Zara Paul recently graduated from LSE. She has been listed among the top 100 black graduates of the UK in the Future Leaders magazine 2011-12. In this interview she talks about her time at LSE, her passion for music, what being mixed race means to her and how she sees herself as being ‘massive’ in the next 10 years.
How did you feel when you heard that you had been selected among the top 100 black graduates of the country?
I felt absolutely brilliant! It didn’t sink in until I went to the actual Future Leaders event. I was surrounded by so many intellectuals and academics and politicians. I thought it was a great privilege. I couldn’t believe it.
What’s your plan for your near future and what do you have on hands at the moment?
I’ve got lots of plans! It’s almost like I have so many options that I’m having to work out how to narrow them down. I am a singer, I am doing live shows. But I don’t want to be just a singer; I want to use my degree. I worked with a magazine for a while but left because it focussed on celebrity culture. I am quite political and that did not suit me. I then helped with research into the London riots and got into the Guardian. I thought there was a different buzz there. So, I am trying out different things. In life you are supposed to be happy. I find that to keep doors closed is not the way forward.
Why did you choose to come to LSE?
I had a very bizarre journey. None of my family is in the academia. My school teacher said to me, “Zara, you have good grades, you can get into LSE”. But I didn’t believe in myself and went to Royal Holloway instead. When I went there, I felt like they were speaking a different language. So I left Royal Holloway and went on a scholarship to University of Bedfordshire. But that didn’t suit me either, so I took a gap year and then applied to LSE; I thought, why not, let’s give it a shot. And when I got the email of acceptance via UCAS it took me an hour to open it, I could not believe it!
Did you enjoy your time at LSE?
I absolutely loved it. In my last year, my tutor Claire Alexander asked me to talk to some students about my experience at LSE. When I went to talk to those students, I took notes with me because I am terrified of public speaking. But when it was time to speak, I decided to put my notes down and let my passion shine through! LSE is fantastic, you make excellent friends, and you learn to develop as an individual. Now that I have LSE behind me, I feel confident to talk to anybody.
You mentioned that you were involved in the LSE-Guardian riots research. What was your insight into the riots?
The riots were down my street. I just couldn’t believe it and I immediately thought this is social breakdown. But the BBC and David Cameron were talking about how ill these people were and I thought this is ridiculous. This is why this has happened – the society doesn’t respect them, so they don’t respect the society. There has to be a reason people are sick. Also, in London society is very fragmented and people are very individualistic. So they don’t know each other, they don’t know their local shopkeepers. The politicians are so detached from the reality of the society that I can’t see how they can represent them.
I felt passionately about it. So, I wrote an article and sent it to all academics in my department and that’s how they got me on board to conduct these interviews on the ground level.
Tell us about your family history. Where do you trace your ‘roots’ to and are those ‘roots’ part of your identity?
My mum is Scottish-Irish and my dad is Jamaican. In my school, as a mixed race person coming from a council estate, I always stood out. I think that made me a bit stubborn, it made me think I am still going to be a little nightmare but I am also going to be smart and get my A levels and GCSEs behind me. I think being stubborn is a really good thing, to a degree. I did my dissertation on whether your identity changes dependent on your location. In a rural area, you may be black; in a multicultural area, you are who you are.
Do you believe in celebrating your mixed race status?
I love being mixed race. I can fit into so many social groups, most people can’t do that; so it’s something I think I should embrace. For example, when I did research into the riots, people found talking to me easier because of my mixed race status. In my heart however, I did think that when we are talking about equality why do we have to have separate awards for ‘black graduates’?
We have heard that you are a passionate charity worker, tell us about some of your charity work.
I am doing work for this charity at LSE called TACKLE. It helps disadvantaged children get into higher education. We give them free advice on applications and building their CVs. It’s such a great feeling; I am completely addicted to it. Last year, I looked at a student’s results and his background, and told him to apply to Oxford, Cambridge and LSE. He said he can’t get into there. That was me two years ago. So I persuaded him. He really appreciated that persuasion because that took him where he wanted to be. That made me think it took just a day and it could potentially change somebody’s life. I was terrified when I came here, look at me now, the world is my oyster. How can I not share that with other people?
Tell us about your passion for music.
I have several projects going on right now. It’s what I love doing. A lot of people relate to music. A lot of musicians do not use their music for what they potentially could. I want to implicitly put politics into music.
Where do you see yourself in the next 10 years?
I see myself being massive! I see myself being a future leader. Stagnation and staying put terrifies me, I have to do something better and better and better. So if I continue on this route, I can only go up. I know I’ll be helping people because that is what I love. I take opportunities but I also create my own opportunities. I think it’s going to be very exciting!
Zara Paul graduated from LSE with a 2:1 honours in BSc Sociology in 2011. At GCSE level she gained an award for outstanding performance in GCSE exams; presented by MP Nadine Dorris. Her excellent results gained her a bursary from Bedford College and won her an award for academic achievement. Alongside studying, Zara also has an excellent CV with varied work experience. Whilst studying and working Zara has balanced her schedule to ensure she continues to do the things she enjoys. She is a very confident performer; she has sung with a jazz band in front of an audience of 1000 in Sadlers Wells, is committed to singing with a classically trained pianist each week and works with producers and musicians across London.