In a touching memorial service at St Martin-in-the-Fields church near London’s Trafalgar Square, friends, colleagues, and family members gathered to honor the memory of George Alagiah, a stalwart figure of British television journalism. George Alagiah, who passed away in July, left behind a legacy of compassion, empathy, and journalistic excellence that was celebrated during the service.
In a poignant moment, Sophie Raworth, George’s former BBC Six O’Clock News co-presenter, read aloud the final thoughts he had dictated to his wife Frances just three weeks before his passing. George reflected on living with cancer and the unique perspective it offered, emphasizing that it allowed time for reflection and was unlike the suddenness of a car crash.
The congregation, comprising 800 friends, colleagues, and family members, listened intently as George’s poignant words were shared with the world. His speech encapsulated the essence of his character – one marked by empathy and wisdom.
George Alagiah’s distinguished career at the BBC spanned over three decades, during which he garnered numerous awards and accolades as a foreign correspondent and journalist. Beyond his professional achievements, he was cherished as a devoted husband, father, grandfather, brother, and friend.
BBC special correspondent Allan Little, who worked closely with George in Johannesburg and shared a deep friendship, described him as a groundbreaking reporter who brought diverse perspectives to the newsroom. Little noted that George’s reporting always carried the spirit of shared humanity, making him not only a remarkable reporter but a good man.
The service began with a soulful performance by the London African Gospel Choir, singing “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika,” a song that, during George’s early reporting on South Africa in the 1980s, could have led to a jail sentence for those who sang it. The song has since become part of the national anthem, a testament to the significance of the events George had witnessed and reported on.
George Alagiah’s personal journey, from his birth in Colombo, Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), to his family’s move to Ghana during ethnic unrest, was highlighted by his sisters during the service. They reflected on the impact of these migrations on their childhood and the sense of adventure instilled in them by their parents.
The congregation also learned about George’s challenging experiences of racist bullying during his time at a boarding school in Portsmouth and his realization that, in the UK, class sometimes outweighed race.
George’s formative years at Durham University, where he met Frances and forged lifelong friendships, were shared, and his sons, Adam Alagiah-Glomseth and Matthew Alagiah, read passages from their father’s books.
A montage of photographs, showcasing George’s global reporting assignments and moments with his family, played on a screen, accompanied by a piano performance from Steve Rosenberg, the BBC’s Russia editor. Natasha Kaplinsky, another former co-presenter, read Maya Angelou’s “When Great Trees Fall.”
BBC Director General Tim Davie hailed George as the embodiment of the best qualities of journalism, and Allan Little encouraged the congregation to applaud for a full minute in George’s honor. The church resounded with applause that continued beyond the minute.
As attendees left the service, they carried George Alagiah’s parting words, read by Sophie Raworth:
“If you haven’t already told the people you love that you love them, tell them;
“If you haven’t already told them how vulnerable you sometimes feel, tell them;
“If you want to tell them that you’d like to be with them until the front hall stairs feel like Everest, tell them.
“You never know what is coming around the corner.
“And if, lucky you, there is nothing around the corner, then at least you got your defense in first.”