Camila Batmanghelidjh was born in Tehran and educated at Sherborne School for Girls in Dorset. The family's comfortable, prosperous existence came to an abrupt end with the Iranian revolution of 1979. Camila's father, a wealthy entrepreneur, was – like many other wealthy people and intellectuals – randomly jailed and her mother went missing. The children were stranded without money; for Camila's sister, the stress was too great and she committed suicide.
Camila's response was characteristically resourceful. She worked during the school holidays to earn money and gained political asylum with the help of her teachers at Sherborne. She later gained a first-class degree in theatre and dramatic arts followed by a Masters in the philosophy of counselling and psychotherapy.
After university, Camila practised and taught psychotherapy. She spent time at the Tavistock clinic in North London, observing what she describes as 'the children of the wealthy' while studying for a Masters in the philosophy and psychology of psychotherapy and counselling at an American university. "The problems of physical and sexual abuse were just as acute among moneyed families," she says. "They were just better hidden."
Then, at the age of 25, she saw an advert placed by the charity BBC Children in Need for a part-time therapist. She got the job and ended up working at a Family Service Unit in Camberwell, South London. The problems faced by families were serious, urgent and complex. "I came across a seven-year-old who'd tried to kill herself," says Camila. "It turned out that she'd been sexually abused. I did a home visit and realised that her mother wasn't capable of bringing her to therapy sessions. She literally had no one to talk to."
Camila went on to found Kids Company, under a disused railway arch in Peckham. Her aim was to support children with severe behaviour, emotional and social difficulties resulting from trauma, neglect and, specifically, lack of parental care. Kids Company operated until 2015 and provided psychotherapy, counselling, education, arts and sportsIt offered a surrogate home, where kids with nowhere else to go could get a hot meal and a chat with someone friendly and sympathetic. Camila was awarded an Honorary Fellowship at South Bank University for her courage in going where others fear to tread; for her unwavering belief in the power of the individual to transform their lives, moving thousands of disadvantaged children back into education and employment, and for her contribution to the welfare and educational development of young people.