Interview with Jillian Haslam

September 8, 2017 HUMAN RIGHTS , Interviews , OTHER



Hazel Speed


In what may be described as life coming full circle, Kolkata girl Jillian Haslam, who grew up on the mean streets and slums of the city and rose to international prominence as a banker, motivational speaker and philanthropist, was earlier this week honoured with the Mother Teresa Memorial International Award for social and humanitarian work. This was in recognition of her tremendous contributions towards the betterment of the poor and marginalized sections of people in Calcutta and elsewhere in the world.

In Kolkata she and her dedicated teams work with children (she has 5 study centres); the aged (she has 3 food-banks); for the disabled (children who are blind, suffering with Thalassemia, Autism or Cerebral Palsy); with the youth and women in need.

Jillian Haslam was born to an Anglo-Indian family that fell on difficult times, which led to their facing heart wrenching poverty and personal tragedy, that Jillian described in detail in her internationally acclaimed autobiography, Indian-English-A Memoir, which is soon going to be the subject of an international movie.

In her tough and often bleak childhood, it was often the assistance provided by Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Missionaries of Charity that provided the Haslam family with much needed sustenance.

Through her inspirational rise in life which saw her relocate to the UK, Jillian has not forgotten or, as is often the case, turned her back on the city she was born and grew up in. Thorough her Remedia Trust she has organized a large number of welfare initiatives for the desperately poor and needy. She remembers to this day, what it is like to be that poor and helpless. In her own words, “What would your life be like if you had to sleep every night a few steps from a public water spout? This is where poor street people come to bathe and wash dishes and even use as a toilet. Or what if you lived near a sewer hole?”

Jillian was the Guest of Honour at the Awards Function, which saw the presence of the who’s who of Kolkata in attendance. The award ceremony was preceded by a peace rally that commenced from St. Teresa’s of Avila Church and concluded at Mother House with an open prayer by the representatives of all the major faiths.



Kolkata Girl and International Author, Motivational Speaker & Philanthropist Jillian Haslam Wins the XX Mother Teresa Memorial International Award for social work and humanitarianism




There is a saying, and a song, which makes the statement, ‘It’s not where you start, but where you finish.’

One hears of well known ‘self made’ people who have built large commercial enterprises from ‘nothing’, rarely declare ‘how’ and that is because they do not admit that there was a silver spoon behind them.  I do not call that type of self-made person as being such, and they, do not command respect.

It is enormously refreshing, albeit also most sad, when one is aware of the story of Jillian Haslam.  Not only is she ‘self-made’ in the real sense of the term, but commands true respect, as her life achievements have been realised against huge circumstantial adversity.

It is with humility, therefore, that I wish to express my appreciation in being able to put a variety of questions to her on behalf of Tuck Magazine.




Hazel Speed: Usually, most interviews commence with questions about an interviewee’s childhood, but before we consider those years, may I ask, as you must invariably look back on your life up to the present time, what would you say might best represent your overview of the twists and turns, and journeys of experience you have surmounted, and despite the odds, ultimately have thrived.  Bearing in mind also, when you visited your country of birth and attended Kolkata to address the City’s Chamber of Commerce, having started your life at quite the opposite end of the scale in financial terms unaware of what personal wealth awaited you one day, it must seem surreal at times.


Jillian Haslam: Some people say that success of this kind is directly attributed to blessings from my parents, whom I took care of along with my younger siblings from a very young age; some say it happened out of sheer perseverance and persistence alone and some say it’s destiny and hence what is written is written and so it shall be. I personally feel, that as is the same for every human being, I too had choices to make and I just chose correctly. I chose to fight, I chose never to give up and I chose to achieve what I believed in most (in my case) those in desperate need. In Barack Obama’s words “’It’s only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential’!!

I visit the country of my birth (India) two or three times a year and I never fail to go back to the places that I once called home, to meet the people who saved our lives and to do all I can to reach out to those who are in similar situations now that I was in not so long ago, is an absolute blessing. I spend every Christmas there too, for me, going back home is always the most wonderful feeling ever (it’s a feeling that no amount of money in the world can buy!!).



HS: What stance do you take regarding the philosophies of nature or nurture arguments, given that you survived hunger and poor circumstances, did those times give you a sense of values through hardships and/or did the inner you provide the required strength to overcome all contingencies? I believe you attribute strength of character from that which you inherited in most part from your Parents.


JH: I can only respond to this question out of experience. To me it all boils down to The Power of Choice and to three simple questions being answered (1) How hard are you willing to work for what you want; (2) How much of a sacrifice are you willing to make; and (3) How badly do you really & truly want to accomplish something? I believe that while God has given us many gifts, the main gift that he has given us all, is The Power of Choice. My parents accepted their fate, my siblings accepted theirs and hundreds of people in this world make the same choices every day. A few think differently and develop a persistent and resilient mind-set, determined to accomplish what they believe in most. Some give up, some make excuses and some carry on. I just happened to be weaker initially in life (given the trauma I had endured) but fortunately stronger later in life given the mental resilience that I had built up over time that came from the passion I had for wanting nothing more than to help the less fortunate.

My mother was a highly charitable person and I believe that all my siblings have acquired this gene from her. My father on the other hand was a man of very few words but every word was pure inspiration and that is where I guess, I got the inspirational side of me from.



HS: Having seen a photograph of a flight of steps behind which it is said you lived at one point, there must be a piquancy when you revisit, either in memory or actuality. I believe some of the charities you have founded enable you to distribute items periodically to children who, like your own life for many years, reflect similar needs, hopes and dreams.  Was it always one of your ambitions to be able to facilitate such giving when you yourself had sufficient means for this purpose?


JH: My first home (as far as I can remember) was under a flight of stairs. Before then we lived behind people’s houses, in their verandas or even on the side of roads. My second home was in a slum. It might feel strange to say this but going back is sacred to me in a way and I hope and pray that one day, I can go back and end my days right there. These were places that were filthy, filled with vermin, no sanitary conditions and possibly brimming with disease but from where I see it, it is these places that made me who I am today. Some of my greatest lessons were learned right there, one of them being the ability to Give Back in gratitude for what was done for us. I do believe that irrespective of how much someone gives back, you could never repay someone for saving your life and this happens to be the truth in my case. Many of the people still live there and many have passed on but my parents would have wanted nothing more than for us to go back and express our gratitude in thought, word and deed and this is exactly what I am trying to do.


Jillian’s first home



HS: Synchronicity seems to have played its part in your life, especially your initial association within the world of banking, and then how you met your Husband. Do you believe in a sense of destiny, in that there is a reason for everything happening in our lives, albeit via circuitous routes for some, like yourself, having overcome disjointed situations at times and not having a traditional type of upbringing to the average child born into more advantageous environments?


JH: Unfortunately, I do not believe in destiny or luck as the saying goes “The harder you work, the luckier you get.” I was indeed a child who didn’t have a normal childhood, I didn’t ever go to a prom and neither did I ever experience getting dressed up and going out as normal teenagers do. From where I see it, it boils down to hard work and commitment. I was interviewed at Bank of America along with 250 girls, given a pen and paper and told “take a seat”, after six months of testing, interviewing and a will never to give up, I was sleeted and that took resilience of a very different kind. Since then, I asked and almost begged to do two jobs at different banks (Bank of America, ABN Amro & RBS) and I worked day and night, hardly went home in exchange for being mentored, taught, given some extra money and being trusted by very senior individuals. Without this mind-set and commitment to do what it takes in order to succeed, I doubt that luck would have served me well or that destiny would have opened doors. God helps those who help themselves!!



HS: Going forward, what future goals do you have, or are you happy to see what life brings your way regarding new opportunities?


JH: Absolutely not. Time and tide wait for no man. Setting goals is the most brilliant technique I have ever learnt. It is what the brain prefers and enjoys working with. So yes, I do have goals and objectives and those are (1) to expand my reach to those in need (the children, the aged, the disabled, women in need and to the youth – visit to know more; (2) to restart the radio show that I was hosting and to get as many people involved in the process of recognising the ordinary man (the man who does great things but never does get recognised) and through that to get more people involved in caring, giving and realising that there are people out there who need us; (3) to get the movie made (Indian.English. current working title) in order to get my story out to as many little ones as possible to try and get them Never to give up, since that is probably, the only ever hope they will ever have; (4) to get my book translated into as many languages as possible for the same reason and basically to try and get some free time so that I could put my arms around each one of these people and try and alleviate some of the sadness that exists; (5) to get more Corporates and people of position to realise that we are facing a crisis in the world and that they can make a difference.




HS: What would you say to the youth of the world who may seek guidance and words of encouragement as they progress through schools and colleges towards, as yet, unknown careers, some with dreams but not knowing how best to achieve them? And bearing the same question in mind, what would your response be to political leaders of today’s world, remembering your words that you have been influenced by the examples and teachings of Mahatma Ghandi, Indian Civil Rights Leaders, Mother Teresa, then of course your own Mother?


JH: To the youth I would say that sadly in our world today, education or degrees just isn’t enough to get you to where you want to be (there are hundreds of graduates working for McDonald’s & Burger King, etc. It takes more than that to succeed and fortunately it’s the simple things that matter most when it comes to corporate or business life; (1) Taking every opportunity that comes your way with both hands and making the best of it; (2) Not being ashamed to ask for help. There are individuals out there who don’t all look for money, they look for perseverance; (3) Don’t let fear paralyse you because all of us have some kind of hidden fear deep within; (4) Develop a purpose, it is important to attach your life goals to a final objective; (5) Remember that your attitude (a can do and will do attitude) can take you very far even without degrees, money or experience; (6) Build a very positive and concrete mind-set, it is something that will see you through some of the toughest times in life; (7) Be ready and willing to work very, very hard, it’s the only quality commitment that will get you through a door and keep you there. I would encourage them to read my book “An Irrepressible Mind” that is scheduled to be released in November 2017. I describe all of the above points and use personal examples. It will help any young person tremendously.

To political Leaders I would say that success only comes to those who make a genuine effort to take everyone with them when they prosper (be that an individual, a family, a city, a county or even a planet). As Christians we know that Service to Humanity is Service to God. Political Leaders take these wows and make these promises and yet, our world is filled with people who are starving, suffering, abandoned, dying and depressed. The world as it is today, it getting to a stage where nothing that anyone does will be able to save the planet. Many a historian has predicted this already. This boils down to one quote by Mahatma Gandhi “The world has enough for every man’s needs but not for every mans greed.” So, until and unless we stop the greed that comes with power and position, the extreme sadness experienced by millions will never stop and sadly some things have to give and people have no option but to resort to the worst means possible in order to survive. All we have to do is to look around us for numbers, statistics and evidence and we have a recipe for disaster that faces one and all. Our World Leaders still have time to act. If only they choose to do so!!




HS: How do you manage to switch off from responsibilities to your numerous charities (of which there are presently five), and enjoy personal time with your Family?


JH: I am an Inspirational Speaker (, an Author and an Entrepreneur. These businesses and initiatives keep me busy almost 24/7. What relaxes me most is what I do for charity, what I do for people in need, the interaction I have with my teams on how we can improve things for these people, how we can help to make them smile again, what we can do to bring about a little bit of a difference in their lives. This is how I switch off and what brings me peace, love and contentment.



HS: Poverty, starvation homelessness, terrorism and potential nuclear warfare are some of the key issues of these so-called modern times. What are your own thoughts on these weighty topics and have you thought of standing as a political candidate, or do you feel you are best placed working in your chosen areas?


JH: Mother Teresa actually explained the answer to this problem extremely well. She said, do not wait for World Leaders to change things. Do it yourself, one life at a time and this is exactly how I believe in. Entering into the political world brings enormous amounts of greed, power and ego. I would need to change everything I believed in if I were to become a political candidate and that is something I am not prepared to do. I think we all need to realise our strengths and weaknesses. My strengths lie with people who are in need, my strengths lie in being able to inspire anyone who needs hope, strength and motivation to carry on and my greatest strength is in understanding not to try and be someone I am not. My weaknesses are my inability to see suffering, to sometimes remain silent when wrong is being done and to bow down to people who are in a position to help and yet don’t. Club these three weaknesses together and you probably have a great Politician. I could Never Be One!!




HS: As a popular public speaker, you obviously feel it is another mission to be accommodated as through that, your words will inspire others to follow in your footsteps now, or in the future, regardless of their ultimate career path. I would be grateful for your thoughts.


JH: As a Public Speaker, I aspire to do two things; (1) To speak to people from the bottom of my heart, given my own experiences in order to encourage, motivate and inspire. My mentor once told me that I was the only ever Speaker he had met that didn’t need to write a speech, rehearse it or practice and that it was a gift!! Whenever, he requested me to do that, I messed up but when I could just take a topic and speak from my heart (of course using the techniques, etc. that is essential), I can literally take an audience on a journey and leave them with serious questions and objectives that they have been totally unaware of all their lives. I can help them take action and to believe that anything is possible just by the power of my story and the ability to develop “An Irrepressible Mind”; (2) I often carry out courses on helping people to find their voices and to develop the strength to speak up. As Jack Welch once said, “Give them confidence and then they will act.” However, besides confidence, it is vitally important to inspire people to try to speak on subjects that are important to them and to the world at large. Public Speaking in my opinion does and can give an individual the power to change the world and I feel very fortunate when (after a course), young people turn around overflowing with enthusiasm saying, I’m not going to stop until I accomplish this or that!!




HS: How do you envisage the world of banking in 10 years from now and/or post the era of ‘baby boomers’ born in the 1950s, the majority of which still require and request high street branches where they can talk to an actual person and in the main do not trust, nor have ability to use online banking; bearing in mind a predicted cashless society will negate need for ATM machines.


JH: I recently delivered a speech on Moving from the Old World to a new one. I mentioned that while we in the developed world are talking about robots in our kitchens, driverless cars and drone dropping, there is a great number of the population who need help with this transition. There is no way that any of us can move to a new world with half the population not knowing or understanding where we are heading or what needs to be done. As mentioned before Success can only happen when we understand that we need to take everyone with us when we win!! That is what progress is all about.

Retail outlets will soon be a thing of the past. With technology advancing at the rate it is, what we do need to worry about is what we are going to do with all the graduates, the young people, the skilled professionals who will no longer be required to work, once computers really and truly take over our world? In order to save money, more and more organisations are turning to computerised technology that will mean higher unemployment rates and more crime. To answer your question, I am aware that Banks are now looking at technology that will have a person look into an eye scanner (the same as they have at airports) and in a few minutes, a computer will check their credit, they background and their identity and will provided them with a decision for a mortgage, a loan or any type of bank request, that includes transfer of money or cash withdrawals, etc. From where I see it, it is essential for every man having to move on or being left behind. It is no longer a choice and people like you and me can help these individuals and we must. Change is always difficult but it is a process and can be managed.




HS: We hear a lot about commercial speculative property investment in metaphorical equivalent to cyber domain name squatting, as a future investment and/or in conjunction to those who buy to let (including private individuals who own two or more properties and currently enjoy tax breaks), despite millions more people who are homeless, about to be made homeless, and who have never been able to own a home their entire life, as often was the case for their parents. What would you suggest may be a solution?


JH: If anyone has watched the David Attenborough series on Survival on our planet and the statistics that have come back from NASA, they would know that the situation is dire in terms of food and the ability to be able to feed a rapidly growing global population, the other problem is housing and as mentioned above, boils down to greed and the need to acquire more than what is necessary in order to survive. World Leaders are the ones that can help this situation but that would mean them having to anger many wealthy individuals or organisations, probably even those who fund their election campaigns, etc, and as we all know that property is one of the most lucrative businesses today and that is where the issue lies and why the poor get poorer and the rich get richer. The solution, in my opinion is for Philanthropists to come together and help to solve this crisis and give people a fighting chance in life by way of education, motivation or even small loans and mortgages that are affordable.




HS: (i) If you had been given other opportunities leading to a different career, was there a ‘path not taken’ or should we assume this was the right one for you?

(ii) Please feel free to add some final words herein, by referring to anything you wish, or to leave the readers with a thought or two which may help them in their diverse endeavours.


JH: I would have loved to be given the opportunity to change World poverty. I was the Head of Charity for Bank of America and did a lot of good work at other Banks too. I understand how these individuals and organisations operate and I could have made a world of difference but since that didn’t come to me sooner. I needed to act before it was too late and hence the reason why I decided to start trying to make a difference on my own.

I would firstly like to thank Tuck Magazine for this opportunity. Gratitude to me, goes before everything and to ask World Leaders, Corporate Heads, Heads of Organisations, People in Power to think differently “Not to promise to make a change but to start with trying to Be that change.”


Awards: A few of the biggest:

  • First runner-up for The Asian Woman of the Year in the Social and Humanitarian category in recognition of her business achievements and charitable contributions, 2012


  • True Legend Award for her exceptional contribution to humanitarian causes, from The Telegraph, April 2015


  • Star Recognition Award in London for ‘Lifting Lives’ and delivering numerous speeches across the UK’s educational institutes, July 2015


  • Nominated by the public for ITV’s 2015 Inspirational Woman of the Year award


  • Excellence in Humanitarianism Award for her work in India, December 2016


  • Mother Teresa Memorial International Award for Social Justice and Humanitarianism, Kolkata, September 2017






Thank you again Jillian for these inspiring answers, in addition to offering congratulations on your Mother Teresa Award for Social Justice and Humanitarianism earlier this week.





Jillian Haslam

If ever there were truth in the adage that truth is stranger than fiction, it would apply in the case of Jillian Haslam. Born in Calcutta to British parents in post-colonial India, Jillian faced a bruising childhood of extreme poverty, malnutrition and disease.

She lived through the deaths of four siblings and some appalling instances of racist abuse. Her rise from the depths of despair and misery to wealth and international celebrity status is an inspirational story of vindication and coming home.

Jillian’s is an amazing tale of a gritty climb to success, wealth, international fame and honour. Titled ‘Indian.English.’ A Memoir, her book is an international bestseller with extensive rave reviews in Indian and international press.

The book describes her dark childhood, her ascent in the Indian and British corporate banking sector and her move towards becoming a motivational speaker, trainer & coach of repute catering to corporate organizations, social institutions and the under-privileged in Europe and India.

Despite the harsh circumstances Jillian overcame adversity and forged a highly successful career in banking over a period of twenty years to become a Corporate and Life Improvement Trainer, Motivational Speaker, Bestselling Author and Success Coach.

Jillian’s clients include some of the top organizations and institutions in the world, such as Bank of America, Santander, McDonalds, Global Winning Women, King’s  College London, RBS and many others.

A popular media guest, Jillian has been featured on Channel 5, the BBC, The Independent, The Pioneer, The Times, The Telegraph, the Metro, Gulf News and many other major media.

Jillian was also the first runners up for the Asian Woman of the Year Award with a special recognition for her book, her life story and her contribution to social & humanitarian causes.

Jillian is a member of The Professional Speakers Association in the UK, The National Speakers Association in the USA, The Global Speakers Association and The Association of Integrative Psychology (USA). She is also on the Celebrity Speakers Association in the UK and is an active member at Toastmasters as well.



Hazel Speed

Photo (c) Hazel Speed – used by kind permision to Tuck Magazine

Hazel Speed is a Philosopher, Writer, and Artist with various creative projects at differing stages of development. Her flaship project is an animation which has produced a film short: She has also written an E-novel, ‘Just Suppose…!‘ which is available via the attached link.

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1 Comment

  1. Antoinette Moss September 16, at 23:20

    A most wonderful interesting and inspirational interview. Thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Congratulations to my very dear friend Jillian Haslam


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