5 questions with... Neena Gill
Racism, tigers and Marmite.
Neena Gill | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual
1. What is the smallest change you have made in your career that has had the biggest positive result?
Back in 2008, in my second term, I hosted what I expected to be a modest meeting on the plight of Indian tigers. At the time, there were only about 1500 thousand tigers left in the wild. With numbers falling so fast, in large part thanks to the Chinese trafficking mafia, it was predicted that by 2025 they would be extinct. Out of nowhere, there was huge coverage. I think it was the first time I spoke on Radio 4 at peak time. More importantly, it was taken up by the Commission and I even had meetings with foreign representatives from the Chinese government. This is still a big problem, but we have made progress: now I believe there are something like 4000 tigers in the wild.
2. What one item would you save from your house or apartment if it was on fire?
That would have to be my centenary Marmite box set, containing a 125g gold jar of marmite and gold knife, which I was given at the centenary ceremony back in 2002. I am a genuine Marmite addict. I even carry around little jars of the stuff with me when I travel because I like to have it on toast most mornings. So, as you can imagine, I was very excited to be invited to visit the Marmite factory, which happens to be in my region, the West Midlands.
3. Is there anything you have personally achieved that would surprise people?
I'm proud to say that my first ever job was as a librarian. I started to work there on Saturdays and in the school holidays when I was 16. I have a lot of respect for what libraries offer in our communities and the lessons I learned back then have stayed with me. I still have to file everything in a very specific, ordered way. At the same time, it was a great job. I considered myself really lucky to be able to read so many books while working.
4. What is the most humbling thing you have experienced in your career?
When I was CEO of the ASRA Housing Group, I went to visit a severely disabled man who had, bafflingly, been put in a flat on a second floor. He literally had to crawl up and down the stairs on his hands and knees. What shocked me was his optimism. He didn't once complain or show any real dissatisfaction. That was until I managed to rehouse him into a really lovely house, and he just broke down in tears, thanking me. His gratitude was humbling because what I'd done in helping him was so small in comparison to what he had been forced to put up with for the past five years.
5. What was the most inspirational and influential book you have read and why?
The book which had the biggest impact on me growing up was 'To kill a mockingbird', by Harper Lee. Having moved from India to the UK as a girl, I had experienced racism and I knew what it was, but I had never seen it written about. It brings out racism in a very understated way. It doesn't shout about it. The book gave me an awareness that I didn't previously have as a child.