In Conversation With June Sarpong
THE OUTNET’S Head of Content, Claudia Mahoney, got to catch up with broadcaster, author and instant burst of positivity June Sarpong. In case you missed their live conversation about her career, tackling diversity and inclusion and her secret to looking put-together no matter what — we made sure to save some of the best bits…
“I love bright colors, I mainly wear bright colors and like I said in terms of lipstick, always bright. And I am a big earring person. You know, I’m always in a big hoop or whatever, I love all of that.”
Claudia: Hello! You look so beautiful June!
June: Hi! So do you, you look stunning.
Claudia: So, June, you’ve recently joined Instagram, well I say recently, it’s been in the last sort of year, is that right?
June: No! It’s been in the last five months I think, four or five months.
Claudia: Oh, ok, so you’re still getting to grips with it then.
June: I am, I really am. Basically what happened was, we set up an Instagram page like four years’ ago or something. And I tried it like twice and was like ‘oh, no’ because I’m not very tech savvy. And then, Vanessa Kingori, who is I friend of mine whom I adore, and obviously Stephanie Phair as well, they got together to do ‘Share the Mic’ and they were like ‘June, you’ve got to do it.’ And I was like, ‘I don’t even know my Instagram passwords!’
Claudia: So, you had to get to grips.
June: Yeah, but wait for this, I had to get to grips on Victoria Beckham’s Instagram page! 28 million followers! And she was so gracious, I mean, her and her team were amazing and so helpful. So, that was my baptism by fire into Instagram. And now I’m loving it, I wish I’d started it earlier, I’m really enjoying it.
Claudia: I should say that you grew up in Walthamstow, you have an MBE for your services to broadcasting, you started on KISS FM, for those who don’t know and then you became very, very well known for presenting the youth, popular culture T4 on Channel 4. But what’s amazing about your career is that you’ve taken that platform and segwayed into being like a ‘serious broadcaster.’ Was that something that you really wanted to achieve when you set out?
June: Well, for me, the two always went side-by-side, they went hand-in-hand, that’s life, isn’t it? Life is full of fun moments, full of serious moments and sometimes, sadly, full of not-so-great moments. So, for me, communicating means all of it. I never thought that there was a conflict between the two, it was always sort of a natural sort of progression to have the two side-by-side, I just always saw it as normal really. Unfortunately, it’s not normal enough in our industry.
Claudia: You’ve written books The Power of Privilege that’s out at the moment about what White people can do to challenge racism. And then you’ve written Diversify and The Power of Women as well. So, you’ve obviously given this a lot of thought, about social mobility, and about trying to right some wrongs and about equality and diversity. Where do you think we stand at the moment in the last year that we’ve had?
June: Well, I think there’s a reckoning isn’t there? Basically what’s happening is we’re having conversations that we haven’t had in this way before. And I think it’s also because the world is going through a collective trauma. You know, even though some groups are disproportionately impacted by the crisis, we’re all being impacted by the Covid crisis in some way. So, I think the fact that we all sort of have this experience that we’re going through meant that we all were just much more mindful of our shared humanity. Which is why when we saw that George Floyd killing take place in that way, nobody could look away. It also meant that White people had to ask themselves questions around systemic racism, and they had to ask themselves about that position of having elevated characteristics sometimes making you inadvertently complicit to something that is unfair. So, I think what we have now is en-masse, White people saying, ‘well how can we help challenge racism and dismantle systemic inequality?’ And that is not a blame game, not at all, and also not saying in any way that all White people are privileged, of course not. But that is saying that there are characteristics in society that are elevated over others and so therefore, if you have those characteristics, is there something you can do to help level the playing field? And I think that’s what’s happened as a result of George Floyd’s killing.
Claudia: So, how is that playing into your role at the BBC then? Can you tell us a bit about what that entails?
June: Yeah, well I think the wonderful thing about the BBC is it’s a broadcaster for everyone and the core message is around universality, which obviously is inclusion. So, how do you create content that everybody can connect to? I think the real wonderful thing for me, and my team is we now get to help shape the global creative agenda in terms of inclusion. People often ask me ‘what does success look like?’ And I say this, not just in a BBC capacity, but across the board, success looks like when we’ve been able to include those that have been excluded without excluding those who have been up until now included. That for me is success. It’s not that model where someone else’s win means someone else’s loss. No, there’s a new way that we haven’t seen before, which is win, win. Which is saying that actually, we have allowed a small section of society to fulfil their full potential, how do we now widen that out to everybody else? That’s where I think we are, and I’m really excited about it.
Claudia: Now, June, we are a retailer so obviously we have to talk about fashion.
June: You know what? you have really helped my lockdown life. Because, obviously tops! So, basically, for Zoom — we’re the lucky ones, we still get to work from home on Zoom and what-have-you. So, I’ve been stocking up on tops and I bought one the other day, it’s a jumper that’s got ‘Love’ on it, it’s really lovely. And I got some great leather leggings as well!
Claudia: We’ve also been talking about the psychology of clothes and how they make us feel. It is amazing how much better you feel when you are wearing something that sparks happiness in you. What do you wear that makes you feel good about yourself?
June: I completely agree. When we first started lockdown, I made zero effort. I was doing my Zooms, no makeup, hair was a mess…
Claudia: Oh June, don’t tell me this, we all imagine you with the amazing lip gloss the whole time!
June: But then I started seeing the videos played back… I was like ‘what the…oh, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.’ So, now I have a sort of Zoom wardrobe, which is what I was saying, tops. Lots of tops and in terms of the thing that makes me feel good, I always, at least now, wear some lipstick or lip gloss.
Claudia: We filmed our Curated Life with you, you talked about the Ghanaian culture and loving vibrancy and print.
June: 100%. Another thing that I loved from you guys was the Stella Jean stuff that you have. Her prints are extraordinary, and her cuts are just gorgeous. I love bright colors, I mainly wear bright colors and like I said in terms of lipstick, always bright. And I am a big earring person. You know, I’m always in a big hoop or whatever, I love all of that and the shoes!
Claudia: This is the other thing, do you think that coming from Walthamstow, is that the bargain hunter in you?
June: Always. Yeah, it is, and it will stay with me for the rest of my life. You know what, I think that when you grow up in, and also don’t forget, Walthamstow has the longest street market in Europe. I grew up going up and down the market on a daily basis, seeing people haggle. And in Ghana, my great grandmother was a market trader.
Claudia: So THE OUTNET must be your shopping heaven.
June: It’s heaven! It’s heaven! The idea of being able to shop on sale constantly. And also, in terms of sustainability actually, it’s also good for the planet, right? Better it be resold in this capacity than ending up in a landfill.
Claudia: I know there’s so much negative, obvious stuff going around at the moment but is there anything that you feel is a positive that you can take out of what you’ve learnt and that you can take through into the future that you could impart to all of us to make us all feel better?
June: Yes! 100%! So, there is a wonderful Indian guru called Sadhguru, who I would recommend everybody follow. Sadhguru talks about how we can use this time wisely because the world is in reset mode. What he says is to use it to become a 10% better version of yourself. So, 10% better mother, 10% better at your job, 10% better friend, just 10% better, better, better. For everything we’ve lost throughout this process, basically what he says is to upgrade by 10% and if we all do that, then this has not been in vain.
Claudia: Thank you everyone for joining us and I hope like me you’re all feeling really jolly and fizzy and bubbly now having heard June’s words of wisdom.
June: Yeah, for sure. Bye everyone!
Claudia: Take care! Goodnight!