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Unparliamentary Language: Rupa Huq

Agnes Chambre

6 min read

Agnes Chambre sits down with parliamentarians to find out more about the personal side of politics. This week, Labour’s Rupa Huq on her DJ career, an embarrassing doorstep encounter and how her sister stole her dream job


What were you like at school?

I wasn’t a classic swot – I was a bit last minute. It’s funny because I had parents evening last week for my 13 year old son and they said ‘he’s a bit lippy’. I think I probably was too, but more in the sixth form. It was – dare I say it – an all girl’s private school as well, so I think I was known as ‘red Rupa’ in those days. I got a bit lippy in answering to the accepted norms in those days in that school.

My old history and politics teacher Mrs Rees came for a fundraising dinner before the election with Ed Miliband. Ed kept saying ‘but what was she like at school?’ But she just said ‘oh she was very good’. The cheque’s in the post, Mrs Rees…

When you were at school, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I quite wanted to be a Blue Peter presenter. My little sister beat me to that. I thought it seemed like quite a good programme because you get to go abroad a lot and then you can do fun things like play with the world’s biggest Lego set or whatever. I remember saying when we did essays about what we wanted to be and then she went and blooming nicked my idea.

So it was your idea first?

It was! She was born three years after me.

Do you think she would have done it if it hadn’t been your idea first?

Who knows? She was also a bit of a blagger. Her first TV job was when she was in the sixth form and she was under age and she talked her way into it. She signed a contract and told them after how old she was. So I think there is a kind of Huq audacity that runs through our family.

Do you have it as well?

I can be a bit cheeky, sort of damsel in distress, saying ‘oh you couldn’t possibly do so and so’, and it’s something quite improbable and then it happens.

What is an interesting fact that your parliamentary colleagues may not know about you?

I used to be a music DJ. On the decks I was Dr. Huq. I have a PHD, unlike Dr Dre. I don’t think he’s a doctor. Or Dr Fox, or any of those people.

What kind of music did you play?

I still have loads of vinyl in the house, it’s almost like the case of John Peel had to move house to fit his record collection in there. My entire downstairs is organised around two decks and a mixer. That’s a main feature of the house.

When was the last time you DJd?

My victory party in the summer.

Was everyone impressed?

I think so, yes.

If you had one trip in a time machine, where would you go? 

I suppose I should say 1945, the Labour victory, but I suppose an Asian person might be a bit out of place in 1945.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Never assume anything. That’s a good piece of advice. Too many people say things and they assume prior knowledge. In the 2010 election debates, they found Nick Clegg’s briefing notes and it said ‘explain everything as if to a 10 year old child’. I thought that was pretty good advice.

What’s the best present you’ve been given? 

A Labour councillor bought the RupaHuq.co.uk domain name. He bought it for me more than 10 years ago.

Because he thought you’d want it some day?

Yes. So that’s now my website – although it’s a really poor website. At least it’s mine.

If you had to have three dinner party guests, who would they be? 

John Lennon, I think he’d be quite interesting. Barbara Castle, because being a woman in that men’s world would have been difficult. Third one, someone like Malala [Yousafzai].

What is the most embarrassing thing you’ve done?

I was door-knocking on a Saturday and the person opened the door with no clothes on. The leaflet was the only...I didn’t know where to look. We usually start at 11am on a Saturday and a Sunday. I was more embarrassed, I think there was something covering the offending part. But I had to ask the questions – “is there anything I can help you with? If there was a general election tomorrow, how would you vote?”

Have you ever been fired from a job?

Yes. Budgens supermarket. I was 16 and I was not very good. I think they just said ‘don’t come back’. Also I was fired from a market research job which was telephone interviewing in the 90s because my progress was too slow. I phoned in to see what shifts they had for me the next week and they said “actually we’ve got nothing for you”. I think it was probably because I was doing some of my own personal phone calls. 

When’s the last time you cried?

My mother passed away two weeks before polling day in May. I got a bit teary dealing with all that because that was my last remaining parents.

Do you have any regrets?

That my parents never really saw my amazing job change. My father passed away the year before I was elected and my Mum had vascular dementia towards the end of her life so even though she was alive when I was elected, she had no consciousness of it and she got very ill.

Recently, when I’ve been clearing out her house I’ve got a bit teary, but I also found these amazing photos of my parents from the 60s when they arrived in swinging London, wrap around Ray Bans and my dad in a skinny tie, even my mum looking quite foxy. I do regret that the generation is gone.

How would your friends describe you in three words?

Determined. Unpredictable. Hardworking.

What would the title of your autobiography be?

Queen of the Suburbs.

Who would play you in a movie of your life?

Konnie Huq.

What’s something you’ve done once that you’ll never do again?

Have a 50 times increased majority.

Anything non-political?

All those are non-publishable.

Have you ever broken the law?

I might have a library book overdue somewhere around.

What’s your favourite joke?

What’s the difference between Cecil Parkinson and MFI? This an old, old joke about a philandering cabinet minister and flat pack furniture. Thing is, you can update it to whoever is having an affair now and Ikea...

What’s the answer?

One screw in the wrong place and the whole cabinet falls apart.

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