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Tribute to the incomparable George Alagiah

Updated: May 15

I met George Alagiah in person over a decade ago.

But before that physical meeting, I was already aware of his work and his well-earned reputation as a prodigiously talented and fearless journalist who was at home in the field and in the studio, covering global hot spots, analysing topical issues or interviewing world leaders.

Since his passing, tributes have poured in from across the world from colleagues, friends, fans, and people whose paths crossed with his.

The tenor and tone of the tributes have been reflective of the life he lived and the impact he made as a journalist, TV presenter and news reader at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) where he worked for over three decades before his death from bowel cancer in July 2023 at the age of 67.

The tributes describe him variously as thoughtful, empathetic, principled, kind, brave, inspiring, thoughtful, and impactful, a good man, a mentor, and an inspiration.

Photo credit: Ken Jack/Getty Images

He was a man of many parts, a jack of all trades who somehow found a way to master it all. After making his name as a broadcast journalist, he turned his hands to fiction writing and his debut novel The Burning Land, a thrilling narrative about corruption in South Africa made a splash and was nominated for the Society of Authors award in 2020 in recognition of best new writers over 60.

Born in Colombo, Ceylon, on 22 November 1955 to parents who hailed from Sri Lankan Tamil he moved with the family, first to Ghana where he had his primary education, and then to Portsmouth in the UK for his secondary education. He read Politics at Durham University where his writing and journalism career took off at Palatinate, the student newspaper, which he would later edit.

After school, he worked for South Magazine as a print journalist before joining the BBC in 1989. He had stints as a Developing World correspondent in London, and then as the BBC’s Southern Africa correspondent in Johannesburg. But it was as a TV presenter, newsreader and correspondent that he found worldwide fame and acclaim.

He battled bowel cancer from 2014 until his passing and his demeanour all through his illness was an example of grace under pressure. George Alagiah did not crumple in the face of adversity instead becoming an advocate for heightened awareness about the disease.

He was a man who gave of himself, fully and without reservation, teaching, inspiring and mentoring a whole generation of journalists, especially people of colour, whose outpouring of grief and adulation is ample proof of the legacy he has left behind.

My thoughts are with his family.

Rest in peace, George Alagiah!

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