Elizabeth Price is well used to answering the door of her smart Kensington townhouse to all sorts of people. Delivery drivers, door-to-door salesmen, Jehovah’s Witnesses — they’ve all regularly graced her elegant doorstep.
More unusual, however, was the 17-year-old boy who rang the intercom one warm spring afternoon four years ago. He introduced himself as Reggie Nelson, and explained that he lived on an East End council estate and simply wanted some advice about how he too could one day live in a wealthy area like this.
Many of us, faced with a similarly unexpected visitor, would probably find an excuse to shut the door as quickly as possible — suspecting some sort of scam or possible attempted robbery.
That’s certainly what some of the West London residents Reggie had already called on that afternoon assumed he was up to. ‘I had a few people who couldn’t get away from the door fast enough,’ he recalls now. But not Elizabeth. Instead, the mum-of-two took Reggie’s request at face value, invited him in and introduced him to her husband Quintin, a City financier.
That spur of the moment decision proved to be the start of a heart-warming friendship that has seen a young man who grew up in a world where gang culture and drugs are prevalent — a world which by his own admission so nearly sucked him in — forge a flourishing City career of his own.
Now 22, Reggie not only has a degree under his belt, but a dream job in investment management, a role that also allows him to mentor other youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds. And so it was undoubtedly an enormous stroke of luck that it was the Prices’ black front door Reggie happened to knock on.
‘I was very fortunate,’ he says. ‘A couple of people gave me a bit of their time, but it was Quintin and Elizabeth who really took time to listen.’ The couple have another explanation for it, however.
‘What he did took enormous courage — I still feel extremely moved thinking about it now,’ Elizabeth, 57, says. ‘What stood out to both Quintin and me was that Reggie wasn’t asking for a handout, or anything on a plate.
‘He was asking questions about what he needed to do. And he’s gone out and done it. What he’s achieved is a tribute to his own determination and drive.’
The inspiring story, which came to light after a BBC reporter attended an event where Reggie was giving a talk on mentoring, is proof of how one small action can change a life.
Few would deny that on paper Reggie’s early life and that of the Prices were poles apart.
The latter — a genial and engaging pair who affectionately refer to each other as ‘Q’ and ‘Lil’ — live in a beautiful four-storey house in one of London’s most affluent areas where white stucco-fronted villas nestle a stone’s throw from Hyde Park.
Married for 25 years, they met in their late 20s when Quintin, who was raised in India and educated at boarding school here, was a banker and Elizabeth, the daughter of two teachers, was a fund manager.
‘I took one look at her and thought she was much more attractive than the average client,’ Quintin, 57, now a senior executive at investment management firm BlackRock, recalls with a smile. They married in 1993 and have a daughter, 24, who works in digital advertising and a son, 22, who is studying in America.
They enjoy what Quintin describes as a ‘comfortable middle class life’. ‘We are fortunate to live here, we don’t have homes all over the world, we don’t have staff,’ he says.
‘We just got on the property ladder at the right time and we have also worked really hard. We are very aware of how lucky we are. We have never taken any of it for granted.’
Reggie grew up in the tower block, above, in a deprived area of East London with Ghanaian mum Rita, a carer, and his sister Caroline, 25
Reggie, meanwhile, grew up just a few miles away, but a world apart, in a tower block in a deprived area of East London with Ghanaian mum Rita, a carer, and his sister Caroline, 25. For many years his father George wasn’t around, although he returned to the family home when Reggie was 15.
By then the teenager was already no stranger to the realities of gang life. ‘It was all around you — you saw it in school, you saw it getting off the bus and walking home — people running away from people or hanging around on street corners dealing, it was just normal,’ he recalls.
‘So it would have been very easy to go down the wrong path.’
He very nearly did after briefly falling in with friends who, like him, lacked a strong father figure. By age 14, he had been excluded from school for a few days for a series of misdemeanours.
‘It was nothing too serious — picking on people, that kind of thing — but it easily could have been the start of something worse,’ he recalls. ‘I was fortunate enough to have a supportive family with my mum and sister, so that helped me stay on the straight and narrow.’
A turning point came when a friend invited him to a local youth group.
‘It was just such a positive experience,’ Reggie recalls. ‘There were lots of other kids my age, but the prevailing message from the adults there was that you don’t have to become what you see around you — that just because I was surrounded by people living different kinds of lives, I didn’t have to become one of them. It started to change my mindset, to help me take pride in myself.’
Enough pride to motivate Reggie to get B and C grade GCSEs, although he admits his sights back then were not particularly set on academic goals. A talented footballer, he was signed as an apprentice at 16 by Woking FC while studying A-levels.
Shortly afterwards however, his father died from alcohol abuse just two years after he had returned to the family home. ‘It was particularly hard for mum and my sister — they both struggled with it.
‘I felt very strongly then that I wanted a better financially stable life for my family,’ he recalls. ‘And that was when it came to me. I thought if I want to have the same life as rich people, what better way to find out than to ask them directly?’
‘It was comedic, but the concept really stuck with me,’ he recalls. ‘She was literally marching up to people, but they were giving interesting answers. It got me thinking.’
Reggie googled ‘wealthiest areas in the UK’ and — noting that the top five were in London, jotted down their postcodes.
With the aid of Google Maps he then identified five streets to visit to conduct some one-to-one research of his own.
Even so, it took another month for him to martial himself. ‘I would flip between thinking ‘Reggie, don’t be ridiculous’ to thinking I had nothing to lose. Then one morning I just woke up and thought ‘this is the day’. ‘
Which brings us to the Saturday in March 2014 when Reggie, dressed in jeans, black Nike trainers and a jacket, arrived at London’s Gloucester Road Tube station, a few minutes’ walk from the Prices’ home.
It was his first time in the area and, if nothing else, he knew his research had served him well. ‘Everywhere you looked just looked like money,’ he recalls. ‘I just saw all these expensive cars lining the streets.’
He held in his hand a piece of paper on which he had scribbled his speech. It said: ‘I just wanted to know what skills and qualities you had that allowed you to live in a wealthy area like this so I can extrapolate that and use it for myself.’
At first Reggie tried it on passers-by, only to find most were tourists. ‘I realised that wasn’t going to help much, although one man with an Aston Martin spoke to me and told me to study hard. He also generously gave me £40,’ Reggie recalls.
He had similarly mixed tidings when he started to knock on doors. ‘Some people just told me to go away, although I spoke to one lady who also said I should focus on my education.’
Not a bad recommendation — but Reggie wanted more and he found it with Elizabeth Price.
‘I always try to give people a hearing as I think about how hard it must be going door to door, so when Reggie called it was no different,’ Elizabeth recalls now.
‘He was extremely polite and well-mannered when he gave his pitch. I asked if it was a school project and he said no he had come off his own back.
‘I thought it took real guts, so I invited him in as I thought it might be useful for him to talk to Quintin. He told me a bit about his background, but there wasn’t a hint of self-pity.’
When Quintin arrived back from an afternoon stroll he found Reggie sitting at his kitchen table.
‘Obviously I was a bit taken aback, but immediately I could tell there was something about him,’ he says. ‘I also trust Lil’s instincts implicitly although, like Lil, I too could instinctively tell he was sincere.’
Impressed by their chat, Quintin emailed Reggie the following week asking him if he would like to attend an Undergraduate Insight day at his company’s city offices. ‘He replied straightaway and came in a couple of weeks later and the moment he did his eyes lit up,’ says Quintin.
Indeed, Reggie was so keen, he was an hour early.
As he was too young for an internship, Quintin arranged for Reggie to do a week’s work experience — a thrilling prospect for the teenager, but also a daunting one.
‘My mum and sister had to take me shopping for shirts and shoes,’ he laughs. ‘My first visit had made me realise I had no idea how to dress. I turned up with a man bag and a tie that was way too short.’
Any sartorial errors, however were amply compensated for by his enthusiasm. ‘He was just so engaged — like a sponge soaking it all up,’ says Quintin.
Reggie, in turn, says that week was pivotal. ‘It was a case of understanding that if I worked hard and learned, then this could change my life.’
Quintin assigned a BlackRock employee from a similar background as the youngster’s mentor and their conversations inspired Reggie to try for university, something that had not occurred to him before.
At this point Quintin suggested they meet Reggie’s mother. ‘Lil and I were always very aware we’re not surrogate parents,’ he says.
‘I knew from what Reggie had told me that his mother has got wonderful values and is hugely supportive, but it was important we were all in this together.’
They met for lunch in the City, during which they all agreed Reggie should pursue further education and so he applied to Kingston University, Surrey, to study economics and Mandarin. He admits it was initially a culture shock. ‘The first time I set foot in a university was my first day at Kingston,’ he says.
‘I hadn’t even been on an open day. The first exam I sat I got 25 per cent, but I stuck at it and my next one I got 84 per cent.’
The Prices kept in regular touch by text and email, and Quintin and Reggie — who also undertook four internships during university — met for coffee.
Last year, Reggie graduated with an upper second — and received a flurry of job offers — although not, ironically, from BlackRock.
‘I made it clear that if he applied for a job at BlackRock he would fail or succeed on his own merit,’ says Quintin. ‘I was a little heartbroken, but it wasn’t for me to interfere.’
Reggie instead joined a financial technology firm, before, seven months ago, moving to Legal and General Investment Management as an analyst, a role in which he is flourishing.
And, with the exception of Reggie’s mother, no one could be more thrilled than Quintin and Elizabeth, who maintain that they only did what anyone else in their position would do.
‘We feel like we’re getting a disproportionate amount of credit,’ says Quintin. ‘I think anyone who met Reggie would feel the same way we did — that here is a young man with a huge amount of self-possession and charm who deserves a chance.’
It’s a chance that a grateful Reggie now hopes to pass on to others in the form of his own mentoring scheme.
‘I want people to know that while we’re not all given the same opportunities, you can create them for yourself,’ he says.
He has another plan, too: while he still lives at the family home, he doesn’t intend to for ever.
‘I must admit, I would still like to own a house in Kensington one day,’ he says.
‘It would bring things nicely full circle wouldn’t it?’ Indeed it would.