LONDON (Reuters) - Teens in a deprived area of east London are sparing no expense when it comes to impressing their friends for a few hours by hiring exotic cars with a price tag that can sometimes rival the cost of the flats where they live.
Lamborghinis, Ferraris and even Bentleys that once were the preferred wheels of the wealthy are showing up on the gritty streets of Tower Hamlets, rented by 16-year-olds to celebrate their National Record of Achievement (NRA) ceremony, a prom-like celebration at the end of compulsory schooling.
“It’s showing off, basically. Playing music, going from area to area to area,” said Foyzur Rahman, a pupil at Swanlea School, who attended the ceremony this year and split a 400-pound ($610) fee with a friend to rent an Audi S4 for four days.
“Showing off your car, just everyone looking at you. It’s like your spotlight,” Rahman said.
“When every NRA comes you just feel excited for the kids,” said Ibrahim Hussain who went through the rite of passage last year and works part-time at his brother’s car-hire business, which rents out vehicles for the ceremonies.
“Certain people obviously don’t want to spend the money, you can understand that, their parents might be not working. But certain kids, obviously, they’re crazy, they’ll save up from young and they just want to hire it,” Hussain said.
Tower Hamlets is home to the largest Bangladeshi community in Britain, and the majority of pupils taking part are of Bangladeshi origin.
Abdul Hasnath, a senior youth worker with the Osmani Trust youth and community organization, said the prom-like celebrations probably caught on 14 or 15 years ago, with pupils hiring limousines, but have gotten more lavish - and expensive - since.
“It was quite small at that time, but obviously now it’s probably the biggest date on their diaries, including Eid (the Muslim holiday) and everything else.” he said.
The students, who at 16 are too young to drive, are chauffeured through the neighborhood either by drivers connected with car hire companies or by friends or relatives.
Clad in evening wear, they pose for pictures before attending the NRA ceremony at school, during which awards and certificates are distributed, and then head out for the night.
Many of those in the more expensive rides switch later to ‘after-cars’ - saloons or larger vehicles - which they can travel in together, often getting involved in road races. Videos of the day, set to pounding hip-hop and R&B soundtracks, are posted on YouTube.
For some teens, the substantial sums are hard to get together. Stephan Bolompa, a student at Swanlea, said that when he first approached his mother with the price of booking a car, it was too much to take from the family budget.
In the end, he was only able to go to the ceremony in a showy ride thanks to a friend’s mother, who borrowed a Range Rover Sport for free with the help of a company connection.
Getting the vehicle meant a lot to him: “Just the feeling that you’re actually taking part in the ceremony by having a car, it’s a good feeling,” he said.
($1 = 0.6579 British pounds)
Reporting By Hannah Vinter; Editing by Michael Roddy