« Desert Island Discs

Simon Woolley, crossbench peer

2023-08-20 | 🔗
Simon Woolley, Lord Woolley of Woodford, is principal of Homerton College at Cambridge University. He is the first black man to head an Oxbridge college. He is a co-founder of Operation Black Vote, which campaigns for greater inclusivity in politics, and became a crossbench peer in 2019. Simon spent his early years in an orphanage in Leicester before being fostered and then adopted by a white couple who also adopted his brother Mick. He left school at 16 to work as a car mechanic and then moved to London where he embarked on a successful career in sales. In 1988 he completed a one year access course which provided the pathway to university and a degree in English and Spanish. In 1996 Simon was one of the co-founders of Operation Black Vote, a non-partisan organisation which encourages voter registration and community engagement, aiming to give a voice to all sections of society. He was awarded a knighthood for services to race equality in 2019 and took up his current role as principal of Homerton College in 2021. DISC ONE: I Want You Back - The Jackson 5 DISC TWO: Green Green Grass of Home - Tom Jones DISC THREE: Manhattan - Ella Fitzgerald DISC FOUR: Titanium (Morten Future Rave Mix) - David Guetta (feat Sia) DISC FIVE: Hagamos Lo Que Diga El Corazón - Grupo Niche DISC SIX: Dreamland – Composed and performed by Alexis Ffrench and Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by James Morgan DISC SEVEN: Cowboy bebop tank! - Niyari DISC EIGHT: For Once in My Life - Stevie Wonder BOOK CHOICE: Football in Sun and Shadow by Eduardo Galeano LUXURY ITEM: A razor blade CASTAWAY'S FAVOURITE: For Once in My Life - Stevie Wonder Presenter Lauren Laverne Producer Paula McGinley
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Pvc sounds music. Radio broadcasts, hallo unlearned event, and this is the desert island discs podcast every week. I ask my guest to choose the eight tracks book and luxury they want to take with them if they were cast away to a desert island and for right reasons. The me It is shorter than the original broadcast. I hope you enjoy listening. I. My cousin with this week is simon woolly. Lord William, would fit he's principle of hamilton college at cambridge university, where he is the first black man to head oxbridge college in ninety. Ninety six, he cofounded operation back vote.
Campaigns for greater inclusive italian politics. As its directive for twenty five years, he became known an activism built on conversation rather than confrontation has worked with three prime ministers and help set up the uk sphere. Waste disparity unit under teresa may. He became across bench pay in twenty nineteen, shortly after being knighted for services to race, equality, all up pageantry and and is a far cry from his early years. He was born to a young single mother and was fostered then adopted by a white family and grew up on a less to cancel a state, a credit to the parents who raised with instilling the self belief and resourcefulness that have taken him so far. He says I often tell people it's not where you start its way. You go, but even more importantly, how you go Simon woolly, welcome to design a discs. Thank you very much
a great privilege and an honor. Well, it's an honor to have you tell me a little bit more about that, Simon? What you mean by how you go and why you feel it's so important character. How you manage herself in enlivened your workplace in your personal space, to me as very important, and I think that once you have your values, they help. He then make the decisions that the almost the decisions are made for you, because that's your well that you turn to when things get tough has been met.
No star so that no story of also go to know what you're trying to to get to what you are striving for a fairer world, a more decent world, one in which individuals cannot the opportunities to flourish. When you look round your office, it is competent college. Do you take time to reflect on what you have achieved in and the value of education moment? I try not to I try to keep in the present and are not buskin this particular moment of successes. Ok, what are you gonna do with it? How did you familiarize yourself with the workings of the place when you first got the role I spent each day with a different moving parts of the college? First, stop the cleaners. Ok, go The overalls on and started scrubbing the floor and at one of the cleanest to me up in it for thirty years, and none of the heads even know my name. Much less have gotten the hands and knees and scrub the floor with me and she started to cry. I mean for me
since an extraordinary thing to do. It was just the right thing to do so and shouting when the day with the cooks and all the gardeners I thought to myself. I need to know how this place works and for me you know to be fished, bumping, students or plain table tennis in their common room and they're saying you know our principles. The coolest in came with a much more about that can give them a good run for the money. A table tennis match you, what we might be aid to find out cause it's time to go to your music what's the first and why we chose in it. I want you back the jackson five now this throws me back to being a very young kid and as a young black kid on a council estate back in this Instead we needed heroes. We had muhammad ali, he was the he was the loud mouth, brilliant boxer, rep, Pele, the greatest football on the planet, and we had the jackson five, particularly Michael Jackson. He could dance he could sing. He had
best afro, and we wanted to be like him this track. For me, some supper quintessential iconic. jackson. When did you off the hook? Look going. I did that one votes flares, I didn't have a bigger for my brother, my brother make he had a big afro, and when we went to Wales they would think we were the jackson too. I want you back the jackson five salmon will you were born in leicester in nineteen sixty born in
You're very early is in an orphanage. Can you tell me what circumstances that lead to you being there. It was an impossible position for my birth mom was forced to give meal in many ways. All I remember actually of that place is leaving it been in a big car in the back seat and looking behind, live in one place and go into another to start an I live with my mum and dad philly ST, and I want to ask about them. But but tell me you know you mentioned your birth mother lolita and you said gee. She had an impossible choice. She was forced to give you up and in many ways what happened. Yes, she had an oldest child and then with another father. Then she had me with my father and I think that a partner came back and didn't want me around I think she was pregnant with a third child answer- was either beyond our own, with three kids or to be with a partner and and the two children
He was very young cheek. She not come over its part. The windlass generation from from our beta roma made us. What would she didn't even she from others? Yes, I mean she spent most of our adult life, care for people, care for people and bitterness and she's, a wonderful, wonderful woman. Most people are lucky if the one mother, I too, very special, women. So tell me little bit more about your parents, Phyllis and Dan. Your first memories, as you say, stout with them. How do you look back at those years? Oh my gosh, this family, particularly this woman, gave me everything she fostered and adopted me. My brother mic, but always looked at the kid so arouse was full of kids,
and they had had finished and down there. Tat living biological children, daughters were grown up to that point, and my mom gave me the belief that belief that I could walk on water. I guess I'm a bush. He once said to me: I don't worry about you, you're, a good kid. You gonna be fine. I've been at least a football grounds, selling tickets and again, but we ve got some money, cuba, with lots of money under an I gave up some money to get ahead on and she she helped me in such would be fine. I think she was right, powerful words, incredibly powerful message from mother to give you I was so young
and at that validation solely on, and sometimes you don't realize how much those little things stay with you. What about your dad, then dan? He was a four minute dunlop tires. What was your relationship like with him back? Then? You never really chatted to your dad. You knew your loved. It was a big man and he'd come round the corner after work I remember brother would see him coming round the corner and who will run up to him and he would he would go deepens pocket it in his pocket and give us a bar six chocolate bar, and we would wait for this. The chocolate bar to come out and then we'd walk with him to utter to home and at a very, very good and decent man, but not a big talker. Now. So I think your parents adopted you efficiently when, when you're in your teens, did you call him mom and dad in us one of the biggest regrets of my life, they're, white and you're black,
and so you know that you're different memorable spoke about it years afterwards, that we both regret that we didn't call a mum and dad they never demanded it. They never asked for it. A name was Phyllis, but we call it pippi. She was affection, known as pippi, and I remember one of my uncles on a call and we used to go on these extraordinary trips down to cornwell in a hillman minx. She would sit in the middle and my brother would be on one side of her and, and I would be on the other side, she had big one and which sleep on our arms, and that was our comfort blanket rest assured she knew how much I love that the will of the let's have some o music. This is your second choice, today, someone really what we can here. Well, was born in the run, the valley and, of course, the formidable shares with Tom Jones. She would swear
that she had in sing on the valley tops or in the local bars and stuff. A member would look at each other say year, but this one was meant to particularly special some for her and her room. It's the green, green grass of home than the smiling sweetly. It's good to touch. The green green grass of the field house still standing built a pain to correct the tongue. The green green grass of home and that salmon woolly For your mom pepe now we talked about the idea of you can live out your values earlier. Remember,
in your values, as you went along the way and she tore even your brother to see the good in people tend to embrace different views. How did you when I saw interact both with the kids it she looked after me. My brother, but also the parents, are often they couldn't pay, and she took the childminder village bandinage. It's I don't know. I don't like to settle up when you can one mother used to make close for us that she couldn't peso should make clear, The men were brother, crimply suits bitten by brought it would make plain crimply. That is both look. Look. It wasn't a great look, I'm not gonna lie, but that was it. That was the sort of thing that she would do. Interracial adoptions of shipping, the subject of a lot of discussion and in recent years. What do you think about it from a personal perspective? Will love conquers love conquered, but it wasn't without challenging. I mean that she didn't know how to do our air umbrella everywhere. I had evroland, she didn't know, but one of our friends.
Reed Mary Conroy had some black friends and they said you need to go to high fields. so me and my brother would go there on a sunday sunday morning and would go to this. Barbara became famous because he'd be cut. Everybody's hair in leicester and we'd go there at ten o'clock in his flat and sit on his I would have to wait till all. The men got an area cut, which was about five o clock. Seeing that the day will, therefore, the deck member would sit there and would spit when spoken to it, but it's there and the barber shop where I first was come. Did with black politics, and I do remember these men said that you know that jamaica ovation and they say the white man owns our country and even when we ve got businesses that its on their terms- and I just listen to it and drink it in and I never knew how much had absorbed until I was much older. We ve got to go the music summoned woolly disk number three. What are we?
the mcguire you taken us to the island. I got into jazz very early on the ticket when I came to london and I'd get these records Clearly we from another generation, but I felt I felt an affinity to them to the music to the history and the artistry. This well chosen manhattan benefit. we'll have man wrong sense that it it's very fancy, no land street. You know why when me bruises blow out of its gerald and money, latin Simon willie education, reforms of big focus for your current bay how'd. You look back on you,
in school experience. I survived it's not a ringing endorsement is that a ringing endorsement. I was smart as a young kid I mean there were good teachers, but in ict I was into lots of sport captain and all the football team, basketball team, running team and a better remember. Once I went to the music teacher and said to him, could I learned to play the piano and he looked at me and he said: why did you wanna learn to buy the penny? Your footballer, your basket baller and just talk me out of it so there was no ambition beyond the stereotype, so your assessment is he's looking at you, and this is it. This is a black katie's. Can it that I was here, he was born on musician, not a musician and in a nobody set up a bit scholar oh, you never run with it. Your ambition was when you let's go to get a job. Tell me a little bit more about developing your own sense of identity, because you know you grown up with with white parents had a predominantly why area how did not play out at school? There are big key moments that whole
Everyone was we were in the playground and their skin. It's come by and they say that send the walks to vietnam when there was chanted and go back to me, mama and say: why do they want to send this to vietnam? Why send me to vietnam and she would hold me and she'd cry and I've been realised afterwards. Vietnam was a place of is at war, but me and my group on this state we were smarter than the average kit and we were. We were good run as good It is so we could hold our own and, as we had earlier, you sold tickets at leicester city football ground. To make some money. You say you are, but if a hustler as a kid, how did it work? We would get the players, the junior players who got complimentary tickets they'd be like thirteen fourteen and an eleven or twelve, and they call me the big man, the big man that had lined them up. May my friends and we get fifty pets. the ticket and then when we sell him for a fiver and will be countered our money, we get a pi, we get a drink counter. The money watch, the first offer the game and the
leave and go by some clothes. Look good have money in a pocket. We absolutely no money, gave you dignity, Simon, when you're about sixteen. Your bet, mother lolita, got in touch anti matter what happened? I was very, very curious to meet my family and she helped me in. This is a moment where you're reunited with your son, I felt love, but I wasn't a deep love. Because it was my birth mother, but she was a stranger. Were you able to start to get to know how to make a relationship, or was it just too much of too much the betrayal that I felt from my mother who had nurtured the new cherished me as her own son and then a little while after that, Pepe passed away? Ah so the betrayal was even intense, so I never. I wasn't reunited with my
with mother for another twenty years, and I did feel like I betrayed my mum and I couldn't have got to talk to her about it either not to put peanut know, but she knows how her son always thinks about her. She must been so proud of you the sooner go to the music Simon. Let's take a minute for some music, your fourth choice to de Silva, one extract it's titanium by David guetta. Now anyone that trains out there, whether they're on the bike or in the gym, need to listen to titanium because go faster, you go harder, but even more than that, the lyrics of this tragedy not me down, but I get up not me down, but I want fall. I am titanium, I think that's my experience. I think it's the black experience in some ways,
that brazilians to keep getting backup titanium. The Morton future wave makes David guess featuring seer, Simon willie, by the time you are
in the twenties you'd moved to london and he was selling advertising slots for rank films. That job took you to oxford and cambridge, and it was there that the university students inspired you to make a big decision. What was the trigger in? I saw these clever young people on their bikes with their cloaks, and I thought I want some of that and in some way felt inferior to them. They'd read the books, If you read the book, you a better human being you a better person. You know more, as I remember, walk into my boss, his office in water street, and I said to my boss: look. I can do this standing on my head. I want to do it three days a week and I want to go back to education. I I need it and he said: you're crazy, you're, a high flyer you're going places. I said: if you want this flight of fantasy, then you have to leave the job and I got my company car keys out and throw him the keys and walked away from a well paid job.
I went to up in college. It was near to me and not on the door and said: can I take an o level or an a level? Please? I want to be like them wearing those gowns. I want to read books and they said actually because something that may be right up your alley. It's called an access course. It was this course that gave mature students access to education one year, and then you could go to university and I loved it. I loved reading Paradise lost and trying to get my head around all the complexities because it wasn't about getting a degree. It wasn't about getting a job. It was purely for the sake of learning, but he did go on to get a degree in english and spanish and is part of that course. He traveled to latin america. I know that you've said that time was an eye opener for you and in what way, what happened?
My neighbors were colombian from cali colombia and they said to me listen time and you have to go to college columbia, but but I didn't say that it was the drug capital of of the world next to marry in, but in latin america I saw politics raw people prepared to fight for what they believed in and when I came back after the year abroad. I said nothing's going to stop me now from wanting to change my world, I'm not going to get shot, I'm not going to get kidnapped. What's my excuse not to change my?
And I lived in a house they're all women, because the men were doing their thing and she had three daughters- and you add salsa everywhere is this juxtaposition between this is very dangerous country and his love of life through sansa. So one of the daughters, they teach me to dance salsa and all of a sudden, she said Simon, put bought a bread that may operate them it, which was written with hope, for Heaven's sake, stop It seemed like an englishman and hold me like a colombian. I think we better have some music, don't you? What are we going to handle this? Is this actually symbolizes that moment in cali colombia, where the ecosystem of daily life was life and death? The life was through the music and it's such joyous music. That you cannot but dance and the trackers
The most look, a google and on by a group on the cameras, locate, digger, L, Khorasan, follow your hearts group. Only Simon woolly, in ninety. Ninety six echo funded operation, black vote. What was the impetus? in setting the organization up. The setting up of the organization came out of the death of a black man in police custody wayne Douglas and after the protest in britain. A lot of activists
we need power, we need our own voice and, of course, we felt powerless for a long time. Things one tourists and then there was a eureka moment, a quarter of the activist into the room, and I said I got it. I got it you'll look at the data and far from being powerless. If we register to vote and vote, particularly in the areas where we have huge numbers, we can decide who wins any general election elections are a numbers game and we ve got the numbers, and it was very important to you right from the beginning that it was non, partisan and and obviously not for profit to write. That was the genus and that we didn't really know, but we instinctively to to get all the political parties by further, when we say bluntly, remain non whitefoot african nation currently in another. that minorities, so what were able to do is to get the political parties vying for the block vote as never before, and I can see
alive when you, when you are safe and integrate, was being alone because much per second the kid from the council of state. That goes to see it duncan smith, in a big offices, and frankly, I don't know what I'm doing I'm blacking, but I am confident about hold your own stein, your ground you're, talking about what you know and that is tackling lambert, racial equality, structural racism.
And saying that there's votes in it. If you lean into this sermon during the brexit referendum and operation, black vote was criticized for Saatchi and Saatchi poster campaign that showed an elderly asian woman and on one side of the seesaw and then an aggressive, looking, skinheads yelling at the other. The strapline was a vote, is a vote and at the time that cause consternation of the accused of trying to divide society and imply that people who voted for brexit was any fullback how'd. You look back on that type of campaigning that negative campaigning today when it was a toxic time and it was a strand of brexit that was deeply xenophobic and we tried to call it oulton and say not. All voters for brexit are racist, but of course, once you lose the narrative now you're the racist explain then you're not on the front foot you on the backfoot I had. I had the
dogs, the media outside my house shock, jock presenters screaming at me now you're the racist. Would you have done anything differently? I don't know, I think that you have to be true to yourself. You have to be brave and sometimes things land well, and sometimes they don't let's take a moment for some more music. This is your sixth choice salmon. Well, having got the job of amr in is the first time in my life tat. I had a regular salary support. A trip myself to some very special speakers went out in both these speakers, but the music that I was using Was by this guy called Alexis french sometime later he contacts me about my work. Hamerton. You said I am a big fan.
I said you're a big fan of me: I'm a super fan of you. In fact, I bought my speakers based on your music fast forward six months. He invites me to the barbican and then he he started a shorter monologue. By saying the last time I heard this track was at my friend's house and Simon. If you are here, this is for you dreamland The the the the The
the The dream and composed and powerful by alexis french, with the royal liverpool philharmonic orchestra conducted by james morgan. You became across bench pier twenty nineteen simon. So you no part of the establishment part of that high rocky, that youth continually challenge throughout your career. I mean how do you feel about the the conflict there? The tension there is attention because you know the power that has dominated and often not been fair. I'm now a part of I'm a legislator
I sit in one of the oldest universities in the world that has spawned lots of people that has kept the system as it is an important both, but I just focus on the present about what is your wrote? What is your purpose? Would you say to yourself to make it fairer? I kept more inclusive. You know. Sometimes I stand in that chamber and it is a guilty chamber. It's just jaw dropping and I tried not to let it overwhelm me you're here to speak truth to power you're here to speak for those that can't be here. I have that great sense of duty when I speak. have you found acceptance in the house of lords, especially as a person of color? You know you talk about being you'll spaces that have historically not being open to blackmail overwhelmingly yes
But there was a reminder that people like me are not often seen there and I'd sit in our beautiful library is only for pairs and I'd be at my desk. When I first started- and I get a tap on the shoulder by fellow pair- would say, excuse me: can you help me with the photocopying? so they were seeming need work. They beat. You said I'd get so that more than one so yourself up in three times, and so the first I know what I did. I did it because, rather than a confrontation, I just did it the second time I showed my badge. You have a. We have a batshit lord and so the color coded the hierarchy and sache. I my badge and the piss it. Oh, oh yes. Yes, thank you, sorry, sorry and then the third time that it happened. I shoved my bush pushed it in his face and said I'm one of you get some help over there
the brilliant stuff here look goes through your mind when you having to deal with an incident. I love to take them on a journey to and to say that this people like me that can enhance our democracy and of something to give stand to make some space for the music disc number seven. What are we going to hear Simon? This comes from a pair of perspective. Part of our job is to give them values to give them good manners resilience and for them to like our music and that's the most challenging part of the puzzle. That's the most challenging part, and so you know I'd introduce my son to a marvin, Gaye, Ella Fitzgerald, some blues in a outscored. In fact, my son would say to me that if we got out people, music and old man's music. It would, I think they were moving like that at all and then go on to play some hip hop, and then he got into annamite with japanese cartoons, and I would add this claim
fantasy stories with equally eclectic music The sudden muslim was, I dad dad coming listen to dismiss it so lick, which translates to been pretty good, and I thought to myself. Yes, yes, my son has got some pretty cold music tastes. So my next track, inspired by my son, look us anti ago, is cowboy, bebop tank by the cowboy
bebop tank binary from the cowboy bebop anime television series Simon willie, as we fed you have a seventeen year old son, LUCA body, hopes that his future coming from the council. To start you instinct to be notified because you, after on yet of course, his parents, you wanta rap cotton wool around your kids for them not to after the fight, and they neither one of the contradictions of success. I think that whether you want them to have it, I wanted to have the hustle, I'm really thankful that he does have a bit of the hustler spirit. But above all I want him to be happy, and I want him to. I don't want him to struggle and to confront race
it was, as I ought to, though I have to say when he was online on them online games and playing with his friends when he was. I dunno twelve thirteen fourteen and he said to me dad dispersants called me an n word and I thought damn. I thought we were done with that, but no, but he's a good kid. I mean I just didn't, love him so much. I can't even tell you and he's got that bitter steel, but he's got a decent you said at the beginning of our conversation, Simon, that you know most kids a lucky if they have one mother, that loved them and you've had to pity. Several years ago, but I know that in contact with lolita, what made you get back in touch and and what's your relationship like today? Yes we'll have it my son. I felt that I owed it to her to know her extended family and she adores this kid and completely adores him, and he loves her too, and.
That has brought us together in a in a wonderful way and we've talked, and you know she would often say that. Do you forgive me and said: there's nothing for me to forgive you. You had an impossible decision to make. It turned out okay, we're back together. My son loves you. It's still not completely a hundred percent now with a broader family, but is in a very good play so summoned woolly, I'm going to send you way to the island. What do you think the first thing is you'll do when you are cast away when you dropped a look and scan, and I think to myself? Ok, what can I do here because doing is my thing and see in what I can put right at source in my day and that there be a time for chilling trying to get the balance right of it would be one of my goes woolmer disk before we cast your away to salmon your final choice today, but we can he well
this truck symbolizes, who I am right now my life is full of joy. I love my work as you have heard a lot, my son. I have wonderful friend of loving relationship right now at this symbolizes it. The essence of loving. Your life is everything for once in my life, but a great deal Lastly, I would for once my life stevie wonder.
So, Simon willie, I'm going to send you away to the island, I'm giving you the bible, the complete works, if shakespeare and he could take one other book. What willoughby that will be Eduardo? Galiano football son unshadowed talks about the beautiful game with a backdrop of politics it's yours signals have a luxury item. What would you like? Well, my luxury item will be if I can take a razor blade and wash them shaven and full of hope and full of what am I gonna do today, whose life I'm gonna change. How can I make a difference? I so that simple ritual of thinking about poland, promise of a new day that I want with me for the simple item of a razor blade: symbolism: ritual: it's nothing. tickle about that. I can actually get behind it. It is yours, it will always stay shop, love that and finally, which one track of the
that you ve shared with us today. Would you saved from the waves if he goes so no brainer? It has to be said. We wonder for once. In my life this is the truck full of joy and full of love, Simon woolly, Lord William, would fit. Thank you very much for letting us here, your desert added discs. Thank you. Thank you. For this memorable time of sharing with you and on the audience has been very special hello. I hope you enjoy invitation with Simon and alone be alone on the island and we'll take solace in his morning, shaving ritual we ve castaway many cross bench peers, including dame Louise casey, baroness, how the hell it and professor Peter hennessy. You can find these so it's in a desert. Island discs programme archive untrue bbc sends the studio
Energy for today's programme with Sarah Hockley, the assistant producer, christine Pavlovsk III and the producer was poorly mckinley next time my guest will be the formula one executive, total wolf, I do hope you'll join us. The. He lay the problem with technology we maybe too complicated. I mean it's filled with jobs. buzz and really need to be so. I'm gonna fix it understood. Tat and I is a new series from BBC radio for with me, spencer, Kelly. I've got together some great guests to help may explain everything from getting online to avoiding the artificial intelligence apocalypse so I'll see you there subscribed to understand on BBC sounds
Transcript generated on 2023-08-21.