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‘Please don’t bow, I’m just Charlie’ – meet the new mayor of Southwark

Councillor Charlie Smith has been made the new Mayor of Southwark, after taking over from councillor Kath Whittam.

Charlie, 69 and from East Dulwich was previously deputy mayor, which for 2017-18 will be taken up by Peckham councillor, Jamille Mohammed.

The changeover took place on Saturday at Southwark Cathedral, with a large congregation also in attendance for the annual Civic Awards.

“It all went very well. We did a bit of a rehearsal, just so we wouldn’t be bumping into each other,” said Charlie, who is now the 52nd mayor since Southwark became a London borough in 1965.

Charlie has been married to his wife Susan for 51 years. In his speech on Saturday he said: “You don’t even get that much for murder.” He had wanted to get a couple of gags in his speech, he said.

He noted Southwark’s rich history, with Shakespeare, The Globe, Chaucer, all of whom crossed paths at what used to be The Tabard Inn, a pub which is now long gone. “But I do believe councillor Ian Wingfield used to be a regular there,” Charlie said.

Outgoing mayor Kath Whittam hands the chains over to Charlie Smith

On his time as deputy mayor, Charlie said: “It’s been fantastic. I’ve been out and about all over the place every week. Madam mayor [Kath Whittam] was really good to me. It was like doing an apprenticeship for the real thing.

“As mayor or deputy mayor you try and spend as much time with people as possible and go to so many events, and everywhere you go people are pleased to see you.

“Sometimes people will even bow when they see me in my robes, but I tell them ‘please don’t bow, I’m just Charlie’.”

His highlight of last year was the Remembrance Concert at the Royal Albert Hall, where he sat “two boxes away from the Queen, and a few away from Jeremy Corbyn”. And another moving occasion was the service at Mary Harmsworth Park for Holocaust Memorial Day.

As well as fundraising constantly for the Mayor’s Common Good Trust, each mayor chooses two charities to help throughout the year. Charlie’s choices were Southwark Pensioners’ Centre and the Change Foundation.

On his childhood, Charlie said he left school when he was fifteen, and went into a job in construction, with no qualifications, other than a 25-yards swimming certificate.

He became a councillor in 2002, and twice stood for Parliament in Tory-held seats: in Chichester, and the City of London and Westminster.

But Charlie said he was beaten from his seat by the Liberal Democrats in the 2006 local elections, which he puts down to Tony Blair’s unpopular decision to invade Iraq, something which “didn’t go down well with a lot of people in Dulwich,” he said. But he “took up the cudgel” again in 2014 and succeeded in getting in East Dulwich ward.


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