Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

I Even Took on a Night Cleaning Job. I Wasn't Proud. I'd Do Anything to Make Mobo Work; Kanya King, Founder and Chief Executive of the Music of Black Origin (Mobo) Awards Tells How She Rose from Modest Beginnings in North London to a Life Mixing with the Stars

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

I Even Took on a Night Cleaning Job. I Wasn't Proud. I'd Do Anything to Make Mobo Work; Kanya King, Founder and Chief Executive of the Music of Black Origin (Mobo) Awards Tells How She Rose from Modest Beginnings in North London to a Life Mixing with the Stars

Article excerpt

Byline: BARNEY CALMAN

PEERING out from the stage wings at the New Connaught Rooms in Covent Garden, I pinched myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming.

It seemed like a lifetime ago that I had begun campaigning to get the Music of Black Origin Awards - my brainchild - funded and screened on national television.

I had sent thousands of letters and been to hundreds of meetings. Responses varied from enthusiastic yet noncommittal to uninterested and downright rude.

But I had never given up. I believed in my idea and nothing was going to stop me from making it happen.

Watching Lionel Ritchie perform his greatest hits to an audience that included the great and good of the music industry, alongside Tony Blair - and my incredibly proud mother - I knew, finally, I had done it.

Music has always been the centre of my life. I grew up in north London with my nine older brothers and sisters, Irish mother and Ghanaian father - my name means "youngest" in his dialect. There was always soul, jazz or gospel playing in the house.

My father fought with the British Army in the Second World War, but struggled to get work on his return. He never had a constant job, taking on manual, part-time or shift work where he could.

There was never any spare money, so as soon as I could walk I was working, in the local bakery and newsagent's.

While it was tough, I have only happy memories of my childhood. I loved accompanying my mother to the jumble sales, where I would find whole new outfits for 20p. As the youngest, she doted on me, showing me off to her friends, telling them that I would be a doctor or a teacher when I grew up.

But my passion was music. At school I played the piano and many of my family and friends sang or played an instrument.

I told the school careers adviser that I wanted to run my own music business.

She said that I should be realistic and set my targets lower. Apparently there were "good opportunities" in supermarkets, and that if I "worked hard" I could "be a shop manager one day". This was not what I wanted to hear.

My father died from a form of leukaemia when I was 13. My mother and I were the last in the family to see him alive. When we visited him that day, we saw him amid a mass of machines, tubes and fussing nurses. As we were leaving, I rushed back to his bedside to say goodbye a second time. Somehow I knew that would be the last time I saw him. He died that night.

Like my mother, my father had wanted me to get a good education and a "proper" job.

But what was the point of getting an education if all it would offer was a job at a supermarket checkout? Besides, without the income from my father I felt I had to start paying my way. At 14, with no qualifications to speak of, I left school.

I took work wherever I could find it, in shops and department stores, sometimes two or three jobs at a time. I would get up at 6am to hand out fliers at rush hour, then go to a department-store job. In the evening I would take shifts at the dry cleaner or chemist.

Once I'd left school I had to stop learning the piano - private lessons were too expensive. But I did manage to find time to organise concerts at local venues for my talented friends. I didn't earn any money. I just enjoyed being part of the musical process.

I loved working, and I was very good at saving my money.

When I was 17, I managed to save enough to buy my own small two-bedroom flat in Kilburn. Five of us shared one room in our family home - and my mother was always taking in friends or family who were stuck for a place to stay. I needed my own space and independence.

My mother, ever the worrier, told me a million reasons why I shouldn't risk buying a flat - we'd always rented from the council, and buying was alien to her. But I went ahead. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

That same year, I decided to return to school to finish my education - taking GCSEs, then A-levels and later a degree in English at Goldsmiths College. …

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