What are the odds that the day before Black History Month 2016 kicks off, I would be interviewing the daughter of the man who helped create the UK version of the annual event that aims to celebrate and remember notable characters and events in black history?
Scarlette Douglas, 29-year-old presenter of Channel 4’s A Place in the Sun is about to celebrate the anniversary of her first year as a TV presenter and tells me that she owes it all to her parents who inspired her to chase her dreams.
Scarlette grew up in Cheshunt in Hertfordshire with her brothers and parents. Mum, Beverley, and Dad, Joe, both arrived from Jamaica in their early teens to a United Kingdom that was very different to the diverse and multicultural place it is today. Scarlette says:
My parents were just 12 and 13 when they came to the UK. As much as Black History Month is about the achievements of those who came before us, for me it is also a time to remember how far my family has come. When I think how intimidating the UK must have looked to my parents all those years ago, with hardly any black people, then fast forward to a few days ago when Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn acknowledged that Jamaica needs to be publically recognised and thanked for its contribution to the UK, it’s overwhelming.”
Scarlette’s bubbly and friendly on-screen persona is genuine. She caught the entertainment bug from her father.
“My dad, Joe Douglas, was a pioneering and enterprising young man. He is credited with setting up the UK’s first legal black radio station called WNK – Wicked, Neutral and Kicking in the late eighties.”
She attributes watching TV stars such as June Sarpong and Angellica Bell as her inspiration for wanting to be a TV presenter. She says:
“Watching these amazing personalities and my dad’s influence through his radio station made sure that I’ve always been interested in, and involved in music and entertainment from a young age.”
Currently enjoying the perks of the job that go with being presenter of the popular TV programme, A Place in the Sun, Scarlette is often travelling to exotic locations.
“I get to explore beautiful islands and meet amazing people who are looking to change their lives by buying their dream holiday homes abroad. I love looking around people’s homes, which is great because I’m so nosey! it’s a really great job. I also have a wonderful team around me.”
Scarlette is a familiar face on a number of other programmes too, including roving reporter on BBC’s Points of View. She is certainly doing something right because she was recently nominated for Best TV Presenter in the MVISA (Movie Video and Screen Awards), which recognizes the talents of people of colour in the film and television industry, along with some other very notable nominees.
“I was so shocked. I found out through Facebook that I’d been nominated and I couldn’t believe it when I realised I was up against the likes of Trevor McDonald, OBE! I don’t expect to win, but I’m just thankful to be acknowledged for what I’m doing.”
It hasn’t always been plain sailing. Scarlette has encountered a number of setbacks in her previous career in musical theatre.
“I was in musical theatre for eight years and I love it, but the last show I did was called I Can’t Sing, the X Factor musical. It was supposed to last for a year, but it closed down after only two and a half months and I was devastated. We got two weeks’ notice and that was it! I was lucky enough to get a part in Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway as a backing dancer soon after. Being on tour with them and seeing what they do was enlightening. I knew what I had to do. I made the decision to leave musical theatre and focus on my presenting. Luckily for me, I got a gig only a few months later, it was a very scary time. But I was committed to my decision.”
She says she often reflects on the advice that her parents gave her, which was to work three times as hard as anyone else and it will always pay off. Words her father must have followed himself when he contributed to setting up Black History Month in the UK.
“When the American founder Lee Bailey wanted to set up the UK version, he went straight to my dad because he was very well known in black culture in the UK back then. Initially, Black History Month in the UK focused on historic black figures on the radio and so my dad would use WNK as a platform to promote those figures. So yes, it started off as short little radio stories and now it has grown to be this whole month of activities and events and lots of showcasing and it’s great. When I was younger I never really realised how important it was and to know that it was my dad that helped to set it up is a huge inspiration.”
Today Scarlette’s dad runs a successful chauffeur business. One can understand how along the way, the significance of his role in the early days of Black History Month got forgotten, after all there wasn’t social media or an internet back then. Scarlette says:
“While he was instrumental in setting it up, he didn’t know how big it was going to become. So he kind of just took a back seat with it. [She laughs] I keep on saying to him, ‘Dad, we need to get you out there and people need to know that it’s you that set it up.’ In truth he’s not really fussed. I’m just so proud of all that he accomplished. I would love him to get that recognition though.”