I always dreamed of being a star. I was born in Bangladesh in a village called Jagannath Pur and when I was 15 I entered my first singing contest at school and I won. But singing wasn’t going to help my family bring in enough money, so I left home and moved to the nearest big city, Sylhet, where I started training to become a chef.
One day I was introduced to a man from the UK, who offered me work and opportunities overseas. I arrived in October 2010. I was 21, and thrilled to see the world. At first, things were OK. I was shown to a room above the restaurant which I shared with one of the other waiters. But gradually life became more strange, and more horrible.
The man who had seemed so kind and friendly when he recruited me for work started calling me names, abusing me in front of the other staff. He took away my passport and said that he wouldn’t pay me any money, that I had to earn the right to be in the UK. He locked me into my room sometimes, only letting me out for my shifts in the restaurant.
He seemed unhinged, and it was only me he shouted at, I couldn’t understand it. The other staff were all British and I couldn’t speak to them, because my English was pretty bad at that point. Then one day, seemingly out of the blue, he beat me up. I couldn’t take any more. I managed to grab a mobile phone before he locked me up again, and I called 999. Six police officers came to the house, they had to break down two doors to get to me. I was crying and shaking, just so grateful that they had come to rescue me.
They took me straight to hospital where my cuts and bruises were treated, and then to a hotel where I stayed for a week, they were very kind to me. After I had told them my story via an interpreter, they took me to Emmaus Cambridge, a place where homeless people are given a place to live and work to do. There wasn’t enough room for me to stay there long term so I moved to Emmaus in St Albans, which is where I have been ever since.
The man from the restaurant was charged with assault and kidnap and found guilty, and although he did appeal the decision, it was upheld. Emmaus has helped me so much, seeing me through the court case and helping me with my visa application.
I have been made so welcome, even though I am a bit different from the other guys. They treat me like a superstar, and it’s thanks to the help of staff and other companions that I have managed to regain my confidence. I felt really homesick and depressed after being attacked and it took me a while to come to terms with what had happened.
Emmaus St Albans sent me to the local college to help improve my English, and it was there that I met a Bengali friend. He heard me singing one day and told me about a show that was being put on in aid of a Kashmiri charity. He encouraged me to show up and offer myself as one of the entertainment acts. The main singer that night was a famous Bangla folk artist. When she asked for people to go up on stage I was shaking with fright but I put up my hand. I was meant to just do one song, but in the end I did four numbers, with a full orchestra backing me. The crowd were clapping and cheering, I was ecstatic and afterwards a presenter from a big Bengali music channel on Sky Channel S asked for my number.
It was around about that time that I entered a competition on NTV, the biggest TV station in Bangladesh, which plays on Sky Channel 852. The contest was called 'Boishakhi Summer' and it was basically like the Bangladeshi version of the X Factor. Boishakhi is a Bengali word which means something like ‘summer festival’ and it is a time we celebrate with dancing, feasting, singing and amazing colourful clothes.
I was really nervous, and although the community knew that my singing was going well, I didn’t tell anyone what I was doing in case it all fell flat. I travelled up to London and took part in all sorts of different rounds, singing unaccompanied, singing different styles like pop and rock, traditional and modern and finally it came down to a studio audience and judges vote. I won! I still can’t believe it now.
I’m about to move on from Emmaus, as word of my singing has spread. I’m doing two or three gigs a week and my reputation is growing day by day. I am a little scared, as Emmaus has been my safety net but I have proved that I am capable of providing for myself, and in 2017 I will be able to apply for a British passport. Who knows, maybe by then I will be a huge star like Habib, but I’ll still be popping back to St Albans from time to time to cook the Thursday night curry. Everyone asked me to promise to return, and I have every intention of doing so. I won’t forget what Emmaus has done for me.