Nimco Ali on the brutality of FGM, intimidation and Girl Power
August 6, 2021. Series 4. Episode 30
Our guest this week is Nimco Ali OBE. A leading survivor activist, author and political strategist. Born and raised in Manchester, at the age of six whilst on a trip to Somalia with her Grandparents, she found herself caught in the crossfire of a civil war. Forced to flee and unable to return home, she was for a time a child refugee. She found safety with her family but the following year, faced an altogether different trauma. Organised and encouraged by her own mother, Nimco underwent the brutality of FGM. She later became seriously ill as a result of complications from that abuse. The mental scars continued for many years to come. Despite this Nimco has become one of the world’s most powerful campaigners and activists against FGM – an act that still impacts many millions of women.
In this conversation, Nimco speaks impressively about how she managed the impact of her crises including the complex and fractured relationship with her mother and family. To this day she is subjected to intimidation and criticism for breaking the code of silence that too often exists around FGM.
In this podcast she talks powerfully about the methods she has deployed to survive and thrive including a sense of humour and a love of The Spice Girls. Nimco is an extraordinary woman who, through her sheer force of personality and strength of mind, has brought about change in attitudes towards FGM here and abroad.
Nimco’s Crisis Cures:
1 – Humour – I find it in the people around me.
2 – An App called Pattern – it’s about star signs… I’ve become more connected with the idea that our life path is charted before our birth. I’m a great believer in fate and destiny. We assume we’re more important than we are, rather than being a grain of sand in a broader conversation. I hold true to the idea that if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen.
3 – The Spice Girls – I believe they were fundamental to my activism – a group of women who took on the patriarchy in a different way. I was once asked what my favourite quote was and I said – “If you want to be my lover, you got to get on with my friends”
Nimco Ali is a British woman who has faced down the most difficult, personal crisis with determination and the most astonishing single-mindedness, which she has put to work for a positive end. She is simply extraordinary and it’s hard to do justice in these notes to her story.
That the FGM she suffered was organised and encouraged by her own mother, as is so often the case, just provided another layer of terror and confusion for this incredibly bright young girl. And that her mother adored her – her name means Gift From God – is another element of her story that is hard to reconcile. These facts alone you would think would prevent Nimco from thriving as she grew older.
But these childhood crises that Nimco faced, turned out to be the fuel for a remarkable adult life as a campaigner and activist. Putting aside threats and intimidation from her community and relatives, Nimco has become a voice for the many millions of girls who have undergone and continue to undergo FGM. As she puts it, “They thought they were silencing me with FGM but in fact they were making me the loudest voice in the room.”
With her own story she has proved beyond doubt that from horror, can come hope. That she counts her sense of humour as one of her most effective crisis tools, also hints at the unique and powerful way she has approached her life.
Nimco’s no-nonsense, no pity approach to her life is inspirational. It was a real privilege to have recorded this episode in her company.
Stream/Buy ‘Allies’ by Some Velvet Morning: https://ampl.ink/qp6bm
Some Velvet Morning Website: www.somevelvetmorning.co.uk
Host – Andy Coulson
Producer – Louise Difford
00:00:00.00 Intro music
00:00:19.04 Andy Coulson:
Hello and welcome to Crisis What Crisis? I’m Andy Coulson, former newspaper editor, Downing Street Director of Communications and one time inmate of HMP Belmarsh. Over the last six years I’ve put all of my experience, the good and the bad, to use as a strategic advisor to business leaders and I can tell you that the bad has been just as useful as the good. And that got me thinking that there are plenty of great podcasts out there where you can hear stories of success but there far fewer where you can benefit from the experiences of those whose lives have properly unravelled.
00:00:50.20 Andy Coulson:
So, on this podcast you’ll hear from the embattled and stoic, the shamed, courageous, ruined, damaged, unlucky and lucky survivors of crisis. All talking in the hope that they might serve as a useful guide to anyone facing down their own demons and challenges. Crisis What Crisis? is generously supported by Myndstream, a brilliant company who harness the power of music for personal wellbeing and improving human performance. Just search for Myndstream, that’s mind with a Y, on Spotify and you’ll find some great playlists.
00:01:25.02 Andy Coulson:
There isn’t an introduction I can give to this week’s guest that does her justice, frankly. I suspected that before we recorded our conversation and I certainly feel it even more strongly as I sit here now trying to summarise the conversation we’ve just had. Nimco Ali is a British woman who has faced down the most difficult of personal crises and with a determination and the most astonishing, single-mindedness, she’s put them to work for a positive end. Nimco is just extraordinary.
00:01:57.21 Andy Coulson:
As a six year old, whilst on holiday from her home in Manchester with her Somali grandparents, she found herself caught quite literally in the crossfire of a civil war. Forced to flee with her brothers but unable to return to the UK, she for a time was a child refugee living, you know, in fear of her life from one day to the next. But then, just about a year later and after finding safety, she was forced to undergo the brutality of FGM. That it was organised and encouraged by her own mother, as is so often the case with FGM, well, that just provided another layer of terror and confusion for this incredibly bright young girl.
00:02:43.23 Andy Coulson:
What followed was a serious physical illness, a complication caused by the FGM and ongoing physiological struggles that left all manner of other mental scars. But these childhood crises that Nimco faced, turned out to be the fuel for a remarkable adult life as a campaigner and activist. Putting aside threats and intimidation from her community and relatives, Nimco has become a voice for the many millions of young girls who’ve undergone, and still undergo, FGM. As she puts it, ‘They thought they were silencing me with FGM but in fact they were making me the loudest voice in the room.’
00:03:26.22 Andy Coulson:
With her own story, which you’re about to hear, she’s proved, beyond doubt, that from horror can come hope, can come power. That she counts a sense a sense of humour as one of her most effective crisis tools, also hints at the unique and powerful way she has approached her life. My sincere thanks to Nimco Ali, OBE and I hope that you enjoy this episode.
00:03:54.15 Andy Coulson:
Nimco, welcome to Crisis What Crisis? Thank you for joining us. You’re and FGM survivor. You were, for a time in your life, a child refugee. You’ve faced the most appalling challenges in your life and yet you describe yourself as privileged. How do you reach that conclusion?
00:04:16.03 Nimco Ali:
Thank you very much for having me. I think it’s just through the lived experience and actually seeing people… because there are two hundred million women who will be living with the consequences of FGM and as we’ve known from the Syrian War and other wars that are going on in the world, there’s never been more refugees, or more displaced people, in the world than there is at the moment. So I think it’s consistently looking at what’s going on around me and actually also understanding that I am luckier than most, in terms of the fact that I think the reason why I’ve been able to bounce back in the way that I have been able to is, to a certain extent, because of the privileges that I was born into and I had at the time.
00:04:53.06 Andy Coulson:
I think it also speaks to your incredible ability to look for the positive in life. And I want to get into that in a bit more detail later if we may. Your name, Nimco, means blessing, gift from god.
00:05:08.01 Nimco Ali:
00:05:08.24 Andy Coulson:
And I perhaps gives a clue as to what your parents were feeling when you were born in Somaliland in 1982, I think.
00:05:18.12 Nimco Ali:
00:05:18.13 Andy Coulson:
What do you remember about your early childhood?
00:05:23.01 Nimco Ali:
I think it was the fact that I was treated as a blessing, not just by my parents but by my grandparents as well. So I’m the eldest daughter of the eldest daughter from my mum’s side. So ultimately there was a lot of love and a lot of celebration around my birth and my actual existence. And that’s something that kind of gave me the foundation to be able to feel as special as I do sometimes. Because of the fact that there was a lot of love in that space.
00:05:48.22 Andy Coulson:
Wow, so you look back on those very early years as a foundation then, really? Because I’m interested in talking about that today, where with such challenges in your life you see it clearly as right from the get-go there were foundations being laid as to how you would then cope with those challenges.
00:06:11.14 Nimco Ali:
Yeah, no definitely. I don’t talk about it a lot and it’s not something that is very much seen in terms of the context within an African family, but there was a lot of love in the way that I was raised. And also as a girl I had two uncles who were of similar age to me. So my mother and my grandmother ultimately both got married young and had me young. So my mother had me when she was twenty, so had younger brothers who were just turning double digits at the time when I was born myself, so like ten, eleven, twelve. So ultimately in the space where there was meant to be a patriarchal kind of context in the way that families were raised but I had a grandfather on my mum’s side who was one of the only men who wasn’t polygamous in his marriage and basically treated both his boys and girls equally.
00:07:00.04 Andy Coulson:
Yeah, you mentioned there that you grew up and your family were split, or you split your time between your maternal grandparents, I think I’m right in saying, in Somaliland and your paternal grandparents in Manchester?
00:07:13.11 Nimco Ali:
Yeah, so basically it was my maternal grandparents who lived in Somaliland and my dad had family in Manchester and he also worked in Dubai. So ultimately it was a split between the UK, Dubai and Somaliland. But most of the formative years were either spent in the UK or in Somaliland.
00:07:34.24 Andy Coulson:
Right, and your dad, a successful guy, right? I mean, he was in the oil industry. Can you tell us a bit about your relationship with him?
00:07:41.18 Nimco Ali:
Do you know what, I loved… Well I didn’t see my dad as often as… He wasn’t a stable in our lives in the sense that he was materially. So we had the trappings of having a father who had a really important job but he was also someone that was basically in and out of our lives. And it was similar to that for my grandfather as well, my maternal grandfather. He ran massive motels in Mogadishu, which was the capital of Somalia. So it was very much accepted that in order for you to be able to live the privileged life the men were never really around because they were working. And that was the way that love was expressed, through like, material gifts and trappings that you had. So you knew you had a father and you were loved because you could have the house and an education and the trips that you were given.
00:08:30.15 Andy Coulson:
Yeah. But your grandfather sounds as if he was actually, in his way, pretty progressive.
00:08:37.21 Nimco Ali:
He was, yeah, he was massively progressive and he was basically… I think he’s been the fundamental anchor in my life in terms of what men are. And he’s the one that really actually has raised me that I kind of look to in terms of what real men and what real feminism looks like within the male context. And also what real African leadership is.
00:09:01.24 Andy Coulson:
Okay. In late 1988, you’re staying with your grandparents in Hargeysa, when your grandfather is arrested or is sort of seized. Accused, effectively, of supporting a revolution against the military regime. You’re there when that happens. Tell me what you remember.
00:09:26.05 Nimco Ali:
Yeah, again that’s when basically everything fell apart essentially. So I remember when we came, and my mother was away at the time with my father in Abu Dhabi, so it was me, my sister and my brother that was with my grandmother and my uncle and stuff like that. So they came in the middle of the night and I remember him being dragged out. That was the Wednesday and then by the Thursday and the Friday there were public announcements that these men were going to be executed and that everybody should stay at home under house arrest and basically not take to the street.
00:10:02.06 Nimco Ali:
And it wasn’t just my grandfather, it was all the men who kind of financially supported the revolutionary army that was fighting for the independence of Somaliland which is the birthplace where I come from. They weren’t going to execute my grandfather and these men right now because they were basically going to keep them as pawns in order to be able to get the SNM, which is the Somaliland National Movement, to basically back down. They were like, ‘Well if you don’t back down then we’ll kill you’.
00:10:31.13 Andy Coulson:
They were held as a threat, yeah.
00:10:32.09 Nimco Ali:
They were held as a threat. So then the next thing was to basically get the sons of these men and my eldest uncle who was the third eldest in the family was in Canada at the time at boarding school. So he was kind of technically safe but my two young uncles weren’t. So there was a decision made with my mother that they were going to come back to us in the UK. So they were very much hidden. We went from my grandparents’ house to a school nearby where basically the family congregated and then we were meant to make our way from Hargeysa and then travel to Djibouti. And we had to smuggle my two uncles out.
00:11:13.15 Nimco Ali:
And in this kind of instance we assumed that my grandfather had been executed because of the fact that this was the kind of propaganda that was going there. But like I saying, because I’d been raised in this kind of more emotionally intelligent kind of way in which fear was a reality for me having lived in the West and having lived in Dubai and stuff, when the shelling was happening, I don’t know where my grandmother got this architectural idea, but she said, as soon as the shelling was happening, she said to stand in the corners of the room.
00:11:43.16 Nimco Ali:
So we’d all stand in the corner. So my brother, Mohamed who is now like a father and a grown man, was about three or four at the time, my sister was five and I was six. So we were all very tiny in that kind of sense. And I remember I was the only one who was screaming and saying ‘I don’t want to die’. And it became a bit of a joke afterwards, everybody was saying, ‘I can’t believe how much Nimco loves her life’. And I used to just think, of course I love my life, I don’t want to… there were bombs going off, I don’t wanna die. I was actually like no, not as strange as it seems for a child to say when…
00:12:20.21 Andy Coulson:
When you’re a six year old girl at this stage?
00:12:23.07 Nimco Ali:
Yeah, when basically like you know, as soon as it got dark, basically the bombings would just happen. And I was thinking this is crazy.
00:12:34.09 Andy Coulson:
But the point is that this wasn’t a slow slide towards this moment, there weren’t even days or weeks of preceding this horror. It was literally day one, you’re on holiday with your grandparents, day two, you are immersed in this world.
00:12:52.24 Nimco Ali:
00:12:53.23 Andy Coulson:
It’s just… A civil war that one images, as a six year old girl, how on earth can you begin to rationalise it and understand it with bombs exploding round your head?
00:13:03.15 Nimco Ali:
Yeah no, definitely and it was kind of weird because I always felt that there was a level of, as soon as we got out of the house and the shelling kind of stopped, there was a level of security that I felt with my grandmother and we had to dress my two uncles up as boys as we were like leaving the city to get to Djibouti.
00:13:24.15 Andy Coulson:
You flee the city then and you head to Djibouti to your aunt’s home. How strong are those memories, Nimco, of the journey? Because it must have been utterly terrifying. You’re in the back of a truck, you’re being hidden, it’s through the night. What do you remember of that?
00:13:42.17 Nimco Ali:
I didn’t… I just remember… It’s weird, I was just like fed up. I think that was my kind of thing was that I was never happier or more keen to get back to Manchester or anything. So I was just like extremely fed up. So we had, not just myself, so it was my two uncles, my two siblings, my auntie, my mum’s younger sister and then we also had my grandmother’s sister and her kids.
00:14:08.01 Andy Coulson:
How long was that journey?
00:14:09.13 Nimco Ali:
I think it was definitely a few days because we stopped at several cities. And as we were leaving Hargeysa, which was the capital, my mum was coming back in and she was heavily pregnant. And I remember hearing her voice and this is something that I told my grandmother and my grandmother was like very much shocked that I even remember it. Because I was having a conversation with my brother in English because he said he wanted to go to the toilet and I told him to shut up because there was no toilet. So my mum must have heard kids speaking and she called out my name and I said, ‘I can hear my mum’ and my granny just thought it was like wishful thinking. So she went back in, so she didn’t find us and I didn’t see my mother for like another week when she got to Djibouti.
00:14:50.23 Andy Coulson:
Right, oh I see, I see. That’s just an appalling situation. I mean, when you look at your eventual resilience, your resilience now, you know, as this astonishingly strong woman, do you think some of it was forged, we’ll get onto obviously other events in your life shortly, but when you look at those events, that shock, do you think that that kind of forged some of the strength that you had later? When you had to confront other issues but also now do you sort of look at it and think actually although I was only six that was formative?
00:15:36.06 Nimco Ali:
It was definitely formative and it’s given me the moral compass that I have, essentially. Because my grandfather, even through all that stuff, never was ever spiteful or hurtful or actually ever really wanted any kind of revenge. And I think that like, in terms of the fact that he understood that what he was doing wasn’t concrete or wasn’t for power but was for justice. So I think that like it’s kind of given me my political neutrality in the sense where I always say, ‘I never idolise anybody to the state where I can’t criticise them. And I never dehumanise anybody to a point where I can’t find any humanity for them’. So I learned that very much from my grandfather and very much from the people that were around me. It was so easy for hate to kind of consume my life. Within like one week I was running around irritating my uncle and then the next we were basically in the back of a car and people wanted to kill him because of his bloodline. So to be in that kind of different spaces within a split second, it’s made me very much more attuned to the way that people communicate and the way that hate can sometimes come as like as a powerful tool beyond love.
00:16:47.13 Andy Coulson:
Beautifully put. Can we move on because it really isn’t that long after…?
00:16:53.19 Nimco Ali:
00:16:54.20 Andy Coulson:
… You were six. When you’re seven you are confronting a different type of horror. Could we talk about the day itself, the day you became a victim of FGM, because as I understand it you had a sort of sixth sense on that day?
00:17:15.24 Nimco Ali:
Yeah, so it was several months in between. So by the time we’d got to Djibouti we were settling in and because all kinds of Somali passports were cancelled we had to apply to come back to the UK as refugees. So a lot of the process that was kind of going through. And it was the fact that like you know, as a six turning seven, so I turned seven in that kind of time so obviously it wasn’t until the next year that we left. So December had passed and at it was at least six, seven months that we were in Djibouti. Ultimately the conversation was being had about the FGM but I had no idea what it was.
00:17:53.04 Nimco Ali:
So in the sense that I knew that there was some kind of celebration or ritual that was being planned. And it was more essentially from the context or the fact that these kids are never going to come back to this country so therefore they’re going to live in a Western society. So therefore how can we make them as Somali as possible is to give them FGM. And if you think about, I think about it right now, that my mum was twenty-seven at the time. And I have started to have these conversations with her just in the latter, like three, four years, since my grandmother has passed away. I think the level of like, consideration that they took to make sure that the woman that would cut us would be the same woman that cut them, whose ironically still alive, was…
00:18:42.15 Andy Coulson:
Really, it was the same woman?
00:18:45.12 Nimco Ali:
It’s the same woman.
00:18:46.07 Andy Coulson:
Who carried out FGM on your own mother?
00:18:48.22 Nimco Ali:
Yeah, on my own mother, was the same one. And they basically would not entrust it to anybody else. And I had no idea about all this stuff. I just remember going around with my grandmother when she was organising things and she was making the food for the blessing and all these other kind of things. So I was kind of aware but I was a child as well so there was no context into it.
00:19:09.10 Andy Coulson:
00:19:09.19 Nimco Ali:
So when we basically had to go and have a showered they said, basically go cleanse ourselves before we had the FGM, I didn’t go to the bathroom, I ran behind my grandmother and went to the door. And then just saw this woman and I just thought, she actually… Because the nanny used to tell us really like nightmare stories of women that came and kidnapped kids and ate them and all this other family stuff. So I wasn’t thinking she was going to do like FGM, I just thought she was somebody that was going to do something horrible to me. So I remember running out and running away.
00:19:46.08 Nimco Ali:
And then I went to go and find my cousin who was very Mancunian who was also stuck in Djibouti and I was about to tell him what was going to happen. I was like, ‘You know this woman’s going to eat me’ or whatever. And then my mum was basically like, ‘I can’t believe…’ so then my mum came out of nowhere and basically just grabbed me and took me back and she was like, ‘I can’t believe that you were going to tell a boy what was going to happen’. And I was thinking, actually I don’t know what is going to happen. I don’t know what you guys are actually talking about.
00:20:13.00 Nimco Ali:
So in that time my sister, my younger sister who was five at the time, had gone before me and then I came back. And then I got scolded by the woman by being called a brat and saying ‘do you know how hard it is to find any kind of antiseptic’ and all these things. She said, ‘you’re in the middle of a war and look at you running away and not being grateful’. So I remember it wasn’t actually the physicality and the pain of the FGM, it was also this whole thing of just being chastised for actually not wanting something horrible to happen to you. Which I just found like immensely confusing.
00:20:49.12 Andy Coulson:
Goodness. And from this distance, you’re now… you now think that probably this was happening to an awful lot of girls at the same time in the same place, almost because of this panic that they may never be able to… Families’ panic that they may never be able to bring you back to have had that FGM later in your life?
00:21:12.18 Nimco Ali:
It’s actually like, the level of money and privilege that my side of the family and these people had in order to be doing these kind of things and stupidity. It’s actually just astounding.
00:21:26.14 Andy Coulson:
Stupidity on one side and then the kind of obsession of its importance and the need to do it despite its obvious cruelty.
00:21:34.24 Nimco Ali:
Yeah. No, definitely and that’s basically what ended up happening as well when we came back to the UK. Like, a lot of the Somali parents who were here already got freaked out that there was going to be more and more Somalis in the country. So therefore their daughters who were born here or were here as kids wouldn’t be judged. So I remember in the 90s my mum, I don’t know, it was a very open secret. So one of the women was like, ‘Oh my god, when are you going to get Nimco and so and so done?’ And she said, ‘No, I did it before I came’ and she was like, ‘Oh my god, you’re so lucky’. So there was girls being taken from Manchester, from Cardiff, to basically be cut around the country in the UK. And then when things ended up settling down into the mid-90s they were being taken to Dubai.
00:22:21.03 Nimco Ali:
So it was a very open secret and it was kind of like a duty that women had to do in order to prove that they were raising their daughters well. I always say that my FGM happened out of context because I had this horrific act happen to me but then nobody talks about it afterwards. And none of the other kind of gender conformity stuff of like girls being quiet and sitting down and all these things actually, I was never instructed in that kind of way. So I was allowed to be very, like, open and questioning and live in a way where the FGM physically happened but there wasn’t any other kind of conditioning that I had.
00:22:57.19 Nimco Ali:
So literally I bounced back from just like, what the hell was this? To basically just running around with my uncles and my cousins again and just kind of thinking I just can’t wait to get back, I just can’t wait to get back to the UK to be as much of a normal child. Or to actually be able to have a conversation with somebody who wasn’t in a mental crisis every single moment. Because I think that the main thing was that everybody… like as much as I do think the world revolves around me, it definitely was not revolving around me at that time.
00:23:28.11 Andy Coulson:
But what had happened to you was literally, there was a day before, there was the day it happened and then it was kind of, right, on we go.
00:23:37.09 Nimco Ali:
00:23:38.08 Andy Coulson:
And no context either side.
00:23:40.19 Nimco Ali:
To be fair, there were like really painful rituals that were kind of like in a sense… Because the FGM that I had was a very physical and very invasive form where they basically slit…
00:23:53.18 Andy Coulson:
00:23:54.16 Nimco Ali:
Yeah, infibulation. So they stitched anatomy together. So there was at least a week plus of me having to urinate every hour and kind of be like, you know, having my legs tied together. But after that it was just kind of like basically off you go, kind of thing. It wasn’t like now that you’ve been cut you have to act differently. There wasn’t like any of that other sense… All the other girls that I’ve known and I’ve known since, you know, their lives did change after they had FGM. They basically became a little bit more kind of kept in the house and had to kind of start acting in a completely different way.
00:24:30.14 Andy Coulson:
Yeah, I mean, I’m just trying to, which is impossible to do, I’m trying to marry this idea of you, Nimco, named as you know, literally named as a blessing, and then this sort of barbarous… in your life… and I know it’s so complex because in the end it comes down to your relationship with your mother. But how do you now, because I know you have reached a point of peace about it, how did you get there?
00:25:08.06 Nimco Ali:
It took a long time in order for me to be able to make sense of it. But through the last stages of my grandmother’s life I ended up like really understanding like, you know, how little power that my mother had about the issue of FGM. about how much power she had over everything else. So I, in a sense, again coming back to the position of privilege, I have been raised in a sense, where I was freely educated, I went to a Church of England school. I like, you know, mixed very openly with non-Somali children.
00:25:37.04 Nimco Ali:
I was like, you know, so I’ve been in a position where the fact that I was never put in a cultural space with the fact that this is how girls act and this is how you’re meant to be doing. I’m now being able to be educated and able to make my own money. I think that was something that my mother could never do so my mother was arranged to marry a wealthy man and to be able to put in that position you have to have FGM, you have to be in a certain way, you have to kind of behave. So for her it was kind of like the product of what it actually… one of the pillars of being a Somali woman was to have FGM.
00:26:13.14 Andy Coulson:
It was as simple as that.
00:26:15.00 Nimco Ali:
Yeah, to have these kind of markings and there was nobody there that actually really asked these questions of why. So I remember when everybody used to tell me when I was growing up, when people used to talk about FGM and say this was an act of love, I was like it wasn’t an act of love it was an act of fear and I was like an act of ignorance because my mother did not know what whether the earth was round or flat or a woman who was not cut and being able to be married and how she’s gonna be able to live in that kind of society. I don’t think she could project thirty years later I’d be able to rent my own place and have my own bank account.
00:26:49.17 Andy Coulson:
Sure, yeah. At eleven you fell quite badly ill, very seriously ill as a result of the FGM. You had an infection that spread to your kidneys and you underwent a de-infibulation which becomes a sort of matter of shame in and of itself because that is not supposed to happen until you’re much older and presumably when you’re at the age when you can approach marriage.
00:27:12.09 Nimco Ali:
00:27:13.08 Andy Coulson:
How did that shame show itself in the community? How do you remember that and how did you react to that?
00:27:22.06 Nimco Ali:
It was actually quite… well funny in the sense that what I do now or what happened that time. So I remember my mum being over my bed as I came to when I was at home. So not when I was in the hospital. When I was in the hospital the nurse was the first person that I saw. And then I just thought to her, like, are you actually going to have a conversation with me about what happened because I’ve been trying to describe this thing for years and years but ultimately you’ve actually seen it. So can we have a conversation about that? But obviously she wasn’t in a position to do it.
00:27:52.23 Nimco Ali:
So then I remember like going back home and my mum basically putting me in her bed, which was always an act of kind of like when we were unwell we would sleep in my mum’s bed. I remember waking up and my mum saying ‘You can’t tell anybody that you’ve had a de-infibulation’. And I remember looking at her thinking, why would I talk to anybody about my vagina? Well, twenty years later I’m doing that a lot. But at the time I just thought, why would I even do that? So it was very much like you can’t tell anybody that you’re now kind of, like, now open.
00:28:26.19 Andy Coulson:
Right, so she wanted it to be your secret, essentially?
00:28:29.21 Nimco Ali:
Yeah, it has to be your secret. And then I think that kind of the way that the shame kind of manifested itself or kind of hiding a secret from others. So like, you know, as if somebody would… I’m not sure, maybe they were, but listening to you going to the toilet. Like, you know the whole time because I could urinate more freely, if anybody heard that then they would know that I wasn’t stitched up. So I would literally flush the toilet before I went to the toilet or I’d put like toilet paper down or whatever so the idea of actually making any noise when you go to the toilet was actually something…
00:29:04.14 Andy Coulson:
You’re an eleven year old girl.
00:29:06.20 Nimco Ali:
Yeah, and that’s the way you’re policed. And I used to think and I used to sit there, the older I got as people in the public sector and child protection and stuff like that, I was like, ‘Do you understand how weird it is that people are so fussy about a child’s anatomy? Do you not find this extremely strange?’ And nobody seemed to find that strange because we were brown people and brown people weren’t judged the same as white people were in terms of the way that they react to children and their anatomy.
00:29:32.19 Andy Coulson:
Exactly. This is what I want to ask you about because one of the most shocking aspects of FGM, I think to people listening to this, is that in many ways it’s a sort of horror in plain sight. That for girls who suffer it in this country, you know, too often a blind eye is taken. And that happened to you with teachers, it happened to you with doctors in that hospital presumably?
00:29:56.18 Nimco Ali:
00:29:57.05 Andy Coulson:
When you came back to the UK, it was seen as a kind of cultural thing that we shouldn’t get involved in. Is that right?
00:30:06.08 Nimco Ali:
Yeah, definitely it was seen as an ‘other’. And I think in terms of the teachers and stuff like that, I can see why a seven year old being very graphic about something that happened to her was like shocking and she probably… but the idea of the face that this was a medical intervention, like a medical procedure, like the institution had intervened and they saw that I almost died because of this but nobody actually said anything, I think for me that was very dramatic and it was very painful and it really did hurt a lot in order for me to be consistently dismissed. And also, when certain people were brave enough to be able to question it, so whether they were midwives or kind of social workers in Cardiff essentially, where I was, they were told that they actually stigmatising the community.
00:30:58.02 Andy Coulson:
You’re an eleven year old girl but you’re clearly a very bright eleven year old girl. You’re telling them, right?
00:31:01.12 Nimco Ali:
00:31:02.12 Andy Coulson:
You’re doing your best to explain what happened to you. You didn’t keep that secret that your mum wanted you to keep. You were trying to explain what had happened and how you felt and the pain that you were in. And yet, and yet heads sort of turned away from you.
00:31:19.13 Nimco Ali:
And also it was that tilted kind of thing of being understood, they knew it was wrong but they were like well we can’t really do anything. If they’d said ‘I don’t care, that’s like you know, that’s weird and go away’. But it was this whole thing of the fact that they knew it was horrible, they knew it was bad but they weren’t going to do anything about it. So I think that cultural relativism was something that was massively problematic and it still carries on in the way that we’re kind of consistently ‘othering’ women of colour, especially. And really looking at their humanity, not giving them the same level of respect and humanity that we give other people.
00:31:54.04 Andy Coulson:
It’s more than that thought, isn’t it, because it was illegal?
00:31:56.16 Nimco Ali:
00:31:57.17 Andy Coulson:
It’s illegal since 1985.
00:31:59.23 Nimco Ali:
And do you know what? It was illegal to do it here in the UK so therefore when they got smart about the law they were taking girls out to Djibouti and to Dubai and other places. There was very little ignorance of the law, like, you know, when FGM was happening and even to this day, right now, it’s really bizarre I meet people all the time who are like basically telling me that we shouldn’t be prosecuting people because they don’t know it’s illegal. And I was thinking how can you not know it’s illegal when you…
00:32:29.19 Nimco Ali:
So I said to a Somali guy once who had this argument with me saying, ‘I can’t believe that you want to lock these people up but they don’t know it’s illegal they need to be educated’. So I said to him, ‘Do you drive?’ And he said yes and I said, ‘Do you know where to park and where not to park?’ And he said yes. And I said, ‘Well if you can understand the basic civility of parking in this country then you know that mutilation of a child is actually wrong. So this idea of the fact that you don’t know holding a child down and cutting their anatomy is illegal when you know that you’re not doing that in open sight and telling teachers about it. So like ethnic minorities love to play the ignorance card and white people that feel guilty let them get away with it.
00:33:11.09 Andy Coulson:
Let’s talk about that sort of period in between eleven, let’s say, twelve, and when eventually you start to talk about your story, which is much later. It’s a fairly large part and very important part of your life as you’re becoming a young woman. How are you dealing with it at that stage, Nimco? What’s your… You’re a super-bright, very ambitious young woman, you go to university. You then decide that you want to become a civil servant, you enter the fast track in the civil service. But during that whole period how are you dealing with this? Have you put it in a corner of your mind not to deal with? Or are you slowly beginning to understand what happened to you? What’s the sort of process that you’re going through and how are you coping?
00:34:06.24 Nimco Ali:
Yeah, so I was like, again, I kind of checked out the Somali community and people around me and from the age of thirteen, fourteen, because I was having a conversation with all these girls. They’re like, this stuff is wrong. And I was like, again, I keep using the word lucky but I was also, again, in that sense I was privileged that I was able to have all my kind of, I was able to start menstruating when I had my de-infibulation. So having the de-infibulation at eleven that I had, I had my normal anatomy in terms of like there was very little complication. So for me, it was just kind of like I thought I had put this at the back of my mind but at the same time because I was so emotionally scarred by this whole thing I ended up developing an eating disorder at fourteen which would like stay with me for the next fifteen to twenty years.
00:34:59.03 Andy Coulson:
Did you get any help for your eating disorder?
00:35:01.12 Nimco Ali:
No, I didn’t, I didn’t actually check into therapy or start having conversations until a lot later in life, which is kind of like recently because in that sense otherwise it was just, they were very much like me, myself and I and I wish I’d actually done a little bit more about it. Because even when I got into activism like you know, the eating disorder again took that heightened step because again, I was dealing with the same backlash and issues that I dealt with when I was a child. I was questioning this kind of issue.
00:35:35.21 Andy Coulson:
But Nimco, how were you doing this? I mean, how were you… People listening to this, I’m sure will feel the same way as I do, that you know, full of sympathy from this distance is just the most appalling story. But how are you… what is it about you that is able to drive through these things? I mean, it’s an astonishing strength that you have.
00:36:07.00 Nimco Ali:
Do you know what, I think, and I’m not as religious as a lot of people but I think it is that kind of… I realise that I’m not the most… I just don’t take myself seriously. I think you can feel like, you know, you can feel sorry for yourself or you can suck it up and kind of do things. But I guess it’s that being a Capricorn, as I like to tell my niece, is how I kind of, you know I think that’s the only thing that can really explain my kind of quirky ways essentially. But I also think I think that loving my grandfather, understanding him and having a passion for history. I think history, in terms of the things that really kind of spoke to me and academia was something that was very much gave me kind of comfort essentially.
00:36:53.01 Andy Coulson:
Gave you comfort because it gave you a wider arc in which to understand?
00:36:57.15 Nimco Ali:
Yeah, and also…
00:36:58.10 Andy Coulson:
What the things that had happened to you?
00:37:00.20 Nimco Ali:
Yeah, and really understand that…
00:37:02.04 Andy Coulson:
Really? You were able to sort of step back from your own personal experience and place it in a time-line that you could then begin to rationalise?
00:37:12.20 Nimco Ali:
Yeah, and understand that there were people that came before me that had like crazier things that kind of happened to them. And also ultimately I think finding… I think there were two formative writers in my childhood; it was George Orwell and Nawal El Saadawi, an Egyptian writer who also wrote about her won FGM. And I read her essay about FGM around thirteen years old. So this was, again, the checking out and stop being so vocal about the issue. And then reading, actually like reading 1984 and Animal Farm also kind of made me realise that I wasn’t mad in kind of thinking that I was the only person that might be sane in this whole world. And on one side I’ve got me Somali community that thinks this brutal act is okay and on the other side I’ve got the Western society which knows it’s not okay but are saying nothing about it. And I just thought in that kind of conversation I’m thinking do you know what, I’m not that crazy thinking that these people are wrong.
00:38:17.21 Andy Coulson:
But one other… there are so many angles to this but one of the most upsetting elements is the idea that you’re alone through all this.
00:38:27.07 Nimco Ali:
No, definitely and…
00:38:28.10 Andy Coulson:
I mean, at what point did you… I want to talk about the moment when you, as I understand it, almost accidentally, told the story publicly for the first time. I want to talk about that in a second. But before then, to be able to do that, I suppose, before then when was the moment when you stopped feeling alone?
00:38:51.02 Nimco Ali:
Do you know what, in this journey I don’t think I’ve, like, I’ve always been… And this is the thing that my history teacher used to say, ‘Planet Nimco, population one, come back to earth’ because I’d always be like thinking in a completely different kind of way. And I’d been very comfortable in that kind of space of actually maybe being the only person who might be right in a certain situation or think something in a certain kind of way. I don’t have an opinion about everything. I have opinions about things that I’m informed on.
00:39:19.23 Nimco Ali:
So even when I said that I’d, you know, like ending FGM and people are like ‘Are you mental? What are you talking about? This is a 4,000 year old practice that’s never going to end and nobody cares.’ I was like, ‘Do you know what, I think they will.’ And it was just that whole kind of never taking myself too seriously but also being a first born in a sense, I’m just going to keep saying what I’m saying and let them kind of get to it. So I think that’s like, that’s for me, the reason why I get… I am a complete loner in that sense. Like I know a lot of people, there are people around me but I am a complete loner and I’m okay in that space. And I’m also okay to take the mick out of myself, I don’t take myself seriously. Even when I’m doing like the most important jobs and stuff like that. I think that’s why I’ve also been very able to hang out with very powerful people because I’m just like, ‘Get over yourself, you’re not that important, thank you’.
00:40:16.01 Andy Coulson:
00:40:16.10 Nimco Ali:
I think I might be rude actually; I’m starting to think…
00:40:17.19 Andy Coulson:
No, I’m right… that’s absolutely… that’s got to be, we need more of that in public life. Look, let’s just go to that moment when you do talk about your FGM for the first time publicly. In 2010 you’d moved from Bristol to London. You started volunteering with a charity that worked with girls that had undergone FGM. And one of the girls you’d met there invited you to an art exhibition, as I understand it, she was holding about her experiences. And when she’s on stage she freezes. You’re there, presumably, in the audience and she freezes. And you take it upon yourself to go on to the stage to help her through, to try and persuade her to kind of continue with her talk. And in doing so you start to explain to her what your experience was, not realising that you were both effectively on the microphone, that you were effectively mic’d up. Is that correct?
00:41:20.02 Nimco Ali:
Yeah, and it was also my second date with my first ever white boyfriend. So I decided that I was going to start dating white men. Actually do you know what? It was really interesting because I ended up deciding… I moved to London and I ended up signing up to match.com because I thought nobody talks to me in pubs, I don’t drink so like, how can I get noticed? I remember saying to that boyfriend of mine who ended up staying in my life for a while, I said, ‘oh, this is like shooting fish in a barrel’ because I had just narrowed it down. I was like, I need to like, I think there’s only two people I really get along with. It’s like Somaliland men or white English posh-boys. So I need to find where can I find them?
00:41:59.08 Nimco Ali:
And I remember registering and putting it on my credit card and that credit card bill being still sent to my house in Bristol and my mum opening it and being so horrified and basically saying that being on a dating site was akin to prostitution. And I was like, ‘Well it’s actually not but whatever.’ So I was already kind of having these little tiffs with my mum and so on. So essentially I went…
00:42:26.20 Nimco Ali:
And I didn’t want to cry I wanted her to feel better. I really understood that in that moment that my silence was so complicit to the misunderstanding of what FGM was because that girl had never met anybody who had the same experiences that she did who was okay. And like, you know, obviously I was still in the grips of you know, somewhat of my eating disorder but at the same time I was okay as possible. I’d got good job; I was on a second date with this lanky boy. So when I saw her on that kind of platform just like hyperventilating I just thought… I took her aside and I told her like, it really is going to be okay because I’d listened to her for months and months and spoken about it in the third person.
00:43:08.13 Nimco Ali:
I’d said, like, ‘you’re going to be okay, you’re fine. You know intimacy is the main thing when it comes to like being able to have sexual pleasure’. There were always like random statements made about women who’ve had FGM as though like, ‘Oh women who’ve had FGM can’t enjoy sex or women who’ve had FGM can’t do this or can’t do that’. This is how they will feel and I’m just thinking, actually that’s not really true like every single woman had their own story and every woman’s different. And I think we need to be able to treat women as individuals. And I think that’s one of the things that I was very much like, I grew up by the shame of not being seen as just a mutilated vagina.
00:43:50.18 Nimco Ali:
And it was really interesting, in 2014 I ended up meeting Nawal El Saadawi at the South Bank Centre and I really wanted to ask her the conversation about her mum. Because she writes about the fact that when she gets out of the grips of the circumciser and she looks for her mum and she sees her mum cackling in the corner with these women who have been part of this abuse. So I really wanted to ask her how she’d re-built her relationship with her mum. Because in 2014 I didn’t actually ever see a way of my mum and I ever reconciling. But in that moment, in this talk that she was doing, she started talking about shame and how she’d written the chapter which essentially changed my life, four times, ripped it up and thrown it into basically the Gulf of Aegean and just kind of thrown it into the sea several times because she was just so embarrassed.
00:44:54.22 Nimco Ali:
And I said to her, I asked her, I’d been waiting almost twenty years of my life to ask her about her mother and I asked her instead about what the shame that gripped her was. And she said, ‘I was a doctor, I was a political activist, I was all these things. I didn’t want to be reduced on the international stage as a mutilated vagina.’ And that was essentially the same thing that was keeping me talking about my own experience as well because sitting around in these spaces I would constantly hear people talking about and at women who had undergone FGM not knowing there was one sitting there. And that’s what I just wanted to tell this girl, just to say, you know, ‘I swear to you it’s all going to be okay. And you know, I had FGM, I had Type 3, I had exactly what you had and you will be okay.’ And the whole room was quite shocked. But I think there was nobody more shocked than the guy I was with at the time. So I had to take him home and start to console… you know, basically help him through the fact that you know the woman he might be dating is a survivor of FGM.
00:45:58.24 Andy Coulson:
But this is moment when your entire life changes though. Every one of your relationships changes.
00:46:06.20 Nimco Ali:
00:46:07.05 Andy Coulson:
That you’ve decided I’m not going to. Although you’d done a tremendous amount of work already to support those who’d been through FGM, you’d kept your own story to yourself at that point.
00:46:18.16 Nimco Ali:
Yeah, no, definitely.
00:46:18.22 Andy Coulson:
It’s a huge kind of change in your life and in every one of your important relationships.
00:46:25.06 Nimco Ali:
No, definitely I think that was you know, that was obviously the catalyst and I ended up doing an Evening Standard article about a few months later just to talk about this [experience]. Like to be the first person to talk about the first instance of being a British girl that had FGM. And obviously I thought it’s the Evening Standard, like you know, it’s only going to be read in London, like nobody’s really going to find out about it. But obviously it got picked up in Somalia and in Somaliland and everywhere else and within literally forty-eight hours there were people offering my brothers to basically take care of me because I’d brought dishonour to the family. And that was really the first instance where my brothers, who were younger than me, were for the first time spoken to as though they had some kind of power over me. So I was just thinking like, he’s my younger brother how dare… like, who would even think that he has the idea to be able to control my… kind of the way that I behave and stuff like that. But they’d kind of associated the honour of my family around my brothers.
00:47:32.22 Andy Coulson:
So they said those things to your family. What did your family say to you?
00:47:37.22 Nimco Ali:
So my brother was completely scared for me and it was really interesting, like, my mum, at the time, wasn’t as sympathetic. You know, because I was thinking how were people threatening to do me harm. And one of the people was my cousin from my dad’s side of the family. And I was actually told I shouldn’t tell the police on him because it’s worse for him to be arrested than for him to threaten to kill me. And I was like…
00:48:03.12 Andy Coulson:
So how was this manifesting itself? How were these threats manifesting themselves? Were they coming to you second hand? Or…?
00:48:11.01 Nimco Ali:
They were definitely, they were coming to me second hand because they were basically going directly to my brothers and then directly going to the family because therefore it was seen as an issue to talk to me directly because I had dishonoured the family and there wasn’t anything that they were actually going to do. And I remember like when it kind of really took a hold. So my brother had called me because somebody had actually… you know he was really scared for me. And I was going to his place and I was in a taxi. And the taxi had taken a direction that I didn’t know. I literally for a second tried to jump out of a moving car because I thought this guy was going to murder me. And then I decided that I wasn’t going to do anymore press. So that was like, basically I think it was 2011, 2012 when I thought, I’m not doing anymore press.
00:49:02.02 Andy Coulson:
00:49:02.11 Nimco Ali:
And then I remember somebody from The Times coming to me and saying ‘Should we have lunch and have a conversation?’ And I thought to myself, well The Times is behind a paywall so all these idiots that want to kill me are not going to buy The Times anyway so I’ll have a chat. And I remember it was like the 30th January or 31st January 2014 and so I had this conversation with the journalist and then she was like, ‘oh do you mind if we just take a picture?’ And then basically The Sky papers come up and there’s my face on the front of the Times saying, ‘I don’t blame my mother I just think she did a stupid thing’ or did I call my stupid… the whole point was that I said that FGM was stupid. I said she wasn’t a bad person. And I thought oh my god, that’s it.
00:49:51.03 Andy Coulson:
And did that cause more pressure from…?
00:49:55.05 Nimco Ali:
Yeah, it did and actually it set up a kind of sequence of events that actually was very interesting from the FGM activism world. Because what had happened was the fact that the same cousin of mine and the uncle of mine had spoken to The Times and said ‘Do you have any evidence that the fact that she’s had FGM, like can you prove it?’ And then I got the Times saying can you prove you had FGM? And I was actually going to do it. And then I thought to myself, actually that is like the most ridiculous thing that I could do.
00:50:27.10 Andy Coulson:
00:50:28.04 Nimco Ali:
And then it was really interesting because a lot of the work that I do when I and that I believe in is not about centring it around myself or on the issue of kind of doing that, it kind of just became this whole thing that a lot of the activists in this space were kind of thinking well, she is only working in the government so maybe her FGM wasn’t as FGM as we thought it was. And I was like, I just don’t sit around all day crying about it, like, it happened to me thirty-one years ago. It’s part of my life but it’s not the biggest part of my life essentially.
00:51:01.22 Andy Coulson:
You have very clear views on how this should be discussed. How it should be framed. You’ve got very clear views on the words that should be used, right? That’s very important to you?
00:51:10.17 Nimco Ali:
No definitely. I think that the whole point is the fact that I really don’t believe in the stigmatisation of women who have already undergone FGM. So this idea of victim when you should be a survivor. And this idea that FGM has to define for the rest of your life. Like people, especially in the international development states want you to consistently be broken. And I was. You know, when I was getting so much vile stuff online and from everywhere I was broken. And I was broken before that when I had my eating disorder and I was a child trying to figure things out. But ultimately I’m a survivor and I survived those things. And I want women to know that they’re survivors and one of the things that I’ve never, never wanted to do was to be disrespectful of survivors. And I think that’s something that I’m very passionate about and if that means taking on institutions then that is what I’ve just done. It hasn’t necessarily been the easiest of tasks but it’s what I think we’re on the right side of history on.
00:52:12.11 Andy Coulson:
Yes. So when we ask you the question then, of how you got through this and how you get through this, it’s that single-mindedness that you describe but also it’s that refusal to be defined by it.
00:52:24.02 Nimco Ali:
Yeah, no definitely, definitely. It’s like I’m many things and FGM is something that happened to me, it’s not something that defines me. So I’ve had several things happen to me and I think what kind of defines me is… I think my sense of humour and my ability to just get on with it is more a characteristic of who I am, rather than the FGM itself.
00:52:51.05 Andy Coulson:
Can we just talk very quickly about FGM in a UK context? Obviously we touched on it in terms of when you came back, that kind of turning a blind eye. How would you characterise the UK’s attitude now, towards FGM? And we see the numbers, the sort of official picture that’s painted. Politically, things have changed dramatically. I mean, in 2009, actually, I remember with David Cameron, there was a real kind of shift in attitude which led eventually to more legal change. But how would you characterise the UK and FGM right now?
00:53:40.00 Nimco Ali:
I think we’re kind of going backwards in the sense that basically when the numbers… So what FGM has become, it’s become a buzz word in terms of fundraising and all these other kind of organisations. Do we need to be fundraising in order to end FGM here in the UK? No. Do we need to be making sure that social services and other integral parts of child protection mechanisms ensure that girls who are at risk of FGM are protected? Yes. So I think we’re trying to, because we’ve been so successful in terms of actually being able to kind of get it onto the legislative frameworks and mainstream it, it means that people are now saying ‘oh we should be doing things on a community level’. FGM has never happened on the community level, it’s been an organised crime and it’s been something that the state has ignored. There’s like a hypersensitivity of not offending people that were basically against not having to push young children into spaces of real intolerance. And I think that’s massively problematic. Especially for secular Muslim women like myself.
00:54:43.03 Andy Coulson:
Okay. You’ve done amazing work on a number of different fronts. From counter-terrorism with the Home Office. The DFID funded anti-FGM social change programmes. You stood for parliament as well, once didn’t you?
00:55:01.00 Nimco Ali:
I did, for the Women’s Equality Party. And again, do you know what, I haven’t like, I think that was the only thing that I would put next to doing the FGM stuff in terms of like the vile stuff that I got. And people consistently asked me would I stand for parliament. And I was like, ‘I really don’t want to die, that’s my main thing’. It’s like if I stood for parliament in a non-labour seat because I don’t think I’d be able to represent the Labour Party as it stands and I was going to win I know people would be so threatened about the idea of someone like me surviving everything that I’ve done and still being able to stand.
00:55:41.01 Andy Coulson:
Really Nimco? You would not do that for fear of your life?
00:55:45.22 Nimco Ali:
Yeah, no definitely.
00:55:46.14 Andy Coulson:
You think that that would be almost an insult too far for those people who hold those…?
00:55:52.22 Nimco Ali:
Oh the views that ‘how dare I be proud to be Muslim, black woman but also not represent the things that they demand me to represent’. So I think my individuality has very much vexed a lot of people as the dissenter. I always say that FGM was meant to break me but it kind of made me the loudest person, it was something that I wasn’t essentially that ashamed of. Maybe I was scared of the pushback that I would get but I wasn’t embarrassed about the act of FGM because it wasn’t something that I did to myself. So yeah, I definitely believe in democracy and I believe in politics and I enjoy politics but at the same time I also want to stay alive.
00:56:37.11 Andy Coulson:
I don’t quite know what to say to that because it’s, you know, that in itself is evidence that this crisis that you’ve been through in your life is still on your shoulders. But what I would say as well though is that you’ve found that being a member of parliament isn’t everything, right? You’ve found politics isn’t everything. You’ve found so many ways to get your message out in such a powerful and constructive way.
00:57:08.14 Nimco Ali:
Yeah, I do believe in…
00:57:09.19 Andy Coulson:
You received your OBE in 2019, a wonderful day for you. How did your family react to that?
00:57:18.03 Nimco Ali:
You know what? I had this whole conversation with my niece the other day and I said, ‘Oh I’m going to do something, would you be impressed?’ And she said, ‘But you’ve already got an OBE so you impressed me anyway’ and for her to say that as a nine year old I thought oh my god, it does actually really mean something. So my sister was excited, my niece was excited and my mum not so much because obviously she wouldn’t want me to get an award for talking about my anatomy.
00:57:45.21 Andy Coulson:
Tell me about that conversation when you told your mum that you got an OBE.
00:57:50.04 Nimco Ali:
Yeah, she was like…
00:57:51.10 Andy Coulson:
What did she say to you?
00:57:52.09 Nimco Ali:
She wasn’t that interested. I said, do you want to come? And she said, ’No, I don’t bow down to anybody but god so I’m not going to curtsey’. I don’t think they want you to bow down to them but whatever mum. It’s like…
00:58:04.17 Andy Coulson:
But that wasn’t about the Queen was it?
00:58:05.23 Nimco Ali:
It wasn’t about the Queen; it was also about the fact that I’d got it for something that she actually just thinks is actually just completely like… It’s somewhat ridiculous in terms of the stuff that I do because it’s not a job that she can tell her parents that, ‘What does Nimco do?’ And she’s like, ‘I don’t know what she does, she lives in London’ kind of thing.
00:58:27.11 Andy Coulson:
Well there’s a sadness there but it’s… What her daughter has done is almost beyond comprehension.
00:58:36.06 Nimco Ali:
There’s a funniness in a weird way.
00:58:38.06 Andy Coulson:
Well, it’s just incredible, Nimco, it’s an incredible story and thank you for the work that you do. Thank you for giving us your time today. It’s been an absolute privilege to sit and chat to you about it. Thank you for just being so frank and honest and just so incredibly powerful with your testimony, we really appreciate it. We end all our podcasts by asking our guests for their crisis cures. So these are three things, other than another person, that help you through. What would be your first?
00:59:15.19 Nimco Ali:
Humour. I think I find humour. It’s something that I think is the kind of, it’s my main…
00:59:23.11 Andy Coulson:
And you find humour everywhere?
00:59:25.15 Nimco Ali:
I do. I really, really do find humour in the people around me. It’s one of the things that I also… I think praying as well, but not praying in a way that is, like, you know, in terms of a ritual kind of religious thing. But I think that the power of manifestation and prayers is like thing. Sometimes I manifest that a necessary thing. So like, please let there be a hot guy and a black cab that drives past me, things like that. And sometimes it happens. And I just think damn, why didn’t I manifest something else. So I do actually believe that we can manifest kind of things. So that’s my other kind of praying in a weird way.
01:00:15.24 Andy Coulson:
Can you give me another crisis cure?
01:00:18.04 Nimco Ali:
Another crisis cure is there’s a really good app called Pattern which is reading about your star signs and stuff like this. So I’ve become more and more really connected to the fact that I think our life paths are charted before our birth in that kind of sense and sometimes…
01:00:37.19 Andy Coulson:
Really? You’re a great believer in fate?
01:00:40.23 Nimco Ali:
I do, like a great believer in fate and destiny. But I also believe again, we have to wait… I don’t know, I just like… On a consistent basis I have moments of deja vu. so I also believe in the fact that… and this is the thing about the human spirit is the fact that we actually assume that we are more important than we are rather than just thinking that we’re just a grain of sand in a broader kind of conversation and in a broader kind of landscape. And I really hold truly to that, I really hold true to the whole point of the fact that I am just a grain of sand and if it’s meant to happen it’s going to happen. That doesn’t mean you have to be lazy about it but I think you have to just be not so hard on yourself.
01:01:25.01 Andy Coulson:
And you’ve got one more for me, is there a book or a song or particular place you go?
01:01:33.21 Nimco Ali:
I think Spice Girls are always very much one. I think, again, this is what I mean about somebody who doesn’t take themselves seriously. I really, really do believe that the Spice Girls were fundamental to my activism in the sense that they were these really kind of cheeky women that essentially took on the patriarchy in a different way. So I definitely, definitely like, you know…
01:01:54.21 Andy Coulson:
Have you met them? Have you been able to tell them that?
01:01:57.15 Nimco Ali:
No, I haven’t actually. But I was once asked to say what my favourite quote was.
01:02:05.06 Andy Coulson:
01:02:06.15 Nimco Ali:
I said, ‘If you want to be my lover you’ve got to get on with my friends’!
01:02:09.16 Andy Coulson:
Nimco, that’s amazing thank you so much for your time today. And as I say, an astonishing story and beautifully told, thank you.
01:02:42.20 End of transcription