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We should be more proud of the Britain that gave my family hope and
[April 23, 2006]

We should be more proud of the Britain that gave my family hope and

(The Mail on Sunday Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)MY FATHER, Mazhar Hussain, is fond of recalling that when he arrived in England in 1961 he had no job - and no raincoat. Finding the former was fairly urgent but finding the latter was an immediate necessity. A raincoat was his first purchase in Britain.

In common with most of the migrants from the Commonwealth in this period, he had come to this country in search of a new start and a better life.

A former soldier, he had left my mother, Tahira, and me at home in our village near Rawalpindi in northern Pakistan while he investigated whether or not we could make a go of things here.

On his first weekend, he decided to find out what was happening in the homeland.

He went to a newsagent and bought a newspaper with a title suggesting that it would provide the information he sought - the News Of The World.

A highly logical purchase, but the paper proved unfortunately light on in-depth analysis of news from Pakistan that particular Sunday. The early days were a voyage of discovery.

However, he soon found his feet and work, first in an Army supplies depot, where his military experience stood him in good stead, and then in a Royal Mail sorting office.

He discovered that he liked this slightly eccentric, damp country and, in 1963, sent for his wife and his five-year-old son.

We settled in Willesden, North London.

We lived in rented accommodation in a large house shared with other families.

The three of us had one large bedsitting room, with a kitchenette. Dad worked night shifts and at weekends because the pay was better.

I picked up English quickly - Dad insisted we spoke only English at home - and I loved school.

Among my best friends were a kid with Irish parents and a lad with South African parents, as well as born-and-bred Londoners. Nationality doesn't mean much to children.

I can't claim to have excelled academically at that stage but I did have great fun. We played football in the street, climbed trees - all the usual stuff.

My parents very quickly decided we were here to stay.

They saw Britain as a country of opportunity. If a man was prepared to work hard - and my father was - he could prosper here. If you look at the composition of modern London, you can see that it is still a magnet for those who want to get on.

A lot of migrant families nurture a rosy image of their parent country with the aim of returning at some point, ideally wealthier than when they left.

But we made a decision to embrace the British way of life and culture.

This didn't mean my parents stopped taking a detached interest in Pakistani affairs or that my father no longer followed the country's sporting endeavours.

LORD TEBBIT'S 'cricket test' (which suggested Britain's ethnic minorities should support the England cricket team rather than the team of the country their family originated from) just doesn't work - because sporting allegiance tends to reflect the past, not the future.

But it did mean Britain became our home and the focus for our plans and dreams.

The country undoubtedly had some faults but the good points far outweighed the bad. For as long as I can remember, I have thought of myself as British.

At the age of seven my parents sent me to a prep school. This was a difficult decision when money was tight - we still didn't own our own home.

But they placed a very high value on academic achievement.

By the time I had finished grammar school, I had set my heart on joining the Royal Navy.

It promised adventure and was an organisation that seemed to me to reflect my family's values.

The Royal Navy wasn't particularly interested in your background or your colour. It never has been. Volunteers from more than 20 nations fought under Admiral Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar, including Indians and Africans and even Frenchmen and Spaniards.

Nor was it concerned about creed or religion - I am a Muslim. What the Royal Navy was interested in was whether you could do the job and whether you could be relied upon in a crisis.

And at the heart of the traditions of the Navy is the concept of fairness.

Living cheek by jowl in floating tin cans you can't treat one member of the team differently because, if you do, the unit breaks up very, very quickly.

The strength of a team comes from everyone working together and for that to succeed everyone needs to know they are being treated as well as each other.

On paper, the Royal Navy might look crusty and oldfashioned. But then perhaps fairness is an old-fashioned value. And most of our values have withstood the test of time.

Nelson may have been arrogant and egotistical but he was also a truly great leader who understood the importance of compassion and professionalism.

This country has its critics, often none more fierce than the British themselves. It's easy to be critical but outsiders, such as my father, have a completely different perspective and perhaps they find it easier to see the good points rather than always looking for the faults.

EVENTUALLYmy father's hard work paid off and he was able to start his own modest property development business. And I joined the Navy in 1977 and have done well in my career, making both of my parents very proud.

The media have made much of the fact that I have become the Navy's first non-white admiral, its first Muslim admiral and the highest-ranking ethnic-minority officer in the Armed Forces.

Naturally, I don't think of myself in those terms.

I see myself simply as just another naval officer. A fellow privileged to be doing a job he loves, for his country and for a top-class organisation that rewards what you do rather than who you are.

I think my story is remarkable only in that it demonstrates the opportunities in this country.

And now my wife Wendy and I look forward to seeing what our three children will make of those opportunities.

I have been fortunate enough to go further than my father ever dreamed possible 45 years ago when, as a hopeful 30-yearold, he stepped off the plane at Heathrow into the English rain.

My parents had great faith in Great Britain. And their faith has been repaid.

. Commodore Amjad Hussain, 47, becomes a rear-admiral in September, the first ethnicminority Royal Naval officer to reach the rank.

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