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30 October 2017

Pauline Black Q&A: “My trilby is so battered it looks like Top Cat’s“

The musician and actress talks looking for her birth parents, alternative facts, and the musical Hair.

By New Statesman

Pauline Black, 64, was born to an Anglo-Jewish mother and Nigerian father before being adopted by a middle-aged white couple. She worked as an NHS radiographer and was a founder of the ska band the Selecter. She has appeared with Spit the Dog and played Billie Holiday in the play “All or Nothing at All”.

What’s your earliest memory?

Immediately after being told that I had been adopted, I vomited profusely over my mother’s freshly ironed white sheets and “Jackson Pollocked” the lot. Then she smacked me. I was four years old.

Who was your childhood hero?

Marsha Hunt, who burst on to the Sixties Swinging London scene with an immense, perfectly spherical Afro, in the musical Hair. Since I was the only black kid at my school, I caused quite a stir when I “freaked out” my own small mop of carefully cultivated black curls with a newly bought Afro comb.

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

Jamaican ska music. I know something about that.

What was the last book that you couldn’t put down?

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge is a well-written, provocative, incisive and illuminating exposé of race, gender and class in this country. I wish I’d had this book to hand when I was growing up.

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What politician, past or present, do you look up to?

Malcolm X. He was the last black politician who ever said anything remotely useful to black people. The phrase “by any means necessary” resonates loud and clear when discussing today’s Black Lives Matter movement.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

I would have enjoyed being a teenager in Oakland, California, in the mid-1960s when the Black Panther Party was founded. Too much is made about the militancy of the movement, too little about the community programmes it implemented.

What TV show could you not live without?

University Challenge – I reward myself with a cup of tea if I get more than three correct answers by the end of the show.

Who would paint your portrait?

Tracey Emin. She looks as though she would be fun to spend time with.

What’s your theme tune?

“Get Up, Stand Up” by Bob Marley and the Wailers. ’Nuff said.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

In 1996, a good friend advised me to search for my birth parents. I’m much happier since I found from whence I came.

What’s currently bugging you?

The wilful dissemination of alternative facts by the far right. How have we allowed downright lies to be legitimised?

What single thing would make your life better?

A new, pristine, dove-grey trilby hat to wear onstage. My current one is so battered that it’s beginning to look like Top Cat’s.

When were you happiest?

In 1958, in my back garden, playing with a little grey and red barrow designed to look like an Italian ice-cream cart.

Are we all doomed?

The only people who are doomed are those who fear the rise of a black planet.

The Selecter’s new album, “Daylight”, is out now on DMF Records

This article appears in the 25 Oct 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Poor Britannia