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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 18 March, 2003, 06:36 GMT
Sheriff dismisses 'villain' tag

By Brady Haran
BBC News Online

Ali Asghar talks on mobile phone at the Robin Hood statue
Ali Asghar uses a mobile phone instead of bow and arrow
It's a sunny afternoon in Nottingham and tourists are milling around the statue of Robin Hood.

A chauffeur-driven Bentley appears, rolling through the pedestrian-packed area and parking alongside the monument with an almost ominous air.

The rear door swings open to reveal an immaculately groomed man in a dark suit who peruses the scene through steely eyes.

Meet the Sheriff of Nottingham - world-famous super villain and arch rival of Robin Hood.

Ali Asghar is thought to be the 938th person to hold the office, although there is some doubt because of a fire which destroyed historical records.

The title may be synonymous with the evil man who ruled the area in the era of Robin Hood, but today the role is ceremonial and ambassadorial.

Mr Asghar, 48, was elected to the post by fellow members of Nottingham City Council in May last year.

Disappointing landmark
Ali Asghar at Nottingham Castle

His year-long tenure is drawing to a close.

"I guess it is a role with a bit of fun attached to it," Mr Asghar said, recalling an official function which required him to ride through town on a horse.

"People know the old sheriff was a hated, evil guy... so I have to explain to them that I am really a good guy."

Mr Asghar's case for being a "good guy" is strong.

For more than 10 years he has worked as a welfare officer for Nottinghamshire County Council, advocating the rights of disadvantaged people.

He was elected to Nottingham City Council in 1995 as a Labour member and has held several posts, many of which involve championing the cause of elderly people.

This is quite a contrast from the tyrannical sheriff whose battles with Robin Hood - supposedly in the 12th and 13th Centuries - are the stuff of legend.

Sheriff of Nottingham
Ali Asghar
There is evidence of the office existing in 950 AD
The sheriff's official hat is a silk cockade with ostrich feathers
The first woman to hold the role was elected in 1931
The current sheriff was born in Kashmir and is a vegetarian
Actor Alan Rickman played the sheriff memorably in the film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

"Actually, I prefer to think of myself as being a little bit more like Robin Hood than the sheriff... except for the part about stealing from the rich," he jokes.

However Mr Asghar bears no ill feelings toward his evil predecessor.

"He was a really manipulative and nasty guy... but the stories of that evil sheriff have done us a lot of good in terms of the Robin Hood legend and tourism."

Throughout his year in office, Mr Asghar has visited many events to promote Nottingham.

He says people find it a novelty to meet "the real-life Sheriff of Nottingham" and Mr Asghar believes his successors should be given greater opportunities.

"More should be done with this role to promote the city and tourism, including trips abroad," he said.

The role had been scaled back in recent years due to cost concerns but this needed to be reconsidered, Mr Asghar said.

Regardless, Mr Asghar intends to enjoy his final days as the sheriff.

"I have taken great pride in filling this prestigious role - it has been a great experience."

Old oak receives honour
28 Nov 02 |  England
Robin Hood misses top spot
27 Nov 02 |  England

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