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Dev Patel: From Rayners Lane to the Oscars

With the release of Lion – the critically-acclaimed story of one man’s search for his lost family – this month has marked the return of one of the borough’s biggest current names to the big-screen.

With this in mind, and with past weeks’ having featured previous popular figures to have emerged from the borough, it is perhaps about time that Dev Patel – the award-winning actor from Harrow – is the focus of one of these articles. Yet more than this, Patel’s story from suburbia to stardom is one rooted in the local area in a much more tangible way than most. From his time at school to his activities in the borough – Dev Patel’s story is one that every Harrowvian should be able to relate to, and one that, it seems, the now-famous actor continues to carry with him.


Born in April 1990, Patel lived and was raised in Rayners Lane, attending Longfield Primary School in North Harrow. His time at the school saw his first tentative steps into acting – with Patel having been awarded the Best Actor award for his performance as Sir Andrew Aguecheek in the school’s production of Twelfth Night.


Speaking to Get West London at the time of Slumdog Millionaire’s release, Judy Moss, a teacher at Longfield at the time, commented, ‘when he went into middle school was when he came into his own.’


Patel would find continued success in acting at Whitmore High School. His self-penned portrayal of a child during the Beslan school siege drew an A* mark in Drama from the examiners, with the visiting examiner purportedly being moved to tears by the performance. It was also around this time that Patel got his first acting gig, with his mother taking him along to an audition for the then-upcoming E4 drama Skins – his mother having seen the casting ad in a newspaper. His role in the show would turn out to be the start of his acting career – it being through his work on Skins that Danny Boyle, the director of Slumdog Millionaire, would learn of Patel and seek him out for the lead role.


However, it was never a certain thing that acting would be Patel’s choice of career. Whilst finding success in acting as early as primary school, Patel has stressed in interviews how he had been very energetic as a child – something which led his parents to search for avenues for him to put this energy to use. Initially, this was not acting but rather martial arts. In 2000, Patel started training at the Rayners Lane Academy of Taekwon-do, and in the years that followed, he would continue to compete regularly in national and international championships – including the 2004 Action International Martial Arts Association World Championships in Dublin, where he won a bronze medal.


It was only with his success in Skins, that Patel’s involvement in the sport was curtailed – his time becoming stretched between his continued studies at Whitmore and his filming commitments in Bristol, leaving little time for anything else in between.

In retrospect, it seems like this time may have been hard for the young actor – Patel having admitted recently that he didn’t quite know what he was getting into with Skins, nor what it could mean for his school-life. Patel has since said there was ‘a lot of aggression from some kids [at Whitmore],’ most notably by those ‘who didn’t like me not being a Muslim kid but playing one [in Skins].’  It is perhaps telling, then, that Patel only completed his first year in A-Levels before committing full-time to acting.


Yet Patel has little to regret with this choice. Soon after his role in Skins, Patel found critical and commercial success in the well-known Slumdog Millionaire – which saw him receive a number of awards, most notably a nomination for Best Supporting Actor in 2009 from the Screen Actors Guild Awards. Patel has since gone on to play roles in a number of roles on the small- and big-screen – most recently with Lion, which has seen him nominated for Best Supporting Actor at this year’s BAFTAs.


However, even with his now global stardom, Patel can be seen to carry round Harrow with him to this day. Indeed, it’s interesting to read his references to the borough in the interviews he takes part in, even more so by how mundane, how grounded they are in the local area – perhaps most of all with his references to the likes of the Vue Cinema in central Harrow. It’s in moments like these – with Patel’s big-screen status clashes with the small-time, suburban roots – that it becomes clear that the actor now known worldwide today was raised in the very same streets that we continue to live in. And no matter how great his successes, it seems clear too that – in how often Patel call back to this time – that he recognises how formative his youth in Harrow was.


Like so many others, then, Harrow was the key site for another big, world-famous name; but more than this, with Dev Patel we have an intrinsically modern Harrow story – and one that, as Judy Moss remarked in her interview, can be an inspiration and role model for young people across the borough.         

 By Harry Turner

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