I had tears in my eyes when I read an interview with Camila Batmanghelidjh. It moved me the way she spoke about the young people she worked with through her charity Kids Company, her emphasis on listening to them and behaving in a respectful way - even when some kids smashed up her first office. Laughing, she said they came back the next day out of curiosity - and she invited them in. They couldn't believe; She looked so calm and delighted when she told me this snippet.
Camila had a way with young people, especially with children from the most damaged backgrounds. She was straight talking and never patronised. Nothing shocked her. Her heart had expanding walls. She wasn't overwhelmed or phased by the endless shocking abuses the children confided in her. She was an early proponent of addressing the needs of the child through the whole family.
Camila was a pioneer in so many forms of rehabilitating children who had suffered horrific abuse, helping them back into society as functioning contributors, free from reliance on state institutions such as prisons and psychiatric hospitals. When I visited her, she was often called out to attend to a child in crisis. Someone ready to give up on life would be pulled back by Camila showing them a way to survive, to find the resilience within themselves, the strength that she could see. She saw that in all of us. She had a sixth sense about people and I would get messages from her asking if I was okay. She could feel it.
Just as she was loved and lauded - the go to photo opportunity for politicians and stars - she became an unwitting pawn in an internal squabble within the Tory party to de-throne David Cameron, who had publicly supported her. A Newsnight report claimed, with no evidence ever produced, that an incident of sexual abuse had taken place at the charity. This highly damaging piece of near lynch mob reporting, added to accusations of financial mismanagement, triggered a concerted campaign over many months by some ill-willed journalists: they set out to destroy her. And it worked. In 2015 she was forced to close down her beloved Kids Company. The official receiver launched a six year high- profile and expensive attempt to ban her from holding senior roles in public life, finally culminating in a 10-week court case in 2021.
The high court exonerated Camila
Then Covid came with a number of near death moments for Camila, exacerbated by the autoimmune issues resulting from her premature birth. She never stopped her work helping people, recommending charities she knew, dealing mostly with local food banks and direct ways to improve the lives of London families.
She was the most brilliant woman. The kindest, most perceptive, solution oriented person I have ever met. She could have made a real difference to child protection services if she had been funded properly.
Camila died on her birthday. I loved her so much.