And we hear you’re set to share those experiences in a very exciting way..?
Yes! It's called These Heavy Black Bones and it’s a narrative non-fiction book – a memoir, but I think it reads a little bit more like a novel. My life from age seven to seventeen is depicted and plays out both in and out of the water. It's a book about coming of age, but it’s also about institutions and power imbalances, the abuse of sport, race, and racism. I guess it’s about what I think the truth of all that is and what it means.
But I've always wanted to write; I think, hand in hand with swimming, writing is one of the greatest loves of my life. And this book felt like it had to come first – it felt like the thing that I had to write. So it's being published by Canongate and it comes out next year! Just before the Olympics in June 2024.
Well, needless to say, we can’t wait for it to come out so we can all read it. It sounds beautiful and important – huge congratulations for writing it and getting it out there.
Swimming aside, you’ve actually had a hugely creative output – particularly over the last ten years or so. After you retired from swimming, you transitioned into filmmaking, right?
So I quit the Olympic team at the end of 2011, just before the 2012 Olympic games, and I went to Oxford – to the Ruskin School of Art, which is very holistic in its approach. It's physical making, but it's also philosophy, art history, art theory, etc. And it's as intense and as pretentious as you can imagine it would be – and obviously I was the only Black student in my year.
I started off drawing and painting, then I got into photography really quickly, which then quite naturally took me into film. And so I made these really political films. It was 2015 when I graduated from university and it was the first eruption of the BLM movement in Ferguson in the U.S. I made this really political film about it, and everyone was like '...no'. Which is hilarious because now everyone's like – this is so important!
You were ahead of your time!
Right! But I carried on filmmaking. And then, when I was 22, my father died. He was full of contradictions like all of us, but he was a political freedom fighter, an academic, a great thinker, and a great rebel. He fought post-colonial struggles in Kenya (which is where we’re from) and he was really involved in the apartheid resistance in South Africa.
And so – having been someone whose parents have never paid my rent – I obviously can't afford to be an artist. But, I have always wanted to make and create. I think writing's always been my first love but documentary filmmaking feels very close to that. So I made this film called Breakfast in Kisumu, which is about my relationship with my father, and our relationship with our homeland, and I guess his relationship to Africa – his journey from being exiled to returning. It feels very proxy-archival, like a filmic essay.
And it's a very beautiful film! We got nominated for lots of awards. But because I was so pretentious, thinking 'I just make good art', I didn’t really talk about it. And so obviously there were no stakeholders in the film's success. So afterwards, when I was waiting for the phone to ring… it never did!
So, yes – I made this very obscure documentary film which you can watch online if you want to! Hopefully I'll make my way back to filmmaking at some point… if I have something else to say.
I’m sure you will – what a journey you’ve had. And now you’re the CEO at 10,000 Interns! Could you tell us about the organisation and what you do there?
The 10,000 Interns Foundation is a charity that exists to champion underrepresented talent in the workplace. We partner with around 700 companies and organisations to create paid internship opportunities for the incredible underrepresented talent that’s furthest away from these kinds of opportunities. Initially that was Black students and graduates – but we've also just launched a new programme for students and graduates with disabilities of all ethnicities. By the end of this summer we'll have created over 5,000 paid internships in just three years, which feels hugely significant.
It's going to be really interesting over the next couple of years to see what that impact looks like as all the people who come through our programme actually join the workforce full time. Because representation also does a lot to break down these barriers and to dispel myths around imposter syndrome. And although it's not the whole answer, I think if you can see it, there’s more chance you believe that you can be it.