The Empire brought blood and tears and dispossession to millions of people, but it also brought roads and railways and education.

For good or ill, much of the world is as it is today because of the Empire. From the way it looks to the sports people play. From the religion they practice to the language they speak. 

It has changed the very genetic makeup of Britain. If only we can look at it clear-eyed, it can tell us a lot about who we are. It’s a story that belongs to all of us.

We’ve been through pride, we’ve been through shame, nowadays we seem to mostly be in denial. But if we really want to understand who we are, it’s time we stopped pretending the empire was nothing to do with us.

Jeremy Paxman's 2012 BBC series Empire


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Tales of adventure from the furthest corners of the earth excited me as a child, and since then I have developed a fascination with Britain's fallen empire. It is just over 20 years since the symbolic end to the British Empire in Hong Kong, something I remember but didn't fully appreciate at the time. I decided to embark on a multimedia project to document what remains of the biggest empire the world has ever seen.

In school I was taught about the Vikings and Romans, the great imperialists of their time, but we only learned about the negative aspects of the British Empire - like the horrors of slavery and imperialism. Whether British people believe the Empire was generally positive or not, we cannot change our past. We should not forget or try to dismiss the effects that it had - and continues to have - on our nation and the countries Britain once ruled.

The purpose of this project is not to embark on a nostalgic pilgrimage to forgotten conquests. Instead I want to explore Britain’s relationship with its overseas territories and how we continue to support - with financial and conservation aid - individual cultures such as Montserrat, the Pitcairn Islands and Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic, the most remote archipelago on earth.

Britain also continues to play important roles in support of disputed territories like Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands.

I do not have an opinion on whether Gibraltar should belong to Spain or Britain, or whether the Falkland Islands - 8000 miles from the UK - should be given back to Argentina. I do believe that 500 years or so of our history should be taught in British schools in greater detail.  We should be proud to have such strong links with these fascinating places where some of the greatest tales from our past took place.