani. Farah is third and at No 5 is Damon Buffini, the former chairman of the private equity firm Permira. Also in the top 10 are John Sentamu, the outspoken archbishop of York, and Chuka Umunna, the telegenic Labour MP and shadow business secretary.
Michael Eboda, the editor who began the PowerList, said the initial idea was to show that “there was more to the black community than footballers and entertainers”. “Since then it’s taken on a life of its own,” he said. “What we’ve realised is this is about role models primarily … It’s become more about showing youngsters that with a bit of hard work and dedication this is what you can do. We feel the easiest way of showing somebody what’s possible is by showing them somebody who’s already done it, who maybe looks like them and has come from a similar background as them.”
Eboda said about 20,000 copies of the PowerList 2013 would be sent to schools across the UK.
The qualification for selection on the list was “the ability to alter events and change lives in a positive way”, Eboda said. It’s not about how much money someone has but about how much influence they have.”
He said the list was a useful tool in smashing stereotypes.
“The truth is most people who are on screen and most footballers are not that influential when you judge it by that definition. They probably get paid a good sum of money and they’re probably quite famous and well-known. But if you look at people who really … make things happen it tends not to be them. It tends to be people who are behind the scenes.”
This year, figures who have previously topped the list, such as Tidjane Thiam, the chief executive of the Prudential insurance group, Baroness Scotland, Baroness Amos and the billionaire philanthropist Mo Ibrahim, have been moved to a Hall of Fame to make way for new names. Also in 2013’s top 10 are businessman Ken Olisa, lawyer Sandie Okoro, and Karen Blackett, the chief executive of MediaCom.
In 2009 Adjaye agreed a company voluntary arrangement with creditors to prevent his business collapsing and he has since consolidated his reputation as a creative showman and “starchitect” to celebrity clients. Eboda said he was inspirational not only for his achievements but his comeback of the past three years. Earlier this year he was present at the ground breaking ceremony of the African American museum on the National Mall in Washington DC, which was first proposed by black Civil War veterans nearly a century ago.
In 2005, Adjaye incurred the wrath of the columnist and broadcaster Janet Street-Porter over problems with her house. She later wrote that she dreamed “of ritually disemboweling” him “before mopping up the stormwater in my living room with his designer sweaters”. Adjaye, the son of a Ghanaian diplomat who came to Britain at the age of nine, said the row was a shame but that the problems had not been due to his designs.
He is expected to attend a reception at Downing Street on Thursday to mark Black History Month. Writing in the PowerList, David Cameron said: “We should never underestimate the power of role models. When teenagers see high achievers who look like them, who have reached the top in law, business, politics, they’re going to think: ‘I can do that; I can go far too.'”
1. David Adjaye, architect
2. Pat McGrath, global creative design director, Procter & Gamble
3. Mo Farah, Olympic double gold medalist
4. Ken Olisa, chairman, Restoration Partners, non-executive director, Thomson Reuters
5. Damon Buffini, philanthropist/private equity magnate
6. Sandie Okoro, global general counsel, Barings Asset Management
7 Karen Blackett, chief executive, MediaCom
8. Chuka Umunna, shadow business secretary
9. John Sentamu, archbishop of York
10. Idris Elba, actor/producer
article by Lizzy Davies via guardian.co.uk