Alumnus of the year 2008

Dotun Adebayo

Dotun Adebayo was honoured for his success in music journalism. Before coming to Essex Dotun enjoyed an impressive run in theatre; among other achievements on stage, he was chosen by Tennessee Williams to perform opposite Pierce Brosnan in the world premiere of his last play, The Red Devil Battery Sign. After graduating in 1987 with a BA in Philosophy Dotun began his career as Music Editor for The Voice. He has since written as a music journalist for a wide variety of publications, including NME, Melody Maker, Time Out and Echoes. Alongside his own publications Dotun has founded publishing company X Press, which has published black fictional titles including “Baby Father” and “Yardie”, Britain’s first black bestseller. Dotun currently presents shows on Radio Five Live and BBC London.

Orations and responses

Oration

Oration given on 16 July 2008 by Professor Beatrice Han Pile

Dotun Adebayo graduated from Essex in Philosophy in 1987. He currently presents Up All Night (Friday and Saturday, 1-4am) and Brief Lives (Sunday, 6am and 7pm) on Radio Five Live. He also hosts his own two-hour book show, Word For Word, on BBC London every Sunday. But this is only a small part of his many achievements, and if anyone wanted evidence that studying philosophy can lead to an amazing diversity of activities, they only need to take a brief look at Dotun’s career.

He was born in Lagos and moved to the UK at the age of five. As a young boy, he joined the National Youth Theatre where he starred in various productions, including Julius Caesar, Killing Time (Barrie Keefe) and The Red Devil Battery Sign (Tennessee Williams). Still as a child, he also acted opposite Vincent Price and Christopher Lee in The Oblong Box and Lars Von Trier’s The Element of Crime.

After his notable debut as the first black teddy boy in London in his early teens, he studied literature at the University of Stockholm before going on to a further degree in Philosophy at Essex. In 1987, Dotun was elected president of the Student’s Union but resigned within a few months to take up a job with The Voice newspaper. He was Music Editor there for four years, and worked as a columnist on Pride magazine and the New Nation. He has also written for newspapers including The Guardian, The Independent, The Times, and London Evening Standard.

Dotun has done a lot for the black community. In 1992, he founded the publishing company X Press, which produces black fiction such as Baby Father, Yardie (which became the first black British bestseller) and the controversial Cop Killer, which gained instant notoriety when 200 bullets were sent out to press to promote the title. He is also responsible for the Nia imprint of literary black fiction. In 2000, he published his debut book Can I Have My Balls Back Please, an amusing take on "conflict resolution" in relationships from a man's perspective. Dotun is currently working on his first novel, Promised Land, an epic saga spanning 50 years in the lives of Britain's richest black family.

He is the co-founder of Colourtelly, Britain's first ever general interest black internet television station, which was launched on August 1st, 2007. Colourtelly is an important communication tool for under-represented minorities, featuring videos, audio clips, message boards and a large number of blogs. Dotun is also a talented linguist, being fluent in Swedish and conversational in French and Yoruba. In October 1999, he was invited to Buckingham Palace to meet Her Majesty the Queen. It is probably fair to say that the Ivor Crewe Hall, for all its allure, cannot compete with Buckingham Palace, but the Philosophy Department is nevertheless honoured to welcome him and recognise his achievements, as our Alumnus of the Year 2008.

Chancellor, I present Dotun Adebayo

Response

Response by Dotun Adebayo

I am very grateful to the University for this great honour and the opportunity to be able to speak to my alumni colleagues on what is one of the most important days of your life.I know what you're feeling today and I can imagine the myriad of thoughts that are going through your mind, because 21 years ago I was sitting where you are on graduation day. "You do it for your folks" the guy sitting behind me in the auditorium said when I showed my surprise at seeing him in his mortar board and gown. You see Mitchell Blood was a member of the Socialist Worker's Party and as such felt that a graduation ceremony was anti-working class, a capitalist conspiracy against the masses. But he was doing it for his folks. He felt they deserved it after all the encouragement they had given him. Sure, graduation is a proud moment for your family, but seize this moment, because that degree and your time here at Essex is your passport to the world in your journey of life. I didn't realise that at the time - you never do. But I was barely out of Wivenhoe Park before a member of our alumni had offered me a job on a newspaper he happened to be the editor for. And another wanted to set up a business with me. And a third approached me about a film she was making. It seemed to go on and on and on. The degree that I thought was just a piece of paper was taking me places I didn't realise I wanted to go to. And every step of the way was a new adventure.

I had kept in touch with a couple of the yanks I had met in this international environment that Essex provides. And the first thing I did when I touched down in California was to hire a car to drive from LA to San Francisco to visit Kevin Donahue and his family. I've followed his fortunes from .com millionaire to struggling movie industry scriptwriter and the ups and downs of his family life for nearly a generation. It's this beautiful university that binds us together.

When I landed in Boston several years ago with nowhere to stay it was another member of our alumni, Karen, whose number I called and who welcomed me, several years after college. But the Essex connection saved me. So keep in touch as you go your separate ways, because you never know when your time here will come in handy.

But most importantly, what Essex (particularly the Philosophy Department, and specifically my tutor Baroness Onora O'Neill) did for me was to equip me with the tools to survive the big world out there. Of course I didn't know it at the time, but my degree was the key to the maze of life which we have to traverse on a daily basis. If nothing else I've got the confidence to say, there's no reason why I shouldn't be prime minister of this country - Gordon Brown's got a degree, and so have I've got the confidence to think, there's a whole lot of money out there, and some of it has got my name on it, all I've got to do is go out and collect it. And I've got the confidence to realize that I can be a credit to myself, my family and the world - I really can make something of myself.

As you all go out to face the world, you'll be met by adversity regularly, but remember that you're not the only one; your training here has equipped you to deal with the good times and the bad times -whether public or personal. And to quote the words of the first author I published, everybody thinks it's easy to achieve what I've achieved, but the only difference between me and them is that I know the pain and hard work it takes, they don't. You worked hard for your degree.  The harder you work, the better the result, the more you achieve. That was the lesson I learned from my undergraduacy here and that remains the mantra of my life.