Model citizen of Ambridge has a mission to cultivate equality: Geraldine Bedell meets the new head of the Equal Opportunites Commission
She laughs a lot, this 36-year-old lawyer who takes over as head of the EOC on Tuesday. This is just as well, because she is so serious-minded, so sensibly dressed - in green silky dress with matching headband - and has had such a worthy career that she could be mistaken for dull if she were not so nice.
She almost failed to get a career at all: having come first out of 220 students in the first two years of her law degree at Birmingham University and third in her final exams, she, alone of her year, failed to secure articles to become a solicitor. 'It was a very painful experience, and led me to lose self-confidence,' she says. 'You start to question whether there is something wrong with you.
'I sent off 250 applications: some of the interviews were most unpleasant. One man was looking down when I came in, told me to take a seat, then looked up and saw me - evidently not what he had expected: he told me I'd made a mistake - my interview was the day before, and I'd missed it.'
It was her first experience of discrimination (she is still not sure how much was to do with her sex, and how much to do with being a Kenyan Asian), 'and it brought home to me what a tremendous waste of talent there is when people of obvious ability can't even get on the first rung'. Her father was a 'relatively high-ranking' civil servant in Kenya, who retired to Britain when she was nine, 'because he wanted all his children to have a good education, and particularly his daughters to be independent, especially financially independent. This was not at all a common view among Asian men, and I don't know where he got it from.'
The eldest of her five sisters is now a teacher, multicultural adviser, and author of bilingual storybooks; her second an adviser to the Secretary of State for Health; the third works in a bank; and the fourth a headmistress. Kamlesh is the fifth child; there is a younger brother, who is a systems analyst.
The family was not affluent, but she had 'an excellent education' at a newly comprehensive school in Southall, west London. After Birmingham University she was rescued from joblessness by the GLC, and moved subsequently to British Steel, Texaco and Data Logic, where she ended up on the board as company secretary (she will continue to spend two days a week there as a consultant). She has been a member of two health authorities and is on the council of the Law Society.
She is also the model for Usha Gupta, the Asian solicitor in The Archers, who is also supposed to have worked for the GLC and in industry (and has the same name as one of Kamlesh's older sisters). Ask her why she was chosen and she bursts into gales of giggly laughter: 'Because I'm an Asian . . . sorry, don't mean to be flippant, but that's why.'
There aren't many Asian women solicitors. The Archers team approached the Law Society, which directed them to her. She then spent quite a lot of time talking to the editor, and to scriptwriters about how they could handle the issues Usha might face in moving to Ambridge.
Kamlesh lives with her husband, a GP, in North London; they met at university, and have been married seven years. He, too, is a Hindu. She thinks of herself, she says, as 'a British Asian. I try very hard to integrate. However, my cultural roots are Asian, and Hindu, and that does influence the way I think. The theme of one of the Hindu religious books is that your life is governed by your own actions. I feel strongly that you shape your own life.'
Where does she stand on the tendency of some ethnic-minority communities to treat women not merely as different but as unequal? She acknowledges that 'it's a hugely vexed question', but points out that there are inequalities in every culture. She is not, it is clear, going to make the EOC any more radical, noisy, or surprising. She might, with a bit of luck, make some technical progress. 'What we need now is practical action to build equal opportunities into the culture of organisations.'
- 1 Finland schools: Subjects scrapped and replaced with 'topics' as country reforms its education system
- 2 The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
- 3 Watch: Man takes selfie every mile of 2,600 mile hike, creates amazing timelapse video
- 4 #FreeTheNipple: Women in Iceland bare breasts in solidarity with trolled student
- 5 Scientists have discovered a simple way to cook rice that dramatically cuts the calories
Germanwings captain Patrick Sondenheimer tried to break into locked cockpit door 'with an axe' as plane was descending
Amanda Knox murder conviction: Italian court overturns verdict for US student and Raffaele Sollecito in the killing of Meredith Kercher
Saudi Arabia says it won't rule out building nuclear weapons
The battle for the Middle East's future begins in Yemen as Saudi Arabia jumps into the abyss
Jeremy Clarkson 'could be given minder' ahead of a potential Top Gear return
Nigel Farage brands LGBT activists 'filth' and 'scum' and accuses them of scaring away his children after they invade his local pub
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
JK Rowling responds to fan tweeting she 'can't see' Dumbledore being gay
Russia threatens Denmark with nuclear weapons if it tries to join Nato defence shield
Jeremy Clarkson sacked live: Alan Yentob 'wouldn't rule out' ex Top Gear host's BBC return
Revealed: Putin's army of pro-Kremlin bloggers
£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...
£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...
£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...