As well as marking the start of Black History Month in the UK, October 1st is also Nigeria Independence Day. That makes it a doubly significant day for Sulaimon Awodeji from our Heathrow team, and he's got some special treats ready for our customers checking in for tonight's flight.

Anyone checking in for our Lagos flight tonight is in for a treat. In Terminal 3 at Heathrow, Sulaimon will DJ a set of African and Nigerian music and hand out golden tickets to four lucky customers who will then get upgraded flights or Clubhouse access. We caught up with Sulaimon to ask him about Nigerian Independence Day and Black History Month.

What does Black History Month mean to you?

Black history is not taught anywhere near enough at our colleges or universities. Sure they drop a few bits into your curriculum, but I went to Kingston University and had to take a module in African history to get a better understanding. So really, one month to celebrate black history, it's not enough, and certainly not enough to say everything that has to be said about racism and prejudice. For me, it's also a time to showcase the achievements of black people, and black leaders, like Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, the Director General of the World Trade Organisation. When October comes, you get to see glimpses of brilliance from black people, and it's a joy to learn about people of my colour who have achieved so much. But why is it restricted to just one month?

Tell us about Nigerian Independence Day.

Nigeria was under British rule for a long time until October 1st, 1960, when Nigeria got to proclaim itself to be an independent country. To put that into context, it's like you've been a slave to someone else for so long. You've been told when to drink, when to eat when to go to sleep. Then all of a sudden, the door is open for you to make your own decisions. So, on October 1st 1960, Nigeria was given the key to its own house, to make its own decisions and put its house in order with no influence whatsoever from the colonial masters. Nigeria was finally in charge of their own political affairs, their own economic affairs, and their own destiny with little or no control at all from Britain. October 1st is our freedom day.

And how is that celebrated in Nigeria?

Independence Day is a public holiday, so no one goes to work. There are parties everywhere with barbecued chicken with jollof rice, the national dish. Plus music, entertainment, shows. In Lagos, many people head to the beach to enjoy that bank holiday feeling by the ocean. It's a wonderful celebration and an important day for all Nigerians.

Tell us about your DJ set at Heathrow tonight? 

It's got to be Nigerian music because Nigeria is giant of Africa and the most populous black nation in the world. I'm going to get people in the groove and in the mood to do a little dancing, and we're going to have a lot of fun.

Tell us about any barriers you've faced in life because of the colour of your skin.

Sulaimon's day job as a Turnaround Officer means he is responsible for millions of pounds worth of aircraft and all its customers, crew and cargo while on the ground at Heathrow.

Think about George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. Then think about me, driving home from work. As a black man in the UK, I get stopped by the police regularly. The officers always tell me it's a random stop, even though I've seen them turn round when they've seen me from the opposite direction. And then when I show them my airport ID and tell them I've been dispatching aircraft, they're all 'have a nice day'. Now I'm the type of person who can just brush that off. I don't let these things get to me, but I do think about it. Same with job interviews in the past. You're surrounded by folks from other cultures, and you're thinking am I going to get this job because I don't look like the people around me? All I ask is that you don't judge me by the colour of my skin.


Tell me about a Nigerian person who has been an inspiration.

This is the best question – it's my dad, the most charismatic man you could ever meet. He was the most inspirational person to me, but he died in 2011, two months before I started working for Virgin.

He was hardworking, strong, and intelligent. He taught me that nothing is impossible, to not let anyone put you down and that you can achieve anything you want to achieve. He was an energetic and positive influence on many people.

Heathrow to Lagos flight check in celebrations

It was a joyous celebration of Nigeria Independence day at Heathrow this evening.  Sulaimon, along with our very own compare Marc Dehaney , were joined by our customers and our Heathrow team for African music, a bit of dancing, some golden ticket giveaways, but most of all, a lot of fun and a great atmosphere. Special thanks to Layla Issa from our Heathrow team who also runs Millenium Celebrations, who created the beautiful Nigeria themed balloon display .

Here's wishing all our Nigerian customers a very happy Independence Day

Sulaimon, Layla and Marc get the party started