As Mayor, 22 Years Vaulted From Public Housing To Elite London

As guests marched into Westminster Abbey for the coronation of King Charles III, a young man clad in blue and gold ceremonial robes beneath a gleaming array of offices walked down the center aisle and took his prime seat by the choir.

He is the Righteous Mayor of Westminster. And he is very nervous. In the car, he brushed his beard and checked his clothes several times before grandly entering.

“You are in front of millions of people – you can't go wrong,” recalled Hamza Taouzzale recently.

Just 22 years old when appointed as mayor last year, he is the youngest, and the first Muslim, to assume a ceremonial role, serving as something of an ambassador for Westminster and its residents. She represents the area, which includes most of central London, at civic events with all the pomp and protocol that accompanies the title, which was coined by Queen Elizabeth II. with letters patent in 1966.

From the moment he was sworn in, Mr Taouzzale, who was raised in a single-parent household in public housing in the British capital, is catapulted into a world of power and privilege.

In addition to a salary of 24,000 pounds ($30,600), he was given a large office; a researcher; a diary manager; and a macebearer, who doubled as his driver and etiquette guide for famous public engagements, many at Buckingham Palace.

The first funeral he attended in his life? Queen Elizabeth in September.

“You can see many different lifestyles,” said Mr. Taouzzale. “Westminster is a story of two cities,” he added. “You have extreme wealth and extreme poverty.”

Westminster's borders include some of England's most famous landmarks, such as the Houses of Parliament, Abbey and Buckingham Palace. It is also home to more than 250,000 residents, living in some of the country's most expensive real estate as well as in public housing, where many rely on food banks – a contrast that the opposition Labor Party has called an “inequality crisis.”

Mr. Taouzzale still lives in the apartment where he grew up. “My grandmother came to Westminster in her early 20s from Morocco,” she says. “My mother grew up on this plantation, and I was born and raised here. It's a big part of who I am.”

Active in local politics from the age of 16, at 18 he was elected to the Labor Party of Westminster City Council, before earning BA and MA degrees in politics. He hopes to use his council seat as a stepping stone to national office, with the aim of entering Parliament.

The council, whose more than 50 members are responsible for a number of government services including council housing, garbage collection and traffic, elects a mayor for each one-year term.

Mr Taouzzale said he was surprised to be elected, as the post is usually given to council members in the fall of their careers.

“I think it's a statement: a sign that the City of Westminster is moving forward,” he said. “Before me there was not a single mayor who was not from a British or white background.”

He added, “I think it's a sign that City are getting more progressive.”

Mr Taouzzale said he wanted to attend the event in his home district of Westminster North because residents of the densely populated low-income area feel it is always being overlooked. “Growing up, I didn't know who the mayor was – I'd never seen them. I want to change it.”

Most lord mayors have a spouse or partner to act as their official chaperone. Mr. Taouzzale took his mother, aunt and grandmother to a big event at Buckingham Palace; younger siblings, friends and fellow aldermen accompanied him to other appearances.

“I literally do anything and everything,” he said. “Even if I didn't like it that day, even the uninteresting things.”

Mr Taouzzale's official engagement began with the Platinum Jubilee last June, celebrating Queen Elizabeth's 70th anniversary on the throne. At the evening's concert, he found himself seated in the royal box directly in front of Boris Johnson, then prime minister, and directly behind the Prince and Princess of Wales.

It was a moment that pinched me. Mr. Taouzzale was taking surreptitious photos of the global personalities around him and the crowds below as a personal memento, or a kind of token of presence, when someone tapped him lightly on the shoulder and whispered: “You don't need to take pictures, you know. You will appear on television.”

It often felt, said Mr Taouzzale, as if he was living a real double life.

“I'd go to a really fancy, fancy dinner at a members' club or private residence, where everyone seems to know each other already, they're in this circle, and then I'd come home and be like, ‘Wait a minute, did I really did that?'”

Amid all the pomp and ceremony — at most events, he was the highest-ranking person present, even above the generals, and the last to enter the room (“what a freak,” he says) — there were occasional etiquette barriers.

“Which fork or knife to use is difficult at first,” said Mr. Taouzzale. “I never had more than one fork or one knife on the table, and suddenly I had three each. It's like, what should I do?

The months as mayor passed in a blur. He oversaw the cutting of England's national Christmas tree in Norway and lit its lights in Trafalgar Square with Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London.

“Hamza Taouzzale's recent tenure as Mayor of Westminster epitomizes the power of London's diversity,” said Mr. khan.

Becoming the first Muslim to assume the role required some negotiation, as part of the mayor's duties include speaking regularly at the Abbey, an Anglican church.

“Whenever I was reading at the Abbey, we had to spend a lot of time with the dean trying to figure out the right readings,” he says. “I am a devout Muslim, I will not hide my belief to read something I do not agree with, or think is not true. So we always had to find a verse in the Bible, or passage, that matched my religious understanding.”

Now that the new Mr Mayor has been sworn in – Mr Taouzzale must return his robes, office and car with the coveted WE 1 license plate – he is thinking about the future and looking for a job, as a part-time alderman position only, paying about $11,500.

He hopes his tenure as mayor will motivate the next generation of Westminsters.

“Growing up in my area, I didn't feel we were allowed to have positive aspirations. They closed pretty early,” he said. “If you have a decent job, people will say ‘oh, you're lucky. Oh, you're lucky you went to college.' Why isn't it minimal? Why not the standard?”

He added: “Hopefully, I can inspire people. I hope they can say, ‘OK, if Hamza does it, I can do it too.'”