Trevor Phillips

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This interview is with Trevor Phillips, the Chair of the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR) and the immediate former Chair of the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE). 

Trevor was born in Islington, London, on the 31 December 1953. He went to Queen's College Boys School in Georgetown, Guyana and read chemistry at Imperial College, London, graduating in 1980. Between 1978 and 1980, Trevor was the president of The National Union of Students, the first ethnic minority person of African/Caribbean origin to assume that role.
After leaving university, Trevor joined London Weekend Television (LWT), part of the Independent Television Network (ITN), as a current affairs researcher and was interviewed by John Birt, who later became the Director General of the BBC between 1992 and 2000. For 13 years, between 1987 and 2000, Trevor presented and produced the acclaimed The London Programme. In 1992 he became LWT’s  Head of Current Affairs, only one of a few ethnic minority senior executives of major British broadcasting organisations. 
Pursuing a political ambition, Trevor sought the nomination to be Labour’s candidate for London mayor in 2000 – eventually standing as Frank Dobson’s deputy. Following Ken Livingstone’s victory Trevor was elected as a member, and later became Chair, of the Greater London Authority in May that year.

He resigned his position in 2003 when the then Home Secretary, David Blunkett, appointed him as the Chair of the CRE.

Last year he became head of the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR), which will take over the work of Britain’s three existing equality commissions  - the Commission for Racial Equality, the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Disability Rights Commission.

 The CEHR,  which will become operational in October this year, is a non-departmental public body and independent influential champion whose purpose is to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people and protect human rights, encouraging good practice by public authorities in meeting their Human Rights Act obligations. It will take an active role in helping to achieve change to benefit some of the most vulnerable and least well represented people in our society. The CEHR will also have new powers to tackle issues of discrimination in the areas of age, religion and belief and sexual orientation.

Trevor has written widely for television and newspapers. He also co-wrote Windrush: The Irresistible Rise of Multi-Racial Britain (along with his brother, crime writer Mike Phillips), published in 1998.

He is the director of Pepper Productions, an independent company founded in 1995, which produced the Windrush television series, chronicling the history of black people in Britain since the 1950s. He was the executive producer of the series, which won the Royal Television Society Documentary Series of the Year award in 1998. He was also the executive producer for Britain’s Slave Trade, Second Chance and When Black Became Beautiful.

Trevor is the Chair of the Young Adults Working Group of the Financial Services Authority, a board member of the Almeida Theatre in Islington, Aldeburgh Productions and the Bernie Grant Centre in Tottenham. He is patron of The Sickle Cell Society and between 1993 and 1998 he was Chair of the Runnymede Trust, the independent policy research organisation focusing on equality and justice  through the promotion of a successful multi-ethnic society. He is also vice president of the Royal Television Society and has himself won three of their awards - in 1988, 1993 and the one in 1998 for Windrush.

Trevor was named as one of the 100 Great Black Britons and was awarded an OBE in 1999 for his services to broadcasting.

Below is our interview with Trevor Phillips:


BLD: What was the best career advice you were given?

TP: I’ve received some great advice over the years which has proved to be extremely valuable in my career. From my school teacher, it was to prepare for everything. From my first boss in TV, it was to stop believing that the world needs to know your opinions; my 90-year-old aunt advised me to greet defeat with a smile, as you’ll get even one day and every member of my family never hesitated in telling me to shut up and listen!  

BLD: What was the worst career advice you were given?

TP: That money doesn’t matter. Funnily enough that advice was given by somebody rich.

BLD: What was the best career advice you will give to others?

TP: To find out what you’re good at; do that and make yourself indispensable. Then you’ll have the time and resources to do what you really love.

BLD: If you were to choose another job/role, other than what you are doing, what would it be and why?

TP: To be a musician. I’d play either the piano or the trumpet. Why? Because music has the wonderful power of being understood universally, irrespective of one’s cultural background.

BLD: The person you most admire (dead or alive) and why?

TP: Muhammad Ali for his courage and grace under fire.

BLD:  Please tell us your views about what practical steps the legal profession and users of legal services can take to ensure that organisations pay more than lip service to diversity?

TP: Firstly, to know the law and obey it. It’s so important to make sure organisations know what they’re doing – that they have the measurements in place to monitor who they employ and who they serve very closely. There should always be someone responsible for diversity within an organisation so that people have a named person who they can readily go to. This might seem like a small effort but it makes every difference in enforcing diversity within an organisation. All organisations should listen to their clients, customers and communities.

BLD: What were the most famous/interesting/challenging diversity issues you have had to tackle in your professional role to date?
TP: The heart of the challenge for us as a society is to reconcile diversity and equality. First, we need to agree what these terms mean; and then we have to find a way of living with both of them.

BLD: What are the greatest issues/challenges on diversity that need to be tackled now?
TP: I will repeat what I just said about the most challenging issue on diversity that I have had to tackle to date.

BLD: What are you most passionate/happiest about?
TP: Great art of all genres; but especially music, which crosses all boundaries of culture and language.

BLD: What are your dislikes/makes you angry?

TP: The glorification of mediocrity and political sectarianism.

BLD: If you could rule the world for a day what would you change/do?
TP: I would change the rules to ensure fairness, dignity and respect for all.