The Conversation: Camila Batmanghelidjh, children's campaigner

 

First things first – where do you get those outfits?

It's all leftover fabrics from a whole lot of things – sofas, furnishings, leggings, socks I put holes through. I design everything myself and someone sews for me.

Before we talk about the children you care for, what are the defining memories of your childhood in Iran?

We had two police bodyguards that drove us everywhere. I thought that was the condition of childhood – I didn't realise we were rich. My father was a self-made millionaire, and his father before him. It was very, very sheltered. When I was nine, I told my mother I wanted to open an orphanage. She took one look at me and thought: 'My God, what have I got here?'.

When did you come to the UK?

At 12. I went to Sherborne School in Dorset. It was a shock because it was a very structured education and I had to wear a uniform. I was always in detention for painting my shoes. When I was 14 the revolution happened in Iran. My father ended up in Evin Prison. We were told repeatedly that he had been executed. He escaped… and we were reunited in the canteen of Warwick University. [While he was in prison] my sister had committed suicide and I had to tell him.

Was all that upheaval and tragedy the making of your character?

Honestly, I think I'm one of those vocational personalities. I don't know if you believe… some people are just born a certain way.

Are you religious?

I am spiritual but I'm not religious. Things run in patterns. If you dissect a leaf it's got a structured pattern. I think psychological life is in the same vein and you have to tune into it to work out people's patterns and work with them to their strengths.

How do you rate this government's record on looking after the country's children?

I think it's incredibly poor. But governments come into power, and they get hijacked by other agendas. International agendas, Europe, everything that preoccupies the voter. Children being harmed behind closed doors aren't going to vote for any government, so they never get prioritised for help.

Do you think the Prime Minister and the Cabinet lose sleep over vulnerable children?

No. I think Iain Duncan Smith is genuine. But I think the others are preoccupied with what they see as bigger threats. I would argue that we are sitting on top of an emotional time bomb in relation to the perversions that are developing in large numbers of children. You run a big risk if you don't think about that end of town. The riots were absolutely no surprise… We warned people this would happen because our kids kept saying: "Camila this government hates us".

You allow yourself very little free time, even eating your meals at Kids Company. What do you do to relax?

Who wants free time? I love quiet and I will swim six hours in one go. But I've ended up living my dream. Why would I want to do something different?

With all the suffering that you see, how do you stay cheerful?

These children are extraordinary in their courage. Sometimes they reduce me to tears. The way they make use of the little bit of help you give them and you think, my God, the human spirit! It's so beautiful.

Biography

Camila Batmanghelidjh is the founder and director of the children's charities, Kids Company and Place2Be. She was born in Iran and moved to the UK aged 12. Her new book, Mind the Child, is out now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

HR Business Partner (Maternity Cover 12 Months)

£30000 - £34000 Per Annum 25 days holiday, Private healthcare: Clearwater Peop...

Project Manager (Procurement & Human Resources)

Unpaid: Cancer Research UK: If you’re a professional in project management, lo...

Geography Teacher

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: We require a teacher of Geogr...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz