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Professor Tom Shakespeare

Welcome to the fourth installment in our series of interviews with role models in the dwarfism community. We spoke to Tom Shakespeare, Professor of Disability Research and radio show presenter. Here’s what he had to say to us:

Please introduce yourself: who are you and where are you from?

My name is Tom Shakespeare, I was born in Aylesbury, Bucks, and now I live in Norwich, Norfolk.

And what do you do?

I am Professor of Disability Research at the University of East Anglia.  I teach medical students, and I also conduct disability research, both in UK and Africa.

Do you enjoy it?

Yes, I enjoy my work very much.  It is very varied: teaching here, interviewing someone there, writing a paper after that.  I enjoy meeting different people all the time.  In particular, I really like my medical students, they work very hard and they are committed to what they’re trying to do. I also do media work – particularly giving talks on Radio 4 – which I find very rewarding because I get instant feedback from listeners.  It’s always very satisfying to write a book – the feedback is not instant, more like a slow burn of appreciation.

How did you end up doing it?

I left Uni and worked for a couple of years in the co-operative sector.  I then went back to Uni and did a Masters and a Doctorate. After that, I worked as an academic for most of my career, with one five year break working at the World Health Organisation in Geneva, and another three year break to do arts activities.

If you were 21 again, would you do something different?

I sometimes wonder about that.  I love media work, and maybe I could have tried to have become a journalist, either on a newspaper or in BBC radio.  But I feel mostly content with what I’ve done with my life.

What’s the best thing about your job?

Meeting different people is always rewarding. But I also love learning things, and this job is about continually finding new things out.

What’s the worst job you’ve ever done?

My first paid work was counting laundry in a hospital for people with learning difficulties for a week. The laundry was soiled. I don’t think it’s possible to find a worse job.

What are the best and worst aspects about being small?

Best aspect is that everyone remembers you. Worst aspect, from the age of 50, has been the health problems – back pain for years, now paralysis and being reliant on a wheelchair.

If you could pass on one piece of advice to your teenage self what would that be?

Don’t worry about relationships. If you have a positive personality, people will love you.

Which living person do you most admire and why?

Maybe Barrack Obama. He’s very clever. He’s very funny. He had a great impact on the world, and above all, he’s so cool.

How do you like to pass the time, outside of work?

Cooking, reading, watching films, listening to music.

What’s your favourite book?

Possibly The Blue Flower, by Penelope Fitzgerald. Or maybe The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brian. Or To The Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf.  So many books, so little time!

What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?

I once used the word ‘antidisestablishmentarianism’, in the correct context, on BBC Question Time.

When your time comes, how would you like to be remembered?

I hope people are still reading my books after I’m gone, and that at least one of them is a novel, not just an academic tome!

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