Levi Roots: ‘My parents moved to Britain when I was four. I didn’t see them again until I was 11’

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The chef and musician recalls the day his parents left Jamaica for England, how he rejoined them in south London seven years later and how he got his love of cooking from his grandparents

I was born Keith Valentine Graham in 1958 in the village of Content in Jamaica. I was the fifth of six children. My youngest brother died just after he was born. I grew up with my grandparents. My parents, Lassel and Doreen, came to Britain when I was four. The plan was to work hard, buy a house and send for us. Every year, a suitcase would arrive and we would know one of us was leaving to join them. I was last. I didn’t see them again until I was 11.

My memories of the moment my mum left are vivid. My grandfather had a mango tree he guarded with his life. At times, he even put bags around the fruit so birds couldn’t eat them. I had made a plan to get a mango for my mum before she left. I managed to climb the tree and cut one down, but didn’t get back in time. We had this long driveway and I remember chasing after the car and calling after Mum.

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