Dianni Marriott laid bare the reality of life “on road” in our investigation into youth violence in July. Today we reveal what happened next as he tries to leave gang culture with the help of his youth worker and others who see his potential
- DAVID COHEN Investigations Editor
- Wednesday 17 October 2018 11:59
A few days after the Evening Standard investigation was published, Dianni Marriott got his big break. A restaurateur, Ibrahim Dogus, had read how Dianni, 19, dreamed of becoming “a great chef” and was moved to give him a chance in one of his three restaurants on the South Bank near the London Eye. “Bring him down to Westminster Kitchen, Friday 10am, for a job trial,” Dogus told Dianni’s youth worker Mahamed Hashi.
Hashi, 33, realised this was a transformative moment for Dianni, but he knew from working with gang-affected youths for Young Lambeth Co-operative that the road to reform seldom ran smooth. Lambeth, where Dianni lives, has the highest amount of serious youth violence in London, and the council has admitted that carrying a knife in parts of the borough has become “normalised”.
At the time, Dianni, or D Boy as he is known on the streets of Brixton, had his own worries. He was aware that talking about his vulnerabilities in the Standard could have emboldened his “pagans” [enemies] to mark him as “weak” and that they might try to harm him if they passed each other on the street.
Dianni has been arrested for carrying a knife four times since the age of 12 and has been lucky to avoid prison, but he knew the next offence would see him put inside. He wanted to avoid having to tool up, “to put myself in a situation of kill or be killed”, as he put it, and so he went to live with an aunt in Croydon until things calmed down.
This did not stop some from having a go at him on social media. One message said: “Bruv, I used to think you run Brixton, now you just a big pussy.” Others castigated him simply for speaking to mainstream media. “Why you snitching in the newspaper?” one text said. “What part?” asked Dianni. “Dunno,” came the reply, “Haven’t read it.”
For Dianni, weathering these attacks without retaliating was a new way of showing strength. “It hurts my heart but also it doesn’t because I know they dickheads trying to lure me back into doing badness,” he told Hashi.
It hurts my heart but also it doesn’t because I know they dickheads trying to lure me back into doing badnessDianniMarriott
In the midst of this, the offer by Dogus, a stranger who saw potential in Dianni, came as a balm. Dianni told Hashi: “Chef job? That’s sick. Man will be there.”
When Dianni got to the restaurant, he swapped his hoodie for brand new chef whites. Dogus, 38, sat him down and said: “I came to London with nothing as a Kurdish refugee from Turkey when I was 14. A restaurant called Sofra in Mayfair gave me a break as a kitchen porter, just like I am giving you a break today. Ten years later, I opened my own restaurant and now I have three. That first job changed my life. I hope this job can be the start of you changing your life too.”
If Dianni liked the job trial, he said, he would start him on £8 an hour, 30 hours a week. His job would be to wash dishes and make sure chef had all the supplies he needed. If he did well, he would become chef de partie (in charge of a particular section) within six months and after a year he could be promoted again and earn about £20,000. “We get politicians like Jeremy Corbyn, Boris Johnson and Sadiq Khan coming here, so you will be cooking for the likes of them,” he said.
A nervous Dianni was despatched to the kitchen to begin his working day while Hashi waited in the restaurant like a concerned parent. “You can smash this,” he shouted after Dianni. But he knew that Dianni might find the discipline and rigorous demands of a nine-to-five kitchen job a challenge.
“With a youngster like Dianni, if he doesn’t feel comfortable or somebody in the kitchen talks to him with a certain tone, he could storm out,” he said.
“That’s why I’ve hung around. This is the public health model in action. It’s not just about giving young people opportunities and leaving them to sink or swim, it’s about building their capacity to take advantage of those opportunities. But I am hopeful. The way Dogus spoke about his past inspired Dianni. I felt they connected.”
Midway through the morning shift, Dianni appeared, smiling and chatty. “I been learning the professional way to slice cucumbers without cutting my fingers off,” he said. “This uniform, it’s proper wavy [nice].” Hashi laughed. “Looking good D Boy!” As Dianni returned to the kitchen, Hashi said: “I think he just might be OK.”
But at lunchtime Dianni re-emerged shaking his head. “It’s hard work, bruv. Been cleaning toilets. Cleaning counters. Cleaning everything. I couldn’t do this every day. No way.”
Hashi tried to reassure him. “We all start somewhere. When I was at uni, I held down four shit jobs at the same time.”
But Dianni was done. “I’ve given it a try, it’s not me,” he said. “I don’t feel comfortable cooking this grill sort of food.” He paused. “I like cooking Caribbean food for myself and my nan but I’m not sure I want to be a chef for other people.”
This is not about us telling you what to do, this is about helping you find the right thingMahamed Hashi, Dianni’s youth worker
It was half way through day one and already Dianni had quit. Hashi said: “I get you D Boy. This is not about us telling you what to do, this is about helping you find the right thing.”
Dogus added: “If it’s not what you want, it’s not what I want. Maybe you are interested in construction? I could get you an apprenticeship.” Dianni shook his head and said: “Nah, that’s not for me.” Dogus responded: “Earlier you talked about being an event manager. Is there a way we might help?”
Dianni brightened up. “That’s something I really want.” Hashi suggested a course in events management. “You’re good at the social side but there’s the business side to learn,” he said. Dianni was excited: “I know bare [lots of] people, I could fill venues easy bruv.”
His face clouded over. “I suppose people I know not the right people. Man need to bring a different sort of clientele.” He started to suck his thumb. It is something Dianni has done openly and without embarrassment since the age of four when his favourite uncle Adrian, known as Ham, was killed in a gangland execution-style murder.
Hashi tried to be positive but disappointment hung heavy in the air.
One week later, Dianni called Hashi and said: “I’ve worked out what I want to do with my life.”
“What?” said Hashi.
“Film,” said Dianni. “I want to make a film about my life.” He’d already shot a drill music video called No Hook that had 97,000 views on YouTube.
“What about event management?” said Hashi. “I can do both,” said Dianni. “Let’s see if the Standard can help,” said Hashi.
At the start of August, Dianni and Hashi arranged to come to the Evening Standard, off Kensington High Street, to pitch Dianni’s idea of collaborating with us on a short documentary profile about his life.
Dianni arrived bang on time dressed in a crisp T-shirt, sagging black denim Bermuda shorts and underneath, his boxers visible and emblazoned with the word “gangster” on the waist band.
I want you to help me make a film about my life on road because if aroadmanlike me can change to become a civilised guy, anyone canDianni
The Standard’s video executive producer, Chris Stone, asked: “Why do you want to do this film? Dianni said: “In my area, I am known for not good things. I smoke weed, link [get with] girls, carry knives. I want you to help me make a film about my life on road because if a roadman like me can change to become a civilised guy, anyone can. I want to tell the truth about the roads so the next generation can grow up different.”
It was a compelling proposal, but Dianni would need professional help from the Standard to get it made. And we would need to source additional money to fund it.
By early September everything was in place. We had secured a £6,000 grant from the Lush Film Fund to give us the resources to make a short film, as well as allow us to pay Dianni for his official role as protagonist and co-director, alongside Matt Writtle, the freelance photographer who illustrated our special investigation in July. It was to be Dianni’s first proper income and he couldn’t stop raving about it.
In the ensuing weeks, Dianni had further good news. “I got into uni!” he declared one day, out of the blue. “Business management. Two-year course, full time, man start in October.”
Hashi was thrilled for him and said: “He had to do literacy and numeracy tests cos he never got any GCSEs. What’s amazing is how his confidence is blooming. He never had the self-belief to try for stuff like this before.”
The first day of shooting was set for September 10, but that morning Matt called, gutted, to say: “Dianni hasn’t pitched up.” We got hold of Hashi who dashed over to Dianni’s house, only to report: “Cancel today. He’s having second thoughts. I’m gonna talk to him and get back to you.”
For several hours the project hung in the balance. Then Hashi called to say: “We’re back on track. Filming tomorrow at 12 noon.”
By the time I caught up with Dianni and the crew several weeks later, they had almost finished shooting. Things were going well, despite running into several of Dianni’s pagans on the streets of Brixton and Hashi adroitly defusing potential altercations.
During a break in the schedule, I asked Dianni why he had got cold feet. “Some friends got to me,” he said. “They said, ‘Why you working with Evening Standard? People will think you a dickhead.’ They wanted to pull me back to doing things on road. I was tempted.”
What made him push through? “Growing up in the hood, I used to get all the girls, but as I got older, girls grew up, got nice jobs and nice cars and I was left doing the same boring shit. Roads is dead, bruv. Roads is sooo dead. Literally I get up every day and I have to look over my shoulder for pagans, for feds [police]. I not young no more. Turning 20 bruv. Big man ting [for real]. I don’t want to die like my uncle Ham. Not now. Not when I got so much to accomplish.”
What do you want to achieve? “I want to fix up my nan’s house, put her somewhere comfortable. I want to make sure when she goes, I’ve levelled up in life.
“When I was young my mum used to sometimes say she wished I was dead. I used to get upset and think, how could she say that? But when I look back, me being the bad boy made her look like a bad mum. My mum’s a nurse, my dad’s a normal person, not like me, I got Hashi who’s known me since I was bare small, so I got everything in place to be a normal person. So why am I acting like a low-life? Like a loser? That’s why I decided not to listen to the dickheads and do this film.”
Ahmed Riane, 19, a friend of Dianni who joined him for some of the filming, said: “I’ve known Dianni my whole life and since he had the courage to do that article, his mindset has changed 100 per cent. He’s thinking like a man now. I used to worry about him because he’s like my brother and I already lost too many friends. He’s proper excited about this film. And there’s his business course to look forward to. He has plans.”
I have seen a change in him. He wants to leave life on the road. I think he can do itRuth Marriott, Dianni’s grandmother
Dianni’s grandmother, Ruth Marriott, 65, concurred. “I’ve seen a change in Dianni,” she said. “He wants to leave life on road. I think he can do it.”
But Hashi was under no illusions as to how difficult the path ahead will be. “We have to be on our guard because in the hood, showing humanity is seen as weakness and can be used to shift the power balance to target you. As for Dianni’s uni, I am going to make sure they test him for any special needs and put appropriate support in place. This is what the public health model tries to do — it’s about understanding the daily support that somebody with few resources needs to do a U-turn in life.”
He leaned back, broke out into a broad grin. “Now let’s celebrate this huge step of actually making this amazing film.”
Last week, as Dianni agreed the final edits with Matt and Chris at the Standard, he reflected. “In the past little kids in the endz have looked up to D Boy as a bad boy, but now they will see I’ve become a role model. I used to wake up every day and worry, how am I going to make Ps [pounds]? How am I going to survive? Now I wake up and feel there’s something for me at the end of the tunnel. I sit in this office with this film we have made and I feel like …”
He paused to find the right word. “Yeah, like a professional.”