Like many of his generation Barry Hermitt faced years of prejudice and discrimination when he arrived from Jamaica in 1953.
Frequently refused housing and unable to pursue his ambition to become an engineer he turned to building work, helping to construct London’s Barbican Centre.
But, more than 60 years on, the 89-year-old is proud to say he has lived long enough to see a member of his family hailed as a rising star by theatre critics.
On Thursday night Mr Hermitt travelled from his home in south London to the Victoria Palace Theatre to watch his grandson Jamael Westman take centre stage in a triumphant performance of the acclaimed hip-hop musical Hamilton.
In his first major role since leaving drama school Westman plays Alexander Hamilton, one of the founding fathers of the United States, in a radical reworking of the story of the American revolution.
Mr Hermitt told the Sunday Telegraph of his immense pride in one of his grandchildren taking advantage of the opportunities that he was denied when he was a young man.
“When I came here I wanted my children to have the benefits of a better life and I’m so happy of what Jamael has achieved, because lots of us didn’t have that opportunity,” he said.
“Things were difficult for people like me. It was brutal. People pretended there were no job vacancies when they saw my face. When I answered an advert for a room they said it had been taken. Politicians like Enoch Powell said we weren’t wanted here.
“But my son’s generation managed to make progress. Now Jamael’s generation has taken another step forward to do better than their parents and grandparents.”
It is perhaps fitting that Westman has made his name in a musical that employs a cast of non-white actors to tell the story of the founding of America in a way that looks very different to the history textbooks.
Mr Hermitt’s life experience has also run counter to perceived wisdom.
When he first arrived in London he found the housing conditions and levels of education of many Britons worse than those back home, yet he was the one regarded as backward because of the colour of his skin:
“When I came here two million people in Britain couldn’t read or write. Much of their housing was in a terrible state. But I was educated and I had a broader view of the world than many of the masses I worked with.”
A widely read man – his shelves are packed with books, including biographies of the US president Abraham Lincoln, the assassination of JFK and the great black American writer James Baldwin – Mr Hermitt encouraged Jamael and his 11 other grandchildren to be curious about the world around them.
Westman’s mother Susan, a community worker originally from Gloucestershire, met his father Wallace through her friendship with his sister. The pair settled in the Streatham area, where they had two sons, Jamael and Myles, who in 2011 had a role in Oliver! at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane.
Wallace Hermitt, who attended Reading University, became a respected football coach, initially working with Crystal Palace FC before going on to found the Black and Asian Coaches Association and working with inner-city youth in Brixton.
Although his parents separated when Westman was a teenager the family are still very close, according to Mr Hermitt. Jamael still visits his grandparent’s house for a traditional Sunday lunch whenever he can.
Mr Hermitt credits Mrs Westman with encouraging the young Jamael to pursue his ambitions.
“She is forceful figure, a very strong lady who urged him always to strive for better,” he said.
Westman’s grandfather says his verdict on Hamilton is perhaps predictable. “It was wonderful. Jamael was brilliant. He had so many lines to learn and he remembered them all,” he said. “If I could afford it I would go back to see it again.”
Tickets to Hamilton are like gold dust and even at £200 each, the premium seats sold out within hours when they first went on sale a year ago.
But for those who can’t afford it or can’t wait there is a way of seeing its leading lady for free. Rachel John, the London-born actress who stars as the glamorous Angelica Schuyler, still sings along with her local church choir.
The 37-year-old, plucked from obscurity to star in the musical, is still living with her parents in their modest terraced house in Walthamstow, north east London, during the course of the run.
When she can the actress goes to church on Sundays with her mum Patricia John, 67, a retired NHS nurse who came from Trinidad in 1973.
Mrs John is understandably delighted and proud at her daughter’s meteoric rise to star in the hottest musical for years. Ms John first got a taste for the spotlight when she appeared with the church choir on the BBC children’s television show Why Don’t You?.
“She started off singing in church and the BBC came and filmed her for Why Don’t You? That was it,” recalled Mrs John. “She was maybe eight or ten years old at the time. But it [performing] just came naturally. She still goes to the local church. She still sings in the choir.”
The family have given Hamilton their seal of approval. “It was absolutely fantastic,” said Mrs John.