From controversy to comedy: Supermodel Eunice Olumide on race, pain and laughter

In what started as an important discussion on daytime television about the difficulty of breaking into television as a Black woman, supermodel Eunice Olumide soon found herself unexpectedly at the centre of a whole new race row.

Her success as a model, campaigner and actor, she says, was instantly overshadowed by the reaction to a painful exchange between her and two white panellists which she believes derailed her career.

Following years of rebuilding and reconciliation, the five-foot-nine-inch beauty has now found healing and solace in an unexpected place: comedy.

She has garnered numerous awards, forging an illustrious career across film, broadcasting and charity, while triumphing on the fashion runways of Japan and the USA to Milan, Poland and beyond.

Having worked with some of the best designers including Gucci, and the recently departed Vivienne Westwood, the Briton has appeared in high-fashion publications like Vogue and Harpers Bazaar over a two-decade run, where she’s been lauded for star quality.

From starring in productions, such as Rogue One: Star Wars, to her involvement in World Afro Day and launching her own gallery, Olumide is an accomplished master of several trades.

Yet, as I recently sat across from the 35-year-old beauty on a winter’s afternoon, there were no airs and graces about her, despite this impressive resumé and tag as “Scotland’s first Black supermodel”.

Dressed in casual jumper and a smile, kicking back in the comfort of her home, Olumide quickly began to talk passionately about community renovation projects in her local area and a recent trip to Nigeria where her parents were born.

While articulating her views on issues ranging from regional politics to social justice during our three-hour chat, Olumide regularly prefaced her points with generic interjections of ‘bro!’ and ‘sis!’, between warm laughter and a few tears too.

Olumide brought me into her world with seemingly no inhibitions which was, frankly, striking given all that she’s navigated in the past three years including death threats and career crises.

For me, the warm candour of this chat struck me; the model’s ease with the simplicity of our interaction as two human beings; two Black women at that. In a world where so much stock is placed on status, what you do or who you know, it was refreshing to be reminded that we’re just people, trying to get along.

Olumide says she applies this ‘common touch’ to all areas of her life including her humanitarian work.

“I’d rather have nothing than be a hypocrite.” (Olumide Gallery)
“I’d rather have nothing than be a hypocrite.” (Olumide Gallery)

It’s perhaps a lesser-known fact that she has spent much of her career working on various charitable and social justice initiatives including Hospice Scotland and Climate Revolution; she’s presently an ambassador for Fashion Targets alongside Kate Moss, Twiggy and Alan Carr.

“I spent my whole life and used my platform to help other people,” Olumide says.

Born in Edinburgh, Olumide was plunged into the dazzling, fast-moving world of fashion at the age of 15, when she was spotted on the street and scouted by Select Models - an internationally renowned agency.

After finishing secondary school, she went on to graduate in Communication and Mass Media, took a postgraduate degree in Film Studies, aged 21, and then a master’s degree in metaphysics.

Her modelling career flourished. But following an ill-fated appearance on The Jeremy Vine Show in 2019, the model’s world changed forever by what she described as an “ambush” from an all-white panel on the topic of race which she says left her “traumatised”.

Having spoken of the difficulties of breaking into television, she was challenged by two female panellists. When she asked them to name ten well-known female Black presenters, they were unable to do so.

After the programme, Olumide’s comments on race were “clipped” and posted on the show’s YouTube page with an almost-boastful description about how she was “challenged” by white panellists, Lois Perry and Angela Epstein, over her experiences of racism.

“My natural reaction should be to cry (...).” (Olumide Gallery)
“My natural reaction should be to cry (...).” (Olumide Gallery)

The Scot was thrust in the midst of a racism storm after saying her race had held her back from becoming a TV presenter; she was there to talk about her book but she says was “led” into a discussion about her ethnicity during an hour-long appearance.

An overwhelmingly negative response to the clip sparked a torrent of online abuse, Olumide says, which she believes resulted in a loss of lucrative job opportunities that caused significant damage to her career, including a high-profile TV gig.

“I lost everything I had worked for my whole life, home, job and agent,” Olumide continues. “I was on an upward trajectory (...). I suffered serious psychological damage from the show, also losing multiple contracts and my home.”

She adds: “I can’t imagine you’d invite a white model on a show to discuss one thing, then ask her about extremism, then attack her on her views.”

The show’s “framing” of the conversation fuelled stereotypes of her as “an aggressive Black woman”, Olumide says.

The Scot has told of how triggering her time on the show was, as a survivor of childhood racist attacks in Edinburgh, including severe beatings, being spat at, seeing the ‘N word’ sprayed on her family home and arson.

Having her lived experience of racism interrogated by an all-white panel, Olumide says: “I don’t think that when I was put in that situation that the show’s staff or indeed the audience had actually thought about the fact that racism, as a general concept, is not just a word, persecution or discrimination.

Eunice Olumide being challenged by white panellists as she describes how racism impacted her life (Screenshot)
Eunice Olumide being challenged by white panellists as she describes how racism impacted her life (Screenshot)

“It’s attached to physical and mental trauma.”

Condemning the “over-reliance of Black people to explain their trauma to white people” prevalent within British television, Olumide says: “Journalists and interviewees should have a moral and ethical responsibility to protect their guests from being hurt in such cases.”

Channel 5 removed the clip from YouTube after being approached by The Independent; it amassed over 19,000 views while the model never received an apology or “recompense” from the show’s team.

The broadcaster declined to comment on this issue but would like to make it clear that the Jeremy Vine Show “condemns any form of discriminatory behaviour”.

In a pre-George-Floyd world, the model says discussing race was treated with far less respect in the media than in recent times, following the global resurgence of Black Lives Matter protests.

Now stories of racial injustice are being highlighted a lot more across print and television media, while diversity on television platforms like The Jeremy Vine Show has increased.

 (Olumide Gallery)
(Olumide Gallery)

Comparisons have been made between Olumide and US sports star Colin Kaepernick, the model says, on account of the fact that both of them paid a heavy price for taking a stand against racism in a pre-George-Floyd society.

In 2016, Kaepernick lost his job after taking a knee during a preseason game, in protest against racial injustice in the country. He’s been unsigned ever since. The protest has since been adopted around the world.

“I may not have been physically taking a knee, but speaking truth to power in public spaces can end your entire career,” Olumide said. “But I’d rather have nothing than be a hypocrite.”

“In Britain, we do think of ourselves as being more open-minded when it comes to race than in the US, but we are not we are far behind.”

How does Olumide reconcile with all that has happened, I ask, to which she replied ‘comedy’: a 180-degree turn!

After the success of her first-ever stand-up comedy show Afropoliticool, at the renowned Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August, she was commissioned by BBC Comedy to produce and star in three short sketches for BBC Social media, due out next month.

“I’m someone who likes to have a laugh and doesn’t take herself seriously at all. That’s my real personality,” the model chuckled.

It’s often said that “laughter is the best medicine” after all, and Olumide excitedly describes the way in which stand-up can often be a vehicle for innovation and ingenuity, while affording creatives the opportunity to connect with others.

“What I love about stand-up is: I just need a stage and an audience!”


The sold out show left Olumide feeling “amazed” and “restored her faith,” she says.

“I also felt that comedy is a brilliant way to discuss serious issues since no one feels like your talking about them and I could have a laugh and be myself, not conform to some engineered vision of what a random producer thinks I am and or do something to tick a box for an hour.”

In terms of what is next, the world is her oyster: “Variety is the spice of life and that makes me feel good.”