Fresh-faced: Harry Uzoka was signed by Premier model management in 2012 and had become one of UK’s top black male models | HARRY UZOKA/INSTAGRAM
Harry Uzoka has been a fabric of urban London for almost a decade, fresh-faced, oozing street cred and cool. His face has stared down at you from one of the many ubiquitous ads on the underground, on your way up and down the escalators, from shop awnings and billboards, so ubiquitous that you’ve really never noticed he’d been there all along. He’s flogged everything from ‘stacked’ jeans to t-shirts, high-top sneakers to polo tops. Yes, he is the chiselled jawed six-footer with that trademark scowl you often see city teens wearing on their daily swagger.
He became the fifth Londoner to die in 2018 from a bladed weapon after an unprecedented violent orgy of stabbings claimed four lives on New Year’s eve in a year that saw 80 fatalities from stabbings. He was a male model with the world at his feet and global fashion campaigns from London to New York and Sunset Boulevard to Shanghai.
Known as Harry in the glamorous, jet-setting world of castings, photoshoots, catwalks and fashion weeks the 25-year-old breathed his last on a dank pavement in west London on Thursday 11 January after paramedics failed to save his life. He’d stumbled through a housing estate and collapsed onto the main road from a single stab wound to the heart. His fight for life lasted just an hour and he joins a growing list of fatalities in London’s soaring knife epidemic.
It followed the same unsettling pattern, police were called by the London Ambulance Service at approximately 15:55hrs to reports of a man injured in Old Oak Road near Shepherds Bush, just a walk away from the well-heeled enclave of Askew Road with its independent shops. Officers and London’s Air Ambulance attended. He was found suffering from a stab wound and pronounced dead at the scene at 17:00hrs.
WALKING TALL WITH ATTITUDE
British-Nigerian Uzoka broke into the exclusive preserve of international male fashion modelling in 2012 when he signed onto the books of Premier Model Management. He was soon to be snapped up by Next Models in New York. He credits a collective of fellow black male models Justanorm for championing black models on the catwalk and on the cover of magazines when he started out in 2011, one of the few black male faces from the UK. “There weren’t many [black] models around, and some of the partners in the business were one of a few who showed me the ropes and by them booking certain jobs it opened the door for me.
“We have managed to do this for each other and other models in the industry and vice versa, all in one big shift to change things. Hopefully it continues and gets bigger and better,” he told OK Nigeria magazine in 2014. Black models, male and female have often fought unfair representation in the profession often protesting a lack of opportunities. Uzoka too found it hard when he started out as you had to be the “it” thing to get noticed by the big clients.
He recollects: “When I started, there was maybe space for only one black model at the time but now there’s so many young black British models doing their thing. Jourdan Copland being the first black male model to walk for Burberry and Marc Phiri turning up for every show at London and Milan.
“And if you look at female fashion, you’ll see Betty, Leomie [Anderson], Jourdan [Dunn], Malaika, all making history, things are definitely on the up!”
OXFORD STREET TO SUNSET BOULEVARD
Uzoka’s stock had risen with his catwalk appearances from London to Milan, Paris to New York to opening the lucrative Topshop SS15 show in 2014, an accolade afforded the most recognisable faces in fashion. He treaded the decks for all the big fashion houses from Alexander McQueen, Dsquared, Margaret Howell, Lyle and Scott, Zara and fronted major billboard and magazine campaigns for Levi’s Crafted, G-Star Raw, Uniqlo, Everlane, and Foot Asylum amongst many others. He also appeared online for Boohoo, Uniqlo and Zara.
His face had become omnipresent in major fashion capitals and his versatility meant he was also in demand for editorial work scoring his first magazine cover with Hunger magazine in 2014. He has also recently appeared in Kinfolk magazine’s Work issue as the studious model and on the cover of the lifestyle publishing house’s latest tome for entrepreneurs.
Uzoka seemed to have gained the respect of his peers and many young admirers who hung on his every word and musings in the open book of millennials that is Instagram where over 14,000 of his followers and close friends have reacted with disbelief and shock to his tragic passing.
A spokesman for Premier Model Management described Uzoka as “so special” with an infectious personality. The modelling agency said in a condolence message: “There is no way to describe how or why Harry was so special. He simply had the most infectious and fun personality. We shared so many amazing moments together. He would always come into the agency singing and dancing. Him and his wingman, Chuck Achike, were a mesmerizing duo and you always knew laughter was on the way when they entered the agency together. They were the most dynamic and amazing duo.”
His friend and fellow male model Andrew Georgiades told IBTimes UK: “Harry was a good kid. He was just so optimistic and had such a positive energy about him. A massively infectious personality, and so funny.”
He added: “He’s definitely held in such high regard not only amongst us models, but also by clients, and was regarded as a role model for young black boys.”
Chuck Junior Achike, a childhood friend and fellow model poured his heart out: “I can’t begin to describe how sorry I am my g. I am so sorry I wasn’t there. I walk with your heart on my sleeve and your spirit in my head for the rest of my life. I love you brother, at least I know you’re in place where you can comprehend these few words and know much you mean to me. Love g. Twin soul. 226. Justanorm. 304.
“Please. Please. Please. Everyone honour our legend by spreading his name with the success and love stories he filled our lives with. Not with any negativity attached to the passing of King Uzoka. Avoid media outlets and any information that’s been published as of yet. Thank you.”
His sporting idols were Arsenal footballing legends Ian Wright and Thierry Henry. His creativity was sparked through the abstract work of Kandinsky with many prints from the artist featuring in his social media postings. He stares across a vast landscape of green lush trees in his final post from St Lucia wishing his followers happy holidays. He only just tasted the new year briefly departing so tragically but could his demise herald the courage to finally put a stop to this senseless violence robbing the city of its most promising youths?
Two men, aged 27 and 28, were subsequently arrested nearby on suspicion of murder and have been remanded in custody. Detectives from the Homicide and Major Crime Command are investigating. Detective Inspector Beverley Kofi said: “This is another tragic murder with a young male victim who has met a violent death.
“We believe that the incident started outside Ollgar House, in Ollgar Close and the victim was assaulted and stabbed before staggering and collapsing in Old Oak Road. We believe there were a number of people involved, but we are still working to establish the circumstances and a possible motive.
“We have made two arrests and continue to pursue a number of lines of inquiry. We need the public’s help to piece together what happened – who the victim was seen with, the incident itself and the immediate aftermath.
“If you were in the area at the time and saw anything that could be of significance to the investigation, we would urge you to get it touch right away.”
If you have any information that could assist detectives, please call the incident room on 0208 358 0100, or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
FIGHTING KNIFE CRIME
Scotland Yard has been forced to plough more resources into curbing the escalating violence intensifying the controversial policy of stop-and-search. Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Craig Mackey went on the record about the Met’s commitment to tackling knife crime in the capital after New Year’s orgy of fresh killings.
He said: “Millions of Londoners celebrated New Year’s Eve peacefully and safely, but four families who lost loves ones in violent circumstances got the worst news imaginable and our thoughts remain with them and everyone affected by what has taken place.
“This number of violent deaths in any 24-hour period is highly unusual, and detectives are working around the clock to bring those responsible to justice.
“We have made arrests in two of these cases, with active lines of enquiry in each of the investigations being pursued. We would urge anybody who has any information about these murders that might assist detectives to contact police.
“Tackling serious violence and knife crime in London remains a number one priority for the Met, but Londoners need to pull together to tackle this issue.
“From community weapon sweeps, proactive operations that happen daily and engagement with schools, Met officers are working 24 hours a day, 365 days a year as part of our firm commitment to reducing knife crime amongst young people. The success of Operation Winter Nights saw more than 350 weapons seized in November and December.
“We need to find out why some young people think it is acceptable to carry knives, and this is where community organisations and local initiatives, charities, schools and educators, youth workers and families all have an important role to play in changing this mindset.
“We can all do more to protect young people, and I would urge anybody who has information about those engaged in violent crime to speak to police. Your call could help save a life.”
- Three men in their 20s have since appeared in preliminary court hearings charged with the murder of Harry Uzoka. A trial date has been set for 9 July and the defendants have to enter a plea by 4 April.