Portugal Colonial - London's contrasting mayoral hopefuls: Goldsmith and Khan

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London's contrasting mayoral hopefuls: Goldsmith and Khan
London's contrasting mayoral hopefuls: Goldsmith and Khan

London's contrasting mayoral hopefuls: Goldsmith and Khan

The favourites to become London's new mayor on Thursday are two completely contrasting candidates: Zac Goldsmith, the son of a tycoon financier, and Sadiq Khan, the son of a bus driver from Pakistan.

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Polls put Labour's Khan, 45, ahead of his Conservative rival Goldsmith, 41, with the two well clear of the ten other candidates in the field.

- Sadiq Khan: a modern fairytale -

Khan's rise to prominence represents a modern fairytale.

Born in London in 1970 to parents who had recently arrived from Pakistan, he grew up in public housing with his six brothers and sister in Tooting, an ethnically diverse residential area in the south of the city.

His modest background plays well in a city that is proud of its diversity and loves a self-made success story.

Khan regularly recalls how his father drove London's famous red buses, his mother was a seamstress and one of his brothers is a motor mechanic.

At school, he wanted to study science and become a dentist. But one of his teachers spotted his gift for verbal sparring and directed him towards law.

He became a lawyer specialising in human rights, and spent three years at the human rights campaign group Liberty.

He is also handy at actual sparring, having learnt how to box to defend himself in the streets against those who hurled racist abuse at him.

Aged 15, he joined the Labour Party and became a councillor in the mainly-Conservative Wandsworth local borough in 1994, a post he held until 2006.

In 2005 he gave up his legal career on becoming the member of parliament for Tooting, where he still lives with his lawyer wife Saadiya and their two daughters.

Prime minister Gordon Brown made him the communities minister in 2008 and he later served as transport minister, becoming the first Muslim minister to attend cabinet meetings.

While Conservatives try to establish links between him and Islamic extremists, he points out that he voted for gay marriage -- which earned him death threats -- and he has always denounced radicalism as a cancer.

"Hopefully if I win, I'll be the mayor that unites our city again, that brings communities together," the 45-year-old Khan told AFP on the final day of campaigning on Wednesday.

- Zac Goldsmith: 'Sleeping Beauty'? -

Goldsmith has his own sort of fairytale to tell: extremely rich, handsome, impeccably well-dressed and educated at the elite Eton College.

However, those are not necessarily qualities which make a candidate seem close to voters and their everyday concerns.

During the election campaign he also struggled with some straightforward London questions thrown at him by the BBC: the names of football stadiums, stops on the Underground and the location of some of the capital's museums.

He is the son of the late tycoon financier Jimmy Goldsmith -- who left his family a fortune of £1.2 billion ($1.75 billion, 1.5 billion euros) -- and first surfaced in the newspaper society columns with his sister Jemima, ex-wife of the Pakistani cricket star Imran Khan.

He was expelled from Eton at 16 for having cannabis in his room, though he insists it was one of the few times at school when he was actually innocent.

Goldsmith went travelling instead of heading to university and ended up editing his uncle's magazine, The Ecologist.

He became the MP for his local Richmond Park area in plush west London in 2010. He regularly refuses to toe the party line, voting against the government.

Married for the second time to heiress Alice Rothschild, he is a father-of-five.

To those who question his lack of experience, his campaign manager Nick de Bois said it was better to judge him on his actions, and points out that he had the biggest increase in majority of any incumbent MP at the 2015 general election.

It would also be better for London to have a mayor who could work with a Conservative government, he added.

Affable, polite and softly-spoken, Goldsmith sometimes struggles to get across his passion for politics on the stump, leading some newspapers to dub him "Sleeping Beauty".