Entertainment, Film and Music

Secret marriages, shattering tragedy and the inspiring rise of Britain’s black Oscar rivals

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  • Idris Elba, 41, started life on one of UK’s roughest streets in East End
  • Turned down big breaks to work nights at Ford’s in Dagenham
  • First marriage broke down after move to New York, second after 24 hours
  • Chiwetel Ejiofor, 36, left comatose aged 11 in car crash that killed his father
  • Widowed mother pushed to send him to private school and he was scouted

By Guy Adams

You’d be hard pushed to find a place further removed from the bright lights of Hollywood than Braemar Road in Canning Town, a ramshackle street in a ramshackle corner of London’s East End.

Old sofas rot outside tiny terrace homes. A rusty car sits on bricks. The pavement is pot-holed. Litter is everywhere. One apparently derelict property has its front garden almost entirely filled by  damp mattresses.

As for the locals, roughly one in five claims income support. The same number suffer from some sort of ‘serious’ long-term illness, according to official  figures. And half those of a working age have no  formal qualifications.

Even the council admits that Braemar Road is in one of the top 5 per cent ‘most deprived areas’ in the UK.

Crime is rampant. A few years ago, parcel firm DHL added the neighbourhood to a list of ‘no-go’ places it deemed too dangerous to deliver to — alongside Iraq, Afghanistan and parts of Cambodia.

All of which makes the inspiring success story of this street’s most famous former resident all the  more remarkable.

He is Idris Elba, the actor who achieved fame in cop series The Wire, stars in the hit TV show Luther, and has taken lead roles in some of the biggest Hollywood blockbusters of recent years, including Pacific Rim, Thor, Call Of Duty and Ridley Scott’s Prometheus.

Born in Hackney, the son of immigrants from West Africa, Elba, who is 41, spent his formative years at a red-doored property halfway along Braemar Road and was educated at a series of gritty local state schools.

This year, Elba is tipped for a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Nelson Mandela. It is his most successful role to date, having been forced to surrender parts to work night shifts at Ford in Dagenham when he was youngerThis year, Elba is tipped for a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Nelson Mandela. It is his most successful role to date, having been forced to surrender parts to work night shifts at Ford in Dagenham when he was younger


Tomorrow, at the Beverly Hilton hotel in Los Angeles, he will continue his journey to superstardom, when he walks past screaming fans up the red carpet of the 2014 Golden Globes.

His critically acclaimed performance in Long Walk To Freedom as the late South African president Nelson Mandela, has earned him a place on the Best Actor shortlist at the event, the curtain-raiser of Hollywood’s awards season, which ends with the Oscars in March.

Success would provide a touching tribute to Elba’s late father, Winston, on whom his portrayal of Mandela was based.

Winston died of lung cancer just four months ago, aged 72, having supported his son through a career that has had endless ups and downs, and a personal life which, I can reveal, saw the failure of at least two, hitherto unreported, marriages.

But Elba won’t be the only London boy made good flying the UK flag at tomorrow’s glamorous Hollywood event.

Indeed, his leading rival for this year’s top honours is Chiwetel Ejiofor, a long-standing friend of Elba’s who is also the son of West African immigrants.

Ejiofor, 36, who has for years been one of Britain’s most highly regarded stage actors, has been nominated for his performance in the film 12 Years A Slave, which opened here this week.

His towering performance as Solomon Northup, a 19th-century American musician who was kidnapped and sold into slavery, has received such universal plaudits that bookmakers are offering odds as meagre as 2-1 on for him to win the Best Actor Oscar.

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