Interview: Emily Middleton

Name: Emily Middleton

Course: PPE, Wadham, Second Year

Spare Time: Adviser to UNICEF UK

My meeting with Emily Middleton, double winner of Foyle Young Poet of the Year Award and Youth Advisor to the board of UNICEF, started on a light note, when she enlightened me as to the benefits of reading CosmoGirl. This publication is what inspired the 14-year-old Emily to become involved with charity work. ‘I just saw a little bit about the National Children’s Bureau in CosmoGirl. It was the summer holidays and I just googled it. They have the YNCB, which is their Youth-led wing and they were looking for advisory group members so I applied and that’s where it all started, really.’

Since then, Middleton has tirelessly championed a multitude of causes through her work with National Children’s Bureau, Amnesty International UK and UNICEF. But it would be a grave mistake to treat Middleton as another enthusiastic yet ultimately naive charity worker. She does campaign and fundraise as part of student groups, but she also occupies an important position on the board of one of Britain’s leading aid organisations, fulfilling tasks as diverse as devising national strategy and scrutinising UNICEF’s accounts alongside Lord Ashdown and Sue MacGregor.

Very articulately, she draws parallels between her engagement in student charity offshoots and the work she does on a national level. ‘I suppose it’s the scale that is the major difference. I’ve been involved in the Amnesty branches in Oxford and it’s the same organisation fighting for the same broad aims, but the main difference is that whereas you’re involved in the main student charity at Oxford, doing mainly campaigning and fundraising…At a national level, you’re looking at a much bigger picture. You’re looking at how to involve students and other groups and societies. It’s a lot more strategic, you’re looking at finances overall. It’s a totally different set of skills. But it doesn’t mean that student charities are any less important, because they’re vital.’

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I’m in no way surprised to find Middleton highly eloquent in conversation, considering the impressive list of accolades her other big area of interest -poetry – has won her. She gathered media attention when, in 2006, she was awarded her second Foyle prize for writing a poem from the perspective of a suicide bomber. The poem beginning, ‘Other people live in fear of gun massacres, heart attacks, car smashes, plane crashes, horrific back street slaughters. / But me? I can tell you my future: All two hours and twenty-six minutes of it.’, earned her a slot on Radio 4 alongside Gordon Ramsay and Ronnie Corbett. She admits she is not writing ‘as much as I’d like it to be’ nowadays, but she is ‘definitely going to apply to various courses and hopefully I’ll get back into it’. Middleton also wrote a short film script based on the poem which was adapted for a Wadham cuppers entry last Michaelmas.

What is most striking about Middleton, however, is her incredible humility. Speaking about her role in UNICEF, her words are heartfelt, her sentiment genuinely selfless. ‘I’m really, really honoured to be chosen for this role, it is the first time that UNICEF UK has had young people at a higher level, so I feel under a lot of pressure to make it work,’ she says. Judging by her record so far, the young could have no better representative.