Tope, personal trainer & model
Tope is a personal trainer who was born and raised in London while her family was originally from Nigeria. Before becoming a personal trainer she did professional modelling and she lived for a short period of time in New York and Paris.
“I come from a very strong mother who instilled self-confidence in me and taught me that I was relevant to this world. I felt sorry for the kids who called me racist names”.
What do you consider your nationality to be?
I call myself British Nigerian, because my origins are deep-rooted in Nigeria but I was born and raised in Britain.
Have you ever considered yourself a Foreigner?
I don’t consider myself a foreigner, although in my profession as a model and personal trainer, if I look around, I sometimes find that I may be the token black person but most of the time I'm the only one born and raised in the UK. Although some people might think otherwise I am not foreign, my parents migrated here from Nigeria.
Can you tell us about their story as Foreigners?
My parents made the UK their home in the '60s. They worked hard for this country and although someone may consider them foreigners I think they are proud to call England their home.
What were their initial reasons?
They moved here in the '60s to work. My mum is a midwife and my dad is an engineer. This was a time when England was in demand of workers in the public sector. My mother’s family had already settled here. They stayed with my aunty and her husband before finding their home.
What made them want to stay?
They stayed because work was good and stable here but they felt the education was better in Nigeria. So they sent my older siblings back to Nigeria to finish school. They had six children, I'm number five.
What do/did you enjoy about living abroad?
I have never really lived anywhere other than London. I spent a couple of years in Nigeria as a child and a few months in Paris and New York while I worked as a full time model. I loved living abroad but I missed London and the London culture any time I was away for too long. I was missing the English humour and I love how multicultural London is. So many people calling themselves English with different amazing origins. Beautiful.
Do you remember any personal challenge about living in the UK?
Not really. Living in East London and growing up with predominantly white kids at school, maybe they had to adapt to me and my colour. But I come from a very strong mother who instilled self-confidence in me and taught me that I was relevant to this world. I felt sorry for the kids who called me racist names.
How do your family origins inspire your work?
I am a very hard worker as it is in my culture. We feel blessed to be able to work. We acknowledge that not everyone is able to work. Nigeria can be very corrupt, so people fight very hard for what they have.
What about the local influence?
I'm also proud to be British but even more to be an East-Londoner. I love East London. The people are on the next level cool. We were cool before Hoxton and Shoreditch became the places to go.
How is your work usually received?
I think my work came quite naturally, I've always been quite sporty so making the move from modelling to personal training was an easy transition.
There’s discrimination in every job. In modelling it’s the nature of the game, it's quite blatant. I've heard “you’re too fat” , “we don't want black girls”, etc.
In personal training it's about helping other people learn to accept themselves, and be the best version of themselves.
What message would you want to share with British people who don’t know your work yet?
Most British people will look at magazines and know what a model is but they don’t know the hard work that goes on behind the scenes. It's full of rejections and discrimination and it's not always glamorous.
Working as a personal trainer also comes with its highs and lows. Assisting clients to achieve their goals is amazing but the early mornings and late nights, trying to motivate yourself and keeping motivated can wipe you out.
What are your plans for the future?
I would love to settle down and have children, build my family and start my own business.
Where is home?
My home is where my ever growing family is. For now it's London.
What words/ideas do you associate with ‘Foreigner’?
Food, language and variety. When I think of our society we could not survive without outside influences. How bland would this world be and how colourless. We need integration in order to grow.