Rozan Ahmed is a writer, editor and cultural commentator who lost friends and family in Grenfell Tower fire. As Simon Cowell releases a charity single cover version of Simon and Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Waters -- featuring Brian May, Geri Halliwell and Tulisa -- to raise money to support the victims of the tragedy, Rozan writes him an open letter...
Dear Simon Cowell,
It took me a long time to wrap my head around addressing you, and before I go into things, I'd like to explain why.
I am traumatised. Sincerely and deeply affected by watching my neighbours, friends and family lose their lives inside a building they knew wasn't safe. I am outraged by the fact that here we are, over a week later, and my loved ones are nowhere to be found. Not a single official, from any authority, advising any of us on their whereabouts. Stuck in the cruelest of limbos while you choose to make a song about it. I am frustrated and deeply aggravated by the perpetual mismanagement of information, the distractions and false-flags, the general no-show of public servants, all while members of the public do their work for them.
You know, Simon, I always actually quite liked you. I argued your harsh words were a necessary truth. Your lack of sympathy the realest sympathy. Most don't have the courage to deliver reality checks. I saw a lot of myself in your zero-tolerance passion for excellence. I always thought that in spite of a strange tendency to exploit grief for higher ratings, you still created a platform that gave a lot of talented people the praise and attention they deserve. Right now though, I don't know what to think.
Let me tell you a little about myself. I work in the arts -- music, fashion, culture -- I understand its phenomenal power and emotional influence. I imagine you do too. It's a relationship I utilise helplessly, all the time. The only skill set I have is to shift minds towards real, positive change and a more united development. I get why you chose music as a tool to shed light on this national tragedy. But Simon... really? A charity single, right now? What kind of light are you trying to shed? How specifically are you helping in what is still an ongoing disaster?
Are you not aware that millions of pounds has already been raised? And that the Grenfell victims are yet to see much of it? The volunteer centres -- currently managed by the community -- have received little of it. How is this happening? What makes your fundraising attempts any different? How can we be sure your cash will reach the right people?
If you didn't know about the missing millions in donations, why not? Wasn't any research done? Did you look into the needs of those on the ground at all? Did you ask if they're okay with being sung about? Are you remotely aware of the trauma they're going through right now? The suicide attempts? The rage? The toxic post-fire fumes still enveloping lungs and minds across the whole community? The confusion and loss? The need for therapists, psychologists, counselling? A legitimate sense that perhaps the authorities responsible for this are going to finally admit it?
Do you know that while the publicised number of deaths remains at 78 there are over 300 people STILL "missing"? That many survivors, friends and families are not being told where the bodies are? That they can't even bury their loved ones yet? Tell me Simon, has your single brought awareness to any of this?
Other than a moment of obvious self-indulgence, serenading with pain as your clearly misguided friends gratify themselves under a veil of caring, minimising mass murder as they relish in photo ops less than a bloody mile away from Grenfell itself. How, precisely, is this helping? Who is this helping? You do realise there aren't many victims to actually help? Most, whether this ever gets admitted or not, are dead.
Shouldn't you have just gone to the community? Listened to them? Identified the volunteer centres currently working their arses off and just asked them? Just wrote them a cheque?
This isn't a hurricane, or a far-away famine. Citizens of your borough were set ablaze as a result of austerity, government negligence and financial greed -- down the road from you. This is London. Hundreds of people were trapped and burned to death inside a building that didn't cater to their basic safety, despite their complaints and pleas. Then, in the aftermath of this very real hell, we, their family and friends, are being kept in the dark.
Do you understand the scale of this? Let me give you some more context. Personal context. My people were in that building. Two friends, who I considered family, and three relatives. I emailed and called the RBKC (Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea), the KCTMO (Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation), and hospitals across west London for three days straight, begging for information on the hundreds still missing. They told me nothing. To this day, nothing.
Facebook timelines were screaming for help, and help came -- in abundance. But for who? There are boxes and boxes of clothes and other donations still packed away in storage, Simon. Who exactly are you raising money for? Do you know? Because many of us don't. Figures circulated that over 2,000 were made homeless. How is this possible when Grenfell housed approximately 600-700? If 79 are dead (as the BBC claim) where are the remaining 521? How are 79 dead when hundreds are yet to be accounted for? More than clothes, or songs, the people need answers.
Simon, I know you're not stupid, so stupidity isn't the reason for this single -- which by the way, is very underwhelming. Rushed, mediocre and rather unfair to the legendary works of Simon and Garfunkel. I also wonder why the video doesn't remotely reflect the people of Grenfell, who're predominantly African and Arab? My G what happened there?
As an individual who does appear ruthless, but with some level of heart, I'd like to think this show of compassion, despite its many flaws, is not a total facade. Who knows, maybe there's a part of you that genuinely wants to help? If that's the case, here's a few suggestions on how to really do that:
Grenfell residents and their people must know where their missing loved ones are. Use your voice to support this obviously rightful demand. Raise global awareness, contact the RBKC and the KCTMO, encourage your following to do the same. Up the pressure with the people you claimed to care for. This is fundamentally what they need.
Visit the local volunteer centres run solely by the community. @hereisthehelp and @grenfellhealingzone are two examples. I'm happy to provide more. Use your influence to find out why millions of pounds in donations are yet to reach these centres or the victims they're supporting. I'm sure you wouldn't want the same to happen to your financial contribution.
Work with the volunteers to identify what is going on. Help them help the victims in locating these donations, rehousing and resettling. This is fundamentally what they need.
You stated in a recent interview that this living nightmare could have been avoided, and you're absolutely right. It could have. Why wasn't it?
On behalf the victims you're so keen to help, perhaps you and your rallied group of artists should record a song posing this question to the following...
Robert Black: KCTMO Chief Executive.
Vimal Sama: RBKC Chief Solicitor (he told the Grenfell action group that their concerns over the tower block being unsafe were "untrue" -- Sama's letter, stating this, is currently circulating online).
Nick Paget-Brown: Conservative leader and leading member of the RBKC when plans were actioned to "regenerate" the neighbourhood surrounding Grenfell tower.
Merrick Cockell: Former RBKC Chief Executive
Jonathan Bore: Head of Planning, RBKC+
Rydon: Contractor allegedly responsible for the deadly facade/cladding of Grenfell tower.
Studio E: Contractor allegedly responsible deadly facade/cladding of Grenfell tower.
I promise you Simon, this is fundamentally all we need. Sincerely, and deeply,
Text Rozan Ahmed
Image via Creative Commons