114. Sathnam Sanghera; Empire, Racism and Legacy, Brits Abroad and Boris Johnson’s Therapy - The Big Travel Podcast

Episode 114
February 2 , 2021

114. Sathnam Sanghera; Empire, Racism and Legacy, Brits Abroad and Boris Johnson’s Therapy

It was winning a Radio 1 competition age 15 to fly to LA that first piqued Sathnam Sanghera’s taste for travel and indeed journalism. His latest book EmpireLand: How Modern Britain is Shaped by its Imperial Past explores how the British Empire, genocidal as it often was, still shapes who we are. As well as the Empire, racism, Enoch Powell, Cambridge, 80s popular culture, the history of Brits Abroad and Boris Johnson needing therapy we chart Sathnam’s own journey from his Sikh community in Wolverhampton to journalist for The Times and more.  


On this episode we cover:


Selective amnesia and nostalgia

Conquering the world

We see ourselves as the people who won WW2

But actually Empire was often genocidal white supremacy

500 years of differing history

More useful to talk about the modern legacies of empire

Much we haven’t faced up to

The book being accidentally timely with Black Lives Matter

Statues not mattering

Multi-culturism being much more important

Our racism being explained by empire

Our dysfunctional politics being explained by empire

British travelling almost more than any other nation

Statue toppling getting middle England angry

How statue toppling can weaponise the right wing

Massacres, genocide and the creation of modern racism

Lisa being a product of British Colonialism indentured labour

Where British moved millions of Indian people around the world

British changing stereotypes of what races were good and bad at

The Sikhs being made to be a martial race

His parents arriving in Wolverhampton the same year as Enoch Powell’s rivers of blood speech

Sikhs having a good record of integration

Integration and multicultural being an inversion of racial hierarchy’

Lisa recording podcasts with Lord Mountbatten’s daughter Lady Pamela Hicks

Empire not being that long ago

Textbooks with offensive racial generalisations being used into the 1980s

Lisa’s Indian-Fijian father marrying her white mother in the 1960s

Lisa growing up with no Indian culture whatsoever

Growing up in a Sikh community in Wolverhampton

Most of his classmates being brown or black

Being ‘Enoch Powell’s nightmare’

Hiding in a Sikh temple when far right yobs attacking houses

Wolves fans wearing KKK hoods

A scholarship to a private school changing his life

The school fees being more than his parents earned in a year

The inspirational headteacher who believed in him

Going from someone who barely talked in class to being head boy

Education distancing him from his family

Cutting off his top knot being quite a statement

His wonderful education also being a form of colonisation

Indian Princes being sent to British schools

His father and sister having schizophrenia

Briefly deleted his heritage

But appreciating his amazing childhood surrounded by cousins (52!)

Factory work as a child for up to 90 hours a week

Being poor in money but truly rich in love

Poverty meaning you need other people more

You can sense when someone hasn’t been loved as a child

And quite often they end up in politics

Boris Johnson needing years of therapy

Boris Johnson saying crazy things about British Empire;

‘Water melon smiles’ and an obsession with being world-beating

Jacob Rees-Mogg also being obsessed with Empire

Not really understanding the people at Cambridge

Cambridge being ‘socially confusing’

Rich people pretending to be poor

Not feeling sentimental about being working class

Becoming middle class as quickly as he could

Regretting not be more sociable at Cambridge

Is Sathnam now part of the establishment working for The Times…?

Doing anti-networking journalism

Asking people rude and difficult questions

Feeling it’s a duty to be honest to the reader

Strategy is to not say much – people struggle to handle silence

The connection between Empire and travel

The British love of travel going back directly to Empire

We have the largest number of emigrants overseas

How drunk ‘Brits Abroad’ are actually following a long tradition of Empire

The British Empire being famously drunk

Eating a full English breakfast in the middle of Rome

Our tradition of dressing quite badly abroad

Enoch Powell in a three piece suit in the heat of India

Reverse missionaries – where we spread Christianity and now foreign nations are more religious

British Expats being obsessed with a British education

The Grand Tour, sons of wealthy families travelling for culture, art and freedom

Going to Empire having been financially lucrative

The real risk of death and disease in Empire

Spending a year in the USA for the Financial Times

Hating travelling in his 20s and being very homesick

Lockdown cancelling world trips to promote his book

How often the best part of travelling is coming back home

Feeling he knows his home town better now he’s moved out

Loving the diversity and excitement in London

Winning a Radio 1 competition to see Michael Jackson

Age 15, having barely left Wolverhampton he ended up in LA

Flying to LA with Jackie Brambles

Being pictured with Michael Jackson at the Superbowl