The one lesson I’ve learned from life: Natasha Kaplinsky says kids need to know how lucky they are 

News presenter Natasha, 47, was the inaugural winner of Strictly Come Dancing. She’s an ambassador for Save The Children and President of Barnardo’s. She lives in East Sussex with husband Justin Bower and their two children, Arlo, 11, and Angelica, ten.

For the first seven years of my life, I lived in Kikuyu, a town about 15 miles west of Nairobi in Kenya. My dad, Raphael, worked for the United Nations; my mum, Catherine, ran a woodwork factory. They were always keen to instil in my younger brother, Ben, and me just how fortunate we were.

On one occasion, they planned to take us to a remote village with some of Mum’s handicraft. Before we set off, she asked me to find toys to give to the children we’d be meeting. I decided there was nothing I could spare, but Mum wasn’t having any of it. I was sent back to my room, and sulkily chose a rather distressed-looking doll

Natasha Kaplinsky, 47, (pictured) explained the importance of letting kids know how lucky they are, as she reflected on her own childhood

Natasha Kaplinsky, 47, (pictured) explained the importance of letting kids know how lucky they are, as she reflected on her own childhood 

We eventually arrived at the village. These children had never seen a car before, let alone a white person. They ran behind us, shouting ‘Mzungu’ (that’s ‘white man’ in Swahili). When we stopped, I reluctantly gave my doll to a girl much the same age as me — about six at the time — and the scene that unfolded stays with me to this day.

This little girl was mobbed by every child in the village as my doll was torn to pieces so everyone could have a little bit of it. My overwhelming emotion was shame: the realisation my doll was so wanted by so many other children that it ended up being utterly destroyed.

I wonder now whether the trauma of that early experience sowed the seeds of my work with charities dedicated to evening out the inequalities of children around the world. I’ve travelled the globe with Save The Children. I’ve also witnessed, as a result of Covid, a picture of escalating poverty for many vulnerable children in the UK.

Now, when my own two children receive a glut of gifts at Christmas and on their birthdays, I always like to find a gentle way of reminding them of my early experience in Kenya.

For more information go to donate.barnardos.org.uk or email supportercare@savethechildren. org.uk 

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