Adaeze Uyanwah and I met during college. I was 21 and had just transferred to the beautiful University of California, Santa Barbara. She wasn’t even 18 and was graduating that year (WHAT). We hung out with our newfound British friends, occasionally trying to pass ourselves off as being one of them, complete with accents and all. Fun times. Skip to the end of the school year, and she was graduating and moving to England to go to law school (double WHAT).
Fast forward a few more years, and she’s gotten her MFA in screenwriting, won a contest to be London’s Guest of Honour, and met one of the most influential, prominent people on the planet (ie. Stephen Hawking) via the trip. I didn’t even know such a contest existed (please, Italy, get on this), and was so happy to hear that she’d won and had such an amazing, life changing experience.
Adaeze is beautiful inside and out, and an extremely humble person, having accomplished such extraordinary goals at her young age. She was wonderful enough to give us a little insight into how she won the contest, and how it’s changed not only her life, but her mindset about her possibilities in the future.
Tell us a little bit about yourself, your background, and how your fascination with Great Britain began.
I’m a California native from Palmdale. I’ve been obsessed with Great Britain since I was a child. I used to look forward to watching BBC America when I got back from school. It’s not an entirely random obsession. I have roots in England. My mother (who is Nigerian) went to boarding school in London and I have very distinct memories of my time there as a child. I think what solidified my love for the UK was when I began reading Harry Potter. I wanted nothing more than to abandon all my loved ones for Hogwarts, quidditch, and Oliver Wood. I’m usually more drawn to the British countryside, but London has always been a favorite of mine. There’s so much history and fiction that center around London. It always seems like something’s going on there: plays, street performances, festivals, etc…
How did you find out about the “London’s Guest of Honour” (GOH) program, and can you tell us about your process of applying?
The funny thing is that I was planning on going to London anyway. I was going to meet up with a friend who now lives there. I followed a couple of travel blogs on Twitter, and one of them retweeted the info for the contest so I entered. All they needed was a 60 second video describing my perfect day in London, along with a 70 word description of that day. It took me about three tries. The first and second tries were very scripted – I wasn’t really that impressed with them. In the end I just sat in front of my camera and talked. It went on for about seven minutes, and then I cut that down to 60 seconds.
I knew that they were contacting people to tell them that they’d made the top 15. After I got to work I saw that I had two missed calls from a blocked number. Something told me it was London & Partners (the contest organizers). I tweeted them and asked that they call again, which they did, but I missed that call too. I was so sad. I literally started planning how I would tell my grandchildren about the time I carelessly missed the opportunity of a lifetime. Finally, I got another call. As soon as I heard a British accent on the other line, I knew it was them.
The next day I had a Skype interview that I was certain I bombed. I thought that I talked too much, which is something I do a lot of. A few days later I got a call saying that I was in the top few contestants and that I would need to do an additional interview, this time with my mom, who I’d decided to bring with me if I won. That is when we were both told that we would be going to London and that I was London’s Official Guest of Honour. I’m pretty sure I cried.
How did it make you feel when you found out you were chosen out of 11,000 applicants to be the next GOH, and why do you think you were chosen? How did you get ready and prepare for the trip?
I never thought of myself as very special, having been chosen from so many other applicants. I felt like they needed someone and for some reason, out of a room of, I don’t know how many people, liked me enough to pick me. It wasn’t until after the competition that I allowed myself to feel very important. I was so afraid of it getting to my head. I kept telling myself that I didn’t earn this, which was self deprecating and unnecessarily negative. I think I would have saved myself a lot of worry if I didn’t think like that.
I didn’t do much to prepare for the trip. Most of the activities were kept secret. All I did was pack for two weeks for London.
What was your favorite part of the trip?
It’s really hard to pick a favorite part. I don’t think I could compare meeting Stephen Hawking to visiting Leavesden Studios, but they were both very important moments to me for different reasons. Clubbing in Shoreditch was also pretty memorable because it made me feel less like a tourist. I got a chance to see what nightlife in London is like for people from London. Which was nice.
Also, meeting Gurinder Chadha and Sir Ronald Harwood were pretty epic moments. Gurinder was so kind and gave me really great advice on screenwriting. She told me that she was attracted to film because of racism. She wanted to help clear up certain stereotypes through the means of entertainment, which I think is just genius. Sir Ronald was very sweet. He showed me his BAFTA and Academy award.
I know you’re an aspiring screenwriter. Do you think you will incorporate this trip/experiences into any of your writings one day?
Yes! I’ve been wanting to write a project with a British setting, but having not been to the UK for a while, I felt a lack of inspiration! Being in London helped a lot. I met a lot of great characters in London, and there are some of the most beautiful settings in both London and Wales. I can’t wait to start filming there.
What would you say is the most important thing you took away from this experience, and how are you using it in your life today?
Before the trip, I thought about my future on a much smaller scale. I thought about what could be financially possible. I thought that it would be a great idea to move to the UK someday, but I didn’t know if that would be possible for me. I’d just finished my MFA and I needed to make money immediately.
Since the trip, my goals have increased significantly in scale. I feel like more is possible. I never thought that I could meet Stephen Hawking, but I did. And even though it was through a contest that might seem like was just handed to me – I won that contest.
Winning the title of London’s Guest of Honour was an achievement of mine that created opportunities I thought were impossible. If this could happen to me, I’m sure more incredible things can.
What advice would you have for someone looking to be London’s next GOH? Any tips for them to help their application stand out?
All I would be able to advise is for them to be themselves. That’s all I did in my video. I just talked at my camera and had to edit that down to 60 seconds. While I was there, they told me that part of the reason I was chosen is because they were able to get a sense of who I was – which was nice to hear.
If you could travel anywhere in the world, and be another city’s GOH, where would that be, and why? What sights and people would you like to see and meet there?
I would probably go back to the UK. I found out a few years ago that my great great grandfather is from Scotland, so I’d love to go to Edinburgh or Glasgow. Also, I’ve always wanted to see more of Paris, so Paris would definitely be on the list. I’m working on my French…
Where can people find out more about you, and learn more about this program if they’re interested in entering it?
If anyone would like to learn more about me, they can find me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/uhdezuh.
If they’d like to learn more about the contest they can go to http://www.visitlondon.com/guest. I’m not sure when or if there will be another GOH contest, but I would 100% recommend entering. London is such a lively city with so much to offer.
Thanks to Adaeze so much for giving us a little insight into her special trip!
You can read more about some of her excursions during the trip here:
Now, it's your turn - if you had a chance to be London's Guest of Honour (or any city's Guest of Honor), where would it be, and what would YOUR perfect day there look like?