Since independence in 1960, Nigeria has been for a launching pad a surprising number of foreigners, paying their dues or widening their horizons abroad, before becoming famous when they return home!
Below is our list of foreigners who became famous after working in Nigeria first!
1. Paul McCartney & Band on the Run
Paul McCartney was already famous as one of the greatest songwriters of all time as one of the Beatles, but it was in Lagos, Nigeria that he proved himself a solo artist in his own right.
In 1973, August 9, Paul McCartney and his wife Linda landed at Murtala Mohammed airport to record his third album with the band wings in an “exotic locale”. And Nigeria would not let them down! The studio was below standard, Paul McCartney and his wife were even robbed at gunpoint with demo tapes stolen, and at one point Paul collapsed. Fela Kuti even accused him of coming to steal “African music” until Paul went to reassure him that this was not the case, and he would not use any local musicians (see photo above!)
But, then in 1973 the album “Band on the Run” was released and later lauded at number 75 in Q Magazine’s “100 Greatest British Albums Ever” (2000)
2. John Major
Before he became Prime Minister of the UK in 1990 to 1997, John Major decided to take a correspondence course in banking. He started work for Standard Chartered Bank in 1965, and in 1967 he was posted as a bank clerk by Standard Chartered to the small Nigerian town of Kuru Karama, half-hour drive south from Jos. However, a serious car accident meant he was forced to leave Nigeria and return to the UK… take up politics.
3. Emmanuel Macron
Okay, we know, the photo above is not from Nigeria (!), but the youngest ever president of France, Emmanuel Macron, started out in Lagos, Nigeria – and, while he was in Nigeria, something happened to him that, he says, was “the defining political moment of my generation”.
While Macron was on a civil service placement at the French embassy in Lagos in 2002, the far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen in the Front National party reached the final round of the French presidential election. Le Pen was eventually beaten, but it would set the scene for his later battle with Marine Le Pen.
4. Fredrick Forsyth
Before Fredrick Forsyth wrote one of the world’s best known political thrillers – “The Day of the Jackal” – he wrote his first book about his time as a journalist in Nigeria.
Fredrick Forsyth reported from Nigeria during the first six months of the Biafran war in 1967, posted to the region by the BBC. When the BBC told him they had no plans to cover the Nigerian Biafran Civil war, he quit the BBC and flew back out to Nigeria, reportedly staying in Eastern Nigeria for most of the next 2 years. And in 1969 he wrote and published his first book – “The Biafran Story”.
And then, in 2015, Fredrick Forsyth revealed he began to first work as a spy for MI6 while reporting on the Biafra war – a role he would continue for the next 20 years.
5. (Archbishop) Justin Welby
The current Archbishop of the Anglican Church has close ties with Nigeria, not only because many of his congregation are from the region, but because (before he turned to the church) he was an oil executive for Elf with many financial interests in the region.
However, the Daily Mail reports, Justin Wleby was known as “Monsieur Africa” and tried to promote a $6billion deal to stop Nigeria nationalising its oil industry and protect Elf’s oil interests. He would travel to Lagos regularly. The Archbishop of over 80 million congregation, says he was aware of the rumours of corruption but never encountered it.
6. Colin Firth
Best known for his roles in Bridget Jones Diary, Mr Darcy in Pride & Prejudice, and Love Actually, this award-winning English actor spent the first years of his life in Nigeria!
Colin Firth’s parents traveled for work, both were lecturers, and his father became an education officer for the Nigerian government. The family stayed in Lagos until Colin was 4 years old, when they moved back to the UK. But we wonder if some of our story-telling culture didn’t rub off on him.
7. Ronnie Kray, the Kray Twins
Ronnie and Reggie Kray were twins, and two of the most notorious gangsters in London’s East End in the 1950s and 1960s. And then they came to Nigeria.
To be fair, the twins were already famous by the time they came to Nigeria, but their involvement in Nigeria is so little known, we thought we’d highlight it. Apparently, in 1963, the Krays invested heavily into a construction project in Enugu, East Nigeria and the brother Ronnie came out to Nigeria several times to check on the project.
Ronnie’s quote on the experience in Nigeria is worth reading in full – Nigeria never fall our hand o!
“The only good thing was that I had a couple of trips to Enugu, which was the capital of that part of Nigeria. On both occasions I was welcomed by Dr Okpara, who was the prime minister at the time. He drove me around, which his chauffeur, in a battered old Rolls and really wined and dined me. I didn’t realize at the time, but it was probably Reggie and me we were actually paying for all this VIP treatment.”
But, even the Krays were not savvy enough for Nigeria and in the middle of 1964, a local contract (and bribe!) went wrong, the project halted, and the Krays lost their money. And then in 1968 their crime empire began to fall apart – but their notoriety and fame only began to creep up.
8. Ginger Baker
Ginger Baker has been called “rock’s first superstar drummer” and in 2016 he was ranked 3rd on Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Drummers of All Time”. And, although he was already pretty famous from his work with Cream and Eric Clapton, but in 1970 he drove from Algeria to Nigeria. Ginger Baker must have been thorooughly enjoying himself because he then lived in Nigeria from 1970 to 1976, even becoming friends and playing with the legend Fela Kuti.
Do you know anyone famous who was in Nigeria first that we’ve missed? Gist us in the comments below!