One of the especially heartbreaking aspects of the Grenfell Tower tragedy was the devastation it inflicted on children. Almost all the local schools lost pupils, teachers or other staff members. Holland Park, the local state secondary school situated less than three kilometres away, is no different..
“The news broke on the radio as I was driving into work,” said deputy head Richard Northover. “As soon as I arrived at school I searched the database to find out if any students lived there.”
One of the names Mr Northover found was Nur Huda el-Wahabi, 15, who had previously been in his English class. He remembers her as “a warm, good-spirited [child]”. The teacher tried to contact the family via Nur Huda’s father, but the phone was never answered and the line soon cut out.
The entire family, who were originally from Morocco, are believed to have perished in the tower: Nur Huda, her father Abdul Aziz, 52, mother Fouzia, 42, and two brothers, Mehdi, eight and Yasin, 21. Yasin was also a student at Holland Park..
Nur Huda’s name is set to live on beyond the official tributes and memorials to the victims of Grenfell because she is to be immortalised as a character in a children’s book written by Philip Pullman, the author of the hugely popular His Dark Materials trilogy (part of which, Northern Lights, Nur Huda had read in primary school).
Mr Pullman and many other members of the literary world, including Margaret Atwood, Michael Rosen and Antonia Fraser, donated work or their skills to an online auction to help raise money. The 70-year-old novelist offered up the right to name a character in the second part of The Book of Dust series he is currently writing.
“This book … will be published [next] year,” the online entry reads. “The right to name a character doesn’t guarantee that he or she will be good, bad, beautiful or otherwise, but it will be a speaking role with a part to play in the plot.”
Enter James Clements, who had taught Nur Huda at primary school and bid an initial £1,500 for the item “on a whim”.
“I thought a character in The Book of Dust would be a nice way of remembering someone I taught and was fond of," he said. "A life that was so full of promise has been cut short in the most terrible way. As well as raising some money, this would mean her name would live on. Plus Nur Huda is a pretty cool name for a character." ”
The bid picked up more support, and within days y 449 people had raised £32,000 to win the auction.
Mr Northover says the gregarious Nur Huda would have loved the idea of having a character named after her. “She didn’t shy away from the limelight. She sat at the back of my room, in the middle; she was a focal point. She liked to joke but worked hard as well. In that sense she was a positive role model. I saw her mature into an impressive young lady.”
Mr Clements also remembers a girl whose enormous potential was cut short by the fire, among many others. “We should remember the names of everyone who didn’t make it out of the building that night. We should remember their names, remember what happened to them, and as a society, make sure that we do all we can to stop anything like it happening again.”