My Dad -the Hunger Striker and Boss of Greenpeace; GIRL'S INFLUENCE LEADS CAMPAIGNER TO FIGHT FOR CLIMATE CHANGE

Article excerpt

Byline: Annie Brown

SITTING in the common room of her Glasgow comprehensive, Naomi Naidoo was sometimes asked about her dad - the South African hunger striker turned head of Greenpeace.

She said: "It was a bit strange to say, 'Well, my dad is on hunger strike at the moment,' but my friends are used to it and are very supportive. To me, he is just my dad."

When her father, Kumi, was offered the role of international director at Greenpeace, he was in South Africa on the 19th day of his 21-day hunger strike and told them he was in no mood to discuss jobs.

But one phone call to 17-year-old Naomi in Scotland changed his mind.

She recognised that he was physically weak and could regret being rash, so she chided him that she wouldn't talk to him if he didn't at least consider it.

Kumi, 45, may have sat in rooms with Gordon Brown and Barack Obama but it is Naomi - "the centre of my universe" - who has always been one of his greatest influences and, ultimately, he took the job.

Naomi said: "He told me they were interested in him and I immediately thought that was fantastic. I think Greenpeace is incredible.

"I thought it was a great opportunity.

Obviously, it had to be his decision but all I did was say that he had to at least consider it. If he had been offered it and then turned it down, that would have been different."

After battling apartheid in South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s, Kumi led global campaigns to end poverty and protect human rights.

He grew up in poverty but won a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University, went into exile and met Naoimi's mother, who is from Callander, Perthshire.

The relationship didn't work but the pair remain firm friends and Kumi is dedicated to his daughter, often visiting her in Glasgow.

Naomi said: "I have friends who have fathers who live in the same city or in the same country who they see less of than I see of my dad.

"My dad has pretty much always lived on a different continent but still manages to be a major part of my life.

"Given that he doesn't exactly have a lot of time on his hands, that's amazing. He is a great dad. We have such a special relationship.

"As a child, I would be whisked out of Shawlands in Glasgow and taken to these amazing conferences. A lot of them, I was too young to even understand but it opened my eyes.

"When we travelled, he showed me the real country not the tourist traps."

His decision earlier this year to go on hunger strike, to highlight the horrendous Mugabe regime and the starvation in Zimbabwe, naturally worried her.

She said: "At that point, I was just really glad that I didn't live with him.

"If I had seen it, that would have been really difficult for me. I wouldn't have wanted to see him at his worst. I would have hated it.

"It is only recently I could even look at the photographs from that time."

She spent time with him during his recovery when he was based in London for a while.

Naomi said: "I was around at the better stage. He was still on juice, gradually putting weight back on."

As a child, he was just Naomi's dad. It was only as she got older she realised that her father was a famous activist. She said: "I was most in awe of his anti-apartheid work because, to this day, I think that is closest to his heart."

But she also admired his efforts with Make Poverty History, which led to a brief tiffwith Bob Geldof at the G8 summit in Gleneagles, when he felt the real message was being lost.

She said: "It was during that campaign that it really dawned on me that he was an activist. I am so proud of him, I always have been."

Naomi is now travelling in India, working on an education project for the poor after completing sixth-year studies in English and maths and she is considering Edinburgh University. …