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“My headteacher told me I was an existentialist!” An interview with Jude Kelly

”At fourteen years old I was creatively destructive,” says SpeakersHub speaker Jude Kelly “I got in with a bad crowd and things were spiralling out of control in my life until my head teacher told me to go and set up a drama group in the school.”

“He told me that he thought I was an existentialist and I needed a creative outlet to channel my search for purpose in life.”

“It was the best thing that ever happened to me, I found my calling.” Little did Jude know that it would also set her off on a career path that has now has culminated in her current role as the leading woman Artistic Director in the UK, overseeing the prestigious Southbank complex in London.

That early lesson in channelling her energy into something that she loved doing and for which she had a talent has shaped her leadership style and approach.

“Do something that gives you joy,” she says “I am at my most effective when I can really believe in what I am doing so ask yourself – does this matter to you?” This is the message she would like other leaders to hear.

“Be courageous, tell a story about yourself and make sure that your life has meant something.” For Jude this is about self-realising around your own work, finding your purpose and taking charge of something you love doing and making it the centre of what you do.

“We don’t have a career,” she explains “we have a life!” Family, friends and interests – these are all interconnected, you cannot divide them much as you think you can.

That she believes is where the difference lies between women and men in the workplace. “Men think they have clear blue water between work and the rest of their lives but you cannot exist like that,” she explains “women will always have to take these things into account.”

She is clearly a role model for other women in business so what has Jude learned about being a woman at the top of her game? She cites Hillary Clinton as another woman leader, in a room full of men.

“It’s not an illusion to pretend it doesn’t matter,” she says “it’s not the fault of the men in the room, these biases exist, men outnumber women in leadership roles.”

Watch Jude introduce Hilary Clinton at the Southbank Centre on 15th October 2017 (this is a recording of a live stream so Jude’s introduction starts at 1.28)

Jude believes that to change the world we need to acknowledge that this is a problem, taking away the short term anger and recognising that this is a long term issue that we all need to address in order to shape a different future for the next generation. She believes that leaders have a social responsibility to think about the space that women will be moving in to, to make the changes we want to see in the world.

It’s something that inspires her greatly, creating the foundations for the future generations.

Her values, her purpose are echoed in the projects she has championed and the causes she has become involved with. She firmly believes that if you want something enough you will make it happen, that we always have a choice. In 2011 she founded the Women of the World Festival that celebrates the achievements of women and girls as well as looking at the obstacles they face, and which is now an annual international event. Her activitism as well as her work focus are all around diversity and inclusion as she uses her own experience and networks to improve the world for the next generation. She is a leader who truly lives by her values.

For Jude it’s about getting to the bottom of what do we want our life’s purpose to be, to decide what do we want our legacy to be, then to go ahead and make it happen!


Jude is part of Wavelength’s SpeakersHub. To view her full biography & video and book her to speak at your own event please click here.

Jude is often a regular contributor to our Connect programme. For more details on our 2018 programme and to download the brochure go to Connect 2018.

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