HIV survivor's plea weeks on from Maida Vale flooding
- Credit: George Hodson
When the sudden flooding in north-west London swept down Kilburn Park Road, George Hodson was struggling to make sure his Belgian Griffon dogs were safe.
The veteran HIV campaigner who has survived cancer multiple times is now crowdfunding after the flood on July 12 destroyed his basement council flat.
Along with ruining photographs spanning decades, it forced him into temporary accommodation.
George said after struggling for many years to carve out his home, he was saddened to see that taken away so quickly.
He said he was "catatonic" with terror as the flood water began to seep in.
Speaking to this newspaper from a temporary home in Soho, he said: "It's my fourth move in a fortnight. It's nice here at least - I can look out of my window onto Berwick Street Market.
"But I'm not happy in this situation."
Describing the events that put him out of his home, he said: "I am sat reading with my little dogs asleep in their basket. Suddenly all the lights flickered and I realised there was a terrible storm going on outside. And then sewage water was seeping through the door.
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"I was trapped and the water had swept my two little griffins out of their basket. I was trying to find them and all of the time the water was rising. I knew I had to try and get out of the door but with the force of the water I was trapped. I've never been so afraid and I have had some tough times."
George said he was stuck for about 10 minutes until the fire brigade was able to rescue him.
He said while he felt gentrification had "robbed the area of some of its soul", many of his neighbours came together in the aftermath of the flooding.
"I'm very frail," he said. "And I just didn't know what was going to happen to me.
"It felt like the authorities were slow to react. I'm going to be living out of plastic bags for I don't know how long. It's a sad story but it's not just about me. Anyone who has been flooded will know how helpless and awful you feel."
"To my absolute horror there were people coming and taking selfies next to the piles of rubbish. Others coming and picking through what was being left outside. It brings out the best and the worst in people."
George, who was a successful copywriter in his youth, worked as an escort to fund his studies at Goldsmith's University. As a young gay man in the 1960s, '70s and '80s, he experienced the worst of the HIV crisis first hand.
He tested positive, as did his partner Sam - a man he met in Thailand where he lived for many years,
After finding a lump on his stomach George flew back to the UK for treatment, and he survived. But Sam - who was able to fly over too after an immigration battle, was not so lucky - and after taking part in a trial of the brutal AZT therapy used to treat AIDs in the 1980s and 1990s, he died in George's arms.
George said: "The doses they were giving were huge - and he shrank and sadly died. I then had to get back on my feet and live life on my own."
But George has since then had to survive four bouts of cancer along with the other complications of HIV.
"I have had more than 20 years of fighting for my life. But I'm a tough old bird, my friends call me 'the warrior queen'," he said. "When I was told I was going to die in 1983, I thought 'no, I'm not, some of us will have to get away'."
George has spent recent years devoted to his dogs - he has won awards at events including Crufts - and he said it was the damage to the sanctuary he had created that hit hardest.
"I had created this lovely haven in my basement with my art and my dogs and the floods have taken that away."
At a public meeting on July 31, Thames Water apologised for its “unacceptable” communication with residents on the day of the floods and announcing it would be running an independent review. Westminster Council confirmed that it too was holding a statutory investigation.
Cllr Melvyn Caplan, the town hall's city management rep, said: “This has affected hundreds of people’s lives and its extremely upsetting, distressing and everything else that goes with it, and obviously my sympathy goes to everybody who's been affected in that way. "
To contribute to George's crowdfunder, visit gofundme.com/f/help-george-rebuild-his-home-after-the-floods