English children’s literature has gifted the world not one, but two adorable bears. One is, of course, Winnie-the-Pooh, and the other is Paddington. They are both universally loved, have a series of books dedicated to them, and several highly successful film adaptations based on their adventures. Yet only one of them was invited to the Platinum Jubilee Party in June 2022 to share tea with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II: Paddington. Why did he get such a high honour? Perhaps it has to do with what this character represents.
Michael Bond invented Paddington in 1958, at a time of widespread racism and anti-immigration riots in London. He wanted to change the narrative around immigration, and created a tale about a bear from “Darkest Peru” who moves to London. Paddington is basically an illegal immigrant: he arrives in the British capital without a ticket, a passport, or money. All he has is a jar of his favourite orange marmalade and a label round his neck that reads “Please look after this bear. Thank you.” He is adopted by an empathic family that notices him at Paddington station (hence the name). From then on, his various adventures in the city unfold: despite good intentions, he causes chaos wherever he goes.
Paddington knows about English traditions only through the stories of his aunt, but tries, with all his heart, to fit in. What makes Paddington even more lovable, is that he is, in fact, more civilised and polite than most of the humans around him. For Michael Bond, whose family housed Jewish refugees during WWII, Paddington was the embodiment of an immigrant child left at a railway station in a foreign country. Through his books, Bond made England fall in love with the little bear from a far-away land. There is now a statue of Paddington in Paddington station, which greets all those arriving by train to the city.