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Fabulous Females Interview – Dr Helen Pankhurst

2018 marks the 100-year anniversary of the Act which first gave some women the right to vote in the UK, the magnitude of which is not lost on anyone.  Integral to this development was the movement led by Emmeline Pankhurst, a name which has over the last century continued to remain synonymous with women’s rights.

It was the significance of this momentous event this year and its focus on the achievements of women that inspired my Fabulous Females Interview series.

Since then I have featured some incredible women who have made it their purpose to really make a difference in a multitude of ways, yet my next interviewee can lay claim to a passion and drive inspired by her Pankhurst ancestry, which is making this a year to remember for us all.

Dr Helen Pankhurst is the great-granddaughter of Emmeline and granddaughter of Sylvia Pankhurst, campaigner for the suffragette movement in the United Kingdom.

Campaigning for women’s rights is clearly in the blood and Helen continues to carry the mantle, working tirelessly to ensure their legacy is maintained and she does it with great aplomb and a 21st century sense of humour.

Earlier this year Helen lent her support to a campaign which re-enacted the smashing of shop windows in London’s West End by suffragettes in 1912 by being one of many to take a hammer to the windows of Harvey Nichols.  The purpose was to draw attention to the fact that despite the progress of the journey to date over the last century there is still a long way to go to achieve full equality for women.  I am sure her ancestors would be proud.

Behind the public face and the campaigning, however, there is a treasured personal life in which family and friends take centre-stage.  A mother to two young adults, Helen holds dear the advice given to her by a friend on the importance of strong and open communication as a parent, guidance which I would wholeheartedly endorse.

I am honoured to feature Helen and here is what she has to say.

  • Who is or was your role model?

My grandmother Sylvia Pankhurst, because she was ahead of her times in so many ways, as a suffragette including as the painter behind much of the imagery they used, the work she did in with poor women in the East End of London, understanding their particular economic vulnerability but also the importance of their voice, addressing strategic interests linked to citizenship and power but also practical constraints, so setting up a crèche (the Mother’s Arms in a converted pub) and a cost-price restaurant. Because of all the other campaigns she was involved in from passivism in the First World War, to her work in support of Ethiopian independence when it was invaded by Mussolini…not just because of what she did but how she did it.

  • What motivates you?

A sense that we can all make a difference, a sense that we are all interconnected

  • What are the values you hold dearest in life?

Friendship, empathy, commitment,

  • What has been your biggest challenge so far & how did you overcome it?

A divorce followed by endometrial cancer, one blow after the other.

Others helped me no end: my kids, my friends, also humour and a positive temperament, a belief in myself.

  • What is your proudest moment?

Not sure I can choose a single moment, too many wonderful ones to choose from.  All the times my kids have done something amazing, events linked to my activism, organising marches and finding thousands of people attending, this year publishing my book Deeds not Words, the Story of Women’s Rights, Then and Now and seeing the response to it.

It’s all cumulative though, isn’t it???

  • What motto do you live by?

‘Fun and Purpose’

  • What advice would you give to your teenage self?

Hang in there and be yourself

  • Who gave you the best advice and what was it?

A friend, Raja, who talked about the importance of communication when it comes to being a parent, that you can have all sorts of rules and regulations, but at the end day it’s the unconditional love and keeping strong lines of communication with your children, particularly your adolescent children, that is by far the most important.

  • How would your friends describe you?

So, I emailed a friend asking her and her response was ‘Ok here we go…can I say wonderful? Approachable and accessible, quietly determined and capable and committed, a loyal and supportive friend, driver of change, really great sense of humour and good fun, do you need more? ( I could go on….’

  • What makes you laugh out loud?

Responses like the one above, laughing with people rather than at people, the quirkiness of life and of friendships

  • What would your autobiography be called?

‘Fun and Purpose’

  • What does being a modern woman mean to you?

Being aware of the rights and privileges that we have, making the most of the opportunities that we have, but also ‘being the change’ and supporting others, continuing to demand better of society.

  • What would be your desert island essential?

Family and friends, or do I have to be alone?  If so, a radio… and green tea and chocolate.

  • What makes you feel fabulous?

Being part of something larger, joyful events, or at home and being at ease – the Danish call it ‘hygge’ I understand.  For me it has absolutely nothing to do with how I look on the outside but how I feel on the inside.

  • In your own words – ” A fabulous female is..

One who is true to herself, and hopefully on her life’s journey, supports and inspires others.

Editor’s Note: Photography courtesy of Katie Lucas


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