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Dancer and choreographer Ashley Banjo has said he is “humbled and extremely proud” to have been made an MBE following a year in which he became a spokesman for issues around racial equality.
The 33-year-old, who found fame in 2009 as part of Britain’s Got Talent (BGT) winners Diversity, has been named in the New Year Honours for services to dance.
In September 2020, his group delivered a headline-grabbing routine on the ITV show, in which a man dressed in police uniform knelt on Banjo, echoing the killing of unarmed black man George Floyd in the US.
It sparked more than 24,000 complaints to Ofcom, but the TV watchdog dismissed them, concluding the routine’s “central message was a call for social cohesion and unity”.
The performance was later named the Must-See Moment Award at the 2021 TV Baftas.
Responding to being made an MBE, Banjo said: “I’m so humbled and extremely proud to be receiving this honour.
“It really is the ultimate accolade. It’s something I never saw coming and for my mum and dad to see this moment means the world.”
Raised in Essex, Banjo’s father is former heavyweight boxer Funso Banjo.
He formed the Swift Moves dance troupe with his younger brother Jordan, before later changing their name to Diversity and recruiting more members.
Nicknamed “Chosen” by his friends, Banjo emerged as one of the group’s recognisable faces and in their first year together they won the 2007 Street Dance Weekend contest.
Their success encouraged them to audition for BGT where in 2009 they beat Scottish opera singer Susan Boyle in a closely fought live final.
Following their win, Diversity toured the UK, playing to growing crowds, while Banjo and his brother became regular TV presenters and panellists.
In August 2020, Banjo was announced as Simon Cowell’s replacement on the BGT judging panel after the music mogul injured himself riding an electric bike, bringing his career full circle.
June 2021 saw him front an ITV documentary exploring his own past and the civil rights movement in the UK for Black History Month.
Banjo also spoke out against the racist abuse directed at England’s black football players following their defeat in the Euros final.