Mr Jay Bobby Seagull is a budding Malayalee celebrity, increasingly well known for his outstanding performances on the toughest British quiz show, University Challenge. He is currently a maths teacher, leader of the social enterprise OxFizz and a former investment banker with Lehman Brothers. Last week Jeevan Vipinachandran interviewed him for ukmalayalee.com about education, his origins in Kerala, keeping in touch with culture and of course the interesting University Challenge. He suggests networking events as a way forward for getting Malayalee youth more in touch with their culture.
1. Tell us a bit about your education and background. Where do you live in the UK now? What are your current roles and responsibilities at work in a nutshell? What made you choose your current career path?
I am born and bred in east London, living in East Ham (London Borough of Newham). I studied for my GCSEs at St Bonaventure’s Catholic Comprehensive School in Forest Gate, Newham, under the headship of Ofsted Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw. I won an academic scholarship to study for my A-Levels at the world-famous boarding school of 19 UK Prime Ministers Eton College, being in the school year above Prince Harry. I studied Maths at Oxford University for a year and did a Maths & Economics degree at Royal Holloway University of London. I worked as a Trader in investment banking (Lehman Brothers and Nomura) and qualified as a Chartered Accountant (PwC). I am also the co-founder of OxFizz, a national award-winning educational social enterprise. I have changed careers to move into education. I completed my Post Graduate Certificate in Maths Education at Cambridge University and currently finishing off my Masters in Education (specialising in Maths) there. I am also teaching Maths at secondary school level in East London as well.
2. Where in Kerala does your family come from? How much are you in touch with your culture?
My father’s family are from Allepey and Kodungallur. My mother’s side are from Kackottumoola in the Kollam district. I am very proud of my Kerala and Malayalee roots, making it a point to let people know when they ask me about my background. My parents watch Malayalee channels such as Asianet and Kairali TV, so I keep up to date (at least in the background) with what is happening back home. My Malayalam speaking still has a lot to improve and it is my ambition to be fluent in the language one day! I am going to Kerala over the Christmas and hope to practice there.
3. What was your experience of Cambridge University as a minority student?
Cambridge is actually a very diverse place, with many students coming from around the world – America, Europe and Asia. They want to attract the brightest and best minds, wherever they are from the planet. There are Indians at post-graduate level studying for Masters and PhD studies. Though there are more British-born Indians at undergraduate level. However there aren’t enough south Indians in Cambridge and I would encourage more of our best students from our Malayalee communities to consider applying to Cambridge. In Cambridge, if you have something to offer intellectually, you will always find friends.
4. What was your experience of being the ‘Best University challenge Captain’ ever, as you’ve been labelled in the media?
It has been a recent ambition of mine to be on the so-called hardest quiz show on TV, University Challenge. Being captain of a Cambridge University team, Emmanuel College, has been an honour too. I have enjoyed both our 1st and 2nd round match victories but have been surprised by the generally overwhelming positive response by the public, social media and traditional media. I didn’t expect there to online articles in the Metro and the Daily Mail about me the day after and even public petitions to get me to become a TV presenter! I quite enjoyed hearing Radio One talk about me the day after – mixing my TV introduction into a popular chart song! I think the public enjoyed my positive, upbeat manner combined with my knowledge - this helped to contribute towards me trending on Twitter! We have our next round (the group stage Quarter Finals where teams have to win two games to progress to the semi finals) in January sometime. Fingers crossed we can go all the way in the tournament!
5. What other hobbies and interests do you have in your spare time?
I’m a big football fan – I enjoy playing and supporting my local Premier League team, West Ham United. I also enjoy amateur middle-distance running – competing for Cambridge University and my local East End Road Runners club. I have always enjoyed reading books to learn more about the world that we live in. Music is also a great way for me to relax – I listen to an eclectic mix, from Mozart’s classical music to the latest chart hits by Bruno Mars!
6. Do you think that young Malayalee kids are in touch with their heritage and culture? What do you think can be done to increase youth participation in Malayalee culture?
I think that we can do more as a community to encourage our young kids to keep in touch with our Malayalee roots. This is a responsibility of each and everyone in our community. Learning Malayalam is a start, and I encourage all UK Malayalee parents to teach their children their mother tongue, and visiting Kerala every so often is important too. There should be networking events for young people to take part, perhaps driven by the young people themselves. Our young UK Malayalees do socialise and do contribute to the wider British society, but they can do both – be both British and Malayalee at the same time.
7. What are your aspirations for the future?
My ambition is to be successful in whatever career I should to pursue, be it in education or business. For now, my aims are to become a successful Maths teacher and hopefully one day become a Head teacher of a secondary school that can inspire children to achieve their full potential.
About Jeevan Vipinachandran (Author of this Article)
Jeevan graduated from LSE with a Masters in Conflict Studies, focusing on counter-terrorism. He is a research and political analyst. Regular tweets can be found at @jeevanvc. He is a regular contributor for the Conservative Friends of India, the Times of Israel and Future Foreign Policy.