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The secret of my success

House of Lords peer Baroness Flather on why her passion always comes before profit

If my parents had let me, I probably would have chosen a career learning how to dance bharatanatyam. Since that suggestion was received with an emphatic no, I came to England in the 1950s and studied law at UCL University; it was absolutely marvellous and I didn’t suffer any discrimination. I wore my saris proudly – even in the winter when I had to put on ski pants underneath to keep warm.

The only thing I found was that if you’re an Asian woman, particularly an older one, you have to keep establishing yourself to people because English folks can’t distinguish between different levels of intellect. I have perfect speaking and written English but I’ll never forget in the 1970s, when I used to run this club for Asian women and I was introduced to someone, she commented proudly to one of my colleagues: ‘Isn’t she clever, she learned how to say hello!’

It helps to have a degree from UCL though, because at least then people know you can’t be that brain damaged!

For me, the most important thing has always been about breaking moulds and the belief that anyone can do it. I was the first Asian woman to become a Justice of the Peace and the Mayor of Windsor, yet I never envisioned I would become that when I was younger. Anything is possible; I think Asian women just need to realise that nothing is holding them back. For instance I never thought I’d be able to take part in debates or make speeches, but I’ve done that and a lot more.

After a three year stint working in Brussels as a member of the Consultative Assembly, I was asked to join the House of Lords in the early 90s. I think people find it odd because it’s viewed as an old boy network, but really, it isn’t. If anything, the most discrimination I have received tends to be from Asian men, most of whom haven’t even acknowledged that I built the memorial gates to honour the dead Indian soldiers who helped out in the Second World War.

Politics must be pursued with every inch of passion and dedication and there’s nothing more satisfying. You can’t be too vulnerable and you’ve got to be able to take the criticism and sniping in your stride, but just think of all the wonderful changes you could make to the world.

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