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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 February, 2004, 20:37 GMT
A very British do
By Ben Davies
BBC News Online's political staff

It seemed an utterly British occasion.

Inside the home secretary and Prince Charles prepared to welcome the UK's newest citizens into the fold.

Outside a group of people drawn out of curiosity by the police presence stopped and watched, shivering in the February cold.

Prince Charles and David Blunkett
Prince Charles and David Blunkett were present at the first event
Before immigrants given the privilege of becoming British would have just got a letter through the door.

From now their new status will be marked by a citizenship ceremony.

But despite the VIPs it seemed a strangely unglamorous setting for something so momentous.

The civic building of Brent Town Hall though grand in scale is opposite a supermarket and looks across to the large building site where the new Wembley stadium will be.

Even the excitement of another limousine drawing up with local dignitaries draped in their civic chains did little to lift the atmosphere.

At the ceremony it was a different story as the 16 adults and three children came up on stage to recite their pledge of allegiance to the Queen.

Community

Prince Charles, who had arrived earlier in a green Bentley, gave each new citizen a certificate and congratulated them.

Susan Brett
Mrs Brett stopped to watch on her way to do some shopping
Mriganka Chatterjee, 32, said: "It made it so much more special. This event has made me feel very warm and part of the community."

Outside several police officers watched the small crowd of onlookers.

One of them, Susan Brett, told BBC News Online she had just been passing when she had noticed something going on.

She said: "I don't know what it's all about to be honest."

Shopping trip

"The fact is I was going to go to Asda - I'd no intention of coming up here."

Asked if she was a fan of Prince Charles, she said: "Oh, he's alright.

"I'm not accustomed to going crazy about them [the Royal Family] but they're alright, they have their job to do - I wouldn't criticise them."

Bhikhu Kanji said he and his wife had heard on the radio that Prince Charles was coming to Brent and being keen on the Royal Family decided to come along.

They both agreed it was a nice idea to mark people gaining British citizenship with a ceremony.

Charles Wem said his presence outside the town hall was purely coincidental.

Proud to be from Cameroon

"Actually I didn't come first of all for the prince - I came to the library and I noticed it was closed," he said.

Charles Wem
Mr Wem was hoping to pop into the Brent library
"A policeman told me Prince Charles was coming and I have been seeing him on telly all this time. I just wanted to see him with my own eyes."

He said he knew nothing at all about the citizenship ceremony.

"It's a good thing, I think, when someone has gained a passport, whichever nationality it is, because it is a big step in your life to become British or Cameroonian or American.

"For me I think it's something huge so it should be celebrated."

'Waste of money'

Mr Wem added that he was from Cameroon and was studying in Britain.

"I'm happy to remain Cameroonian."

Crowd outside citizenship ceremony
A few interested onlookers watched the comings and goings
After the ceremony, Abdul Sattar-Butt - a former mayor of Brent - said the occasion was "historical".

"The new people are very, very welcome here. They are part of UK society and I wish them luck and hope they enjoy life here."

Not everyone was as pleased about the event.

One man who turned up to pay a bill at the council offices and found he could not get in through his usual entrance said: "It seems like a waste of money to me."




SEE ALSO:
UK 'citizenship test' unveiled
31 Jan 03  |  UK News
Blunkett names 'Britishness' chief
10 Sep 02  |  Politics
First citizenship ceremony for UK
26 Feb 04  |  Politics


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