The 5 moments in Mo Farah’s new BBC documentary that make it such an important watch
The Real Mo Farah tells the true story of the Olympic champion, but as well as exploring his early life, the emotional film contains other unmissable moments.
Following the news of Sir Mo Farah’s illegal trafficking into the UK as a child and the revelation that he was forced to work as a domestic servant, the record-breaking athlete is also the focus of a new BBC One documentary.
The Real Mo Farah is an emotional one-hour film charting the Olympian’s early life and his extraordinary story. It’ll come as a shock to everyone who watches it, not least because Farah’s name is one that has become a household staple since his success at the London 2012 Olympics. It will also be a story that has never been told before and Farah has kept it a long-held secret for a multitude of reasons, mainly – as he discusses in the documentary – a fear that his life and the public’s recognition of his identity will change.
In response to the news that his real name is Hussein Abdi Kahin and his real family has never been to the UK, social media has been awash with positive reactions hailing Farah as “brave” and an “inspiration”. This is, of course, the focus of the documentary, but after the initial surprise at Farah’s story, the documentary is home to even more pivotal moments.
From surprise reunions to an emotional trip back to Somaliland and speaking to a trafficking expert, The Real Mo Farah is not only a timely exploration of immigration and identity but it’s also the kind of watch that calls for a box of tissues on standby.
With that, here are five of the standout moments from the documentary.
“I want to feel normal – not like I’m hiding something”
Farah’s simple admission of wanting to feel normal is something that many children (especially those from immigrant backgrounds) will attest to. It’s also a vulnerable moment at the start of the documentary that sets the course for the rest of it. We come to learn that he hid this part of his life away from those closest to him, including his wife, Tania.
It was only until she had “worn him down with all the questioning”, as she says in the film, that he finally told her. She reveals that in the year leading up to their 2010 wedding, she realised that “there were lots of missing pieces to his story”.
The last remaining details of his relatives were ripped up in front of him
As Farah recounts the story of how he was transported from Somaliland to England, he talks through and shows us the documents where he first had to acknowledge his new name. He recounts landing in the UK, being met by a man who wasn’t sure who he was and then going back to the home of the woman he had travelled with.
She was essentially his new mother, but he knew nothing about her. Once in the house, she took the slip of paper he had with the details of his relatives and she ripped it up in front of him. As he admits in the documentary: “At that moment, I knew I was in trouble.”
The memories Farah shares about his early childhood are the stuff of nightmares
Farah, for the first time ever, recounts his early childhood and his life in the house with the woman that brought him to England. He says: “From day one, the lady… what she did wasn’t right. I wasn’t treated as part of the family; I was always that kid who did everything. I don’t know – more like someone who works for you. That’s your space, that’s our space, this is what you do.
“If I wanted food in my mouth, my job was to look after those kids: shower them, cook for them, clean for them. And she said ‘If you ever want to see your family again, don’t say anything. If you say anything, they will take you away.’”
Farah had to put up with her anger, shouting and screaming and took to locking himself in the bathroom to cry, learning to diminish his own sad and angry emotions.
“From that moment, everything got better.”
Having had to persuade the woman he lived with to let him attend school was no mean feat, but Farah succeeded. His school reports make for emotional viewing as he was constantly referred to as troublesome or unkempt.
But the documentary takes a more joyful turn once we learn that he was taken in by his friend’s mother. As Farah explains, it started with a day, then a week, then months and then “I ended up staying for seven years”. Even visibly talking about his new life in his new home is a heartfelt and emotional change of pace for the documentary because, as Farah explains: “From that moment, everything got better.”
The conversations around Mo’s British citizenship – past and present
Hearing about Farah’s former PE teacher Alan Watkinson and others banding together to make sure he could get his British citizenship in order to compete is emotional in itself. He’s finally presented with some of the paperwork that went into it in 2000 and it’s surprising to him. “We just bombarded them with communication about this,” Alan says.
Later on, the conversation Farah has to have with his lawyers is also an important moment. It’s a stark recognition of the fact that Farah, according to the law, has obtained his identity fraudulently or by misrepresentations. Conversations around his British nationality being taken back make for difficult viewing, but it’s a timely reminder about national identity that this is the process for a lot of refugees and immigrants as of now.
Farah’s real mother was never told that her son was being taken to England
Farah’s story gets even more heart-wrenching once we learn that, actually, he has since reunited with his real mother and twin brother. His recent return to Somaliland is one that’ll leave viewers with a smile on their face, not least because of the warm reception he gets on arrival.
But it’s the conversation he’s been gearing up for and eventually has with his mother that’s the real tearjerker moment of the film. His mum explains that she never was notified that he was going to England; she assumed he and his twin brother were safe in the care of his uncle in Djibouti. She explains: “We didn’t have phones, roads or anything.”
On arriving back in the UK, Farah admits that the thought that one of his own family members being involved in his trafficking is something that has always been in the back of his mind but he hasn’t spoken about. He seeks advice from a trafficking expert and she tells him that “getting over” this is a “long and complicated journey”. She says how there’s often a sense of guilt at the initial excitement of moving countries, even in cases like this of domestic servitude, but assures Farah – and other survivors – that it isn’t their fault at all.
The Real Mo Farah airs on BBC One on Wednesday 13 July at 9pm and will be available to stream on BBC iPlayer.
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