SEVEN years ago, Mo Farah looked me straight in the eye in front of millions of people – and lied through his back teeth.
We were sitting just a few feet away from each other in a London TV studio, recording a lengthy interview for my show Life Stories.
And during an emotion-charged encounter, Mo – now Sir Mo – talked very movingly about coming to Britain from war-torn Somalia with his mother and several siblings to be reunited with his father Muktar who was already here working as an IT consultant in London.
There was only one problem with this touching reunion tale: it was all untrue.
Mo’s father, whose real name was Abdi, had died four years before in Somalia’s civil war.
And his now world-famous son, the first British track and field athlete to win four Olympic gold medals, has sensationally revealed that he was in fact illegally trafficked to the UK under a false name, and made to work as a domestic servant from the age of just nine.
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"Most people know me as Mo Farah, but it’s not my name, or it’s not the reality," he told a BBC documentary that airs tomorrow night.
"The real story is I was born in Somaliland, north of Somalia, as Hussein Abdi Kahin. Despite what I’ve said in the past, my parents never lived in the UK. When I was four, my dad was killed in the civil war. I feel like I’ve always had that private thing where I could never be me and tell what’s really happened."
Mo’s appalling ordeal only ended when he finally told his school PE teacher who contacted social services and helped him be fostered by another Somali family.
From that moment, his life took a dramatic turn for the better and a relieved, liberated and much happier Mo never looked back as he ran himself into Olympic legend.
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Now, finally, he feels able to reveal the truth about what happened to him.
To say I was gob-smacked by his bombshell confession is the understatement of the Millennium.
In preparation for all my Life Stories interviews, I would spend days immersing myself into the deepest recesses of the subject’s life.
By the time I sat down with Mo in May 2015, I had carefully studied every significant media interview he’d ever given, and read his 2013 autobiography, Twin Ambitions.
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It’s no exaggeration to say that, as with many of the guests, I probably knew more about him than he would be able to remember about himself.
Yet it turned out I didn’t know the half of it, and Mo’s real life story was far more shocking and extraordinary than I could ever have imagined.
No wonder his first words to me when the cameras rolled were: "I’m really nervous because I’ve never talked about my life…"
Thinking back to that show again today, it’s strange and uncomfortable to remember Mo tell me about being reunited with his father in London, and about his difficult relationship with him after that, knowing what I know now.
Some interviewers might feel cheated or angry a guest lied to them so spectacularly on prime-time TV.
But I don’t.
WHO COULD BLAME HIM?
I’ve got to know Mo well since the interview; we’re fellow Arsenal fans and sometimes sit together in a mutual friend’s box at the Emirates stadium.
He’s a great guy – smart, passionate, fun and a devoted family man to his wife and children.
But he’s clearly been living in a terrible mental prison camp about the horrifying experiences of his youth, and never felt strong enough to say what really went down or share it with the British people who took him to our hearts.
Who could blame him for not wanting us to know how he really came here?
Imagine the sickening nagging worry he must have had for 30 years, as his success and fame rocketed, that the truth might one day come out about his unlawful immigrant status and he could lose both his British citizenship and with it, the knighthood that means so much to him?
If anyone has earned the right to stay here then it is surely Sir Mo Farah
In the BBC documentary, barrister Allan Briddock tells Sir Mo his nationality was ‘obtained by fraud or misrepresentations’ due to the illegal trafficking and his use of a false name, and that legally, it can therefore be removed.
Thankfully, the Home Office – currently planning to send asylum seekers on a one-way ticket to Rwanda – has moved quickly to say it will be not taking any action against him.
I should bloody well think so!
If anyone has earned the right to stay here then it is surely Sir Mo Farah, a man who overcame so much personal tragedy and hardship to light up world athletics and be rewarded for his astonishing success with a sword-tap on the shoulder from his grateful Queen.
In our Life Stories interview, I asked Mo about the racist cynics who questioned his right to call himself British and he replied: "Everyone’s entitled to their opinions, but at the same time it’s what you feel in your heart, and for me this is my country, I see myself as British, I’ve done well for my country.
"It is amazing, as a kid not being able to speak English, and to achieve what I have, it’s incredible."
It was incredible then, based on what we thought we knew about his life.
Today, it seems even more incredible.
A nine-year-old boy who lost his dad to war, couldn’t speak English, and was illegally trafficked here into a shameful form of domestic slavery, fights back from horrible adversity to become one of Britain’s greatest sporting stars.
What a life!
What a story!
I just wish I’d known about it seven years ago…
Last night, when the news dropped, I texted him to say: "Mo, what an amazing story, so courageous of you to finally tell it. Just sending my support."
"Thanks so much mate!" he replied, sounding like a true Brit.
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