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In conversation with "The Chaser" Shaun Wallace

Posted on 11 November 2022

As part of our Black History Month programme, Shaun Wallace, English barrister, lecturer and television personality joined us at our Academy in conversation with Partner Kizzy Augustin to discuss his legal and television career.

Wallace was called to the Bar in November 1984 and in 1986 completed pupillage. In 2004, Wallace became a champion of Mastermind. Since 2009, Wallace has appeared as a "chaser" on the UK television series The Chase. His nickname on the show is "The Dark Destroyer".

Kizzy Augustin, Partner
Mishcon de Reya

Without further ado, let me get on to the matter at hand.  Our guest I think needs no real introduction, I am slightly fan girling but I am trying to hold it down, I am a massive fan of The Chase.  He is a renowned Barrister, he’s a lecturer, top quizzer, amateur footballer, general TV personality but by way of background, Shaun Wallace was called to the Bar in November 1984, completed his pupillage two years later and has not really looked back.  But you’ve, you’ve kind of used your fame, it seems like using your game to give back.

Shaun Wallace

Yeah.

Kizzy Augustin, Partner
Mishcon de Reya

Do you find that, that is your way of giving back to…

Shaun Wallace

No honestly it defines me.  As I said in the press, no man is an island you know, anybody who has been successful in life, even the richest person in the world still needs that support, still needs that break to actually take that talent which is unknown on to a stage where it can thrive and survive.  Even to this day, the best achievement of my life was the 27 November 1984 when I got called to the Bar and you know, it was a power moment for my mum and dad to you know, see their eldest son who didn’t turn out to be a thief or a wastrel like these career teachers said I was going to be because I think I missed that part when they, you know, when I brought that letter to my careers teacher and they said to me, ‘Wallace, what do you want to be when you leave school?’ and I said, ‘Well’ and came in with a little hand shaking and I said, ‘I want to be a lawyer’ and she looked at me and she said, ‘You, a lawyer, best you are going to end up working in a factory but somebody like you is going to end up in prison’.  I mean she was right about me ending up in prison, only after having seen my client I can go home again.

Kizzy Augustin, Partner
Mishcon de Reya

That’s right.

Shaun Wallace

And it’s not been nice to be told that as a 12 year old boy that your life chances are worth nothing mainly because of the unconscious bias of the colour of my skin.

Kizzy Augustin, Partner
Mishcon de Reya

Absolutely.

Shaun Wallace

But when I left that meeting, the one thing I was determined was this that nobody could control my destiny and the only way I could ensure that was to make sure that I had an educating mind.  You know, as a young boy growing up, you know, because the fact that my dad and my mum encouraged me to be aware of the world around me, I knew who Pele was, he was the best footballer in the world at the time, the only black person to have won three world cup winning medals.  Mohammed Ali was the man, the man of the 20th Century.  I knew who Nelson Mandela was, I remember the assignation of Martin Luther King.  As a young kid I followed every presidential election since 1968 because my dad told me to be aware of the world around me and when you see black role models have got the same colour skin as you, they make you proud to be black and I as a kid, I would think if I had a fraction of what they achieve in life, my life’s going to mean something.  So…

Kizzy Augustin, Partner
Mishcon de Reya

Now you are doing that for others.

Shaun Wallace

Well, I don’t describe myself as a role model no.  I am a goal model.

Kizzy Augustin, Partner
Mishcon de Reya

I love it, I love it.

Shaun Wallace

Not a role model.  For the simple reason you know, people put you on this pedestal and it’s nice, I don’t get caught up in the hype but the fall from grace is swift if you make a mistake and I am human just like everybody else and you’ve always got to set goals and challenges for yourself and you’ve always got to set goals and challenges for people to basically say, ‘I want to follow that by’, ‘I want to be like him’ or ‘I want to be like her’ because remember, we’re today’s news, I am going to be tomorrow’s chip wrapper.  I need to actually pass a torch of responsibility on to the next generation and I always talk lovingly and passionately about the ladder opportunity which other people should climb up but I don’t want them to climb up to my level, go beyond me.  When I won Mastermind I retired and I didn’t tell a soul that I won the Mastermind Championship.  The first time my mum knew that I won was when she saw it on TV so I was the last person to get to the grand final so when I came back now, I actually brought the trophy to Jamaica.  As I am coming through Heathrow I said, ‘Right I am going to have fun with customs’.  I’ll talk about this story so I saw the customs guy coming for me and they showed the Mastermind Grand Final the night before and it was the only time they have ever shown it on two occasions because I was black.  So anyway, the customs guy comes up to me and goes to me, ‘Where am I coming from?’  I said, ‘Jamaica’.  He goes, ‘Have you got anything you shouldn’t have?’  I said, ‘I’m not sure’.  He goes, ‘You’d better come with me then’.  So I put the box down and he says, ‘Open it, open it’.  I pulled out the trophy and he goes, ‘Are you the guy that won Mastermind yesterday?’  He wanted to pack my suitcase, I said, ‘No, no, no, it’s alright’.  Anyway so anyway.

Kizzy Augustin, Partner
Mishcon de Reya

What does it feel like to be one of the only or one of the few?

Shaun Wallace

I don’t want to be alone, I want somebody else to be Mastermind Champion of Colour, I want somebody else to also forge a career in law and what I am proud, I mean a couple of months ago, I don’t know if you know Melanie Simpson and Laurie-Anne Power?

Kizzy Augustin, Partner
Mishcon de Reya

I do.

Shaun Wallace

They took Silk and you know, I’ve Co-defended with them and it was just a proud moment for me to see you know, black female lawyers who have come from humble backgrounds you know, were made Silk because of their brilliance as advocates.  Change will only come about if people ask the right people, the people who have got influence, the people who make the decisions, albeit managerial or the boardroom, asking those searching questions - Can I do more?  What can I do? - If I really want to make positive change, can I ask myself these searching questions in relation to having a discussion with people from a particular cultural background who’ve got the talent.  Asking them, well what can I do more?

Audience Member

My question was about the unconscious bias that you touched on.  You seemed to spring forward from that.  You didn’t seem to let it hold you back.  Do you think that it was petulance or self-belief or your family unit that helped you get through that?

Shaun Wallace

I suppose a combination of both because obviously if you are aware of the fact that you are living, it’s like being a stranger in a stranger’s land you know, I’m English, I’m proud to be black and you know, in the 60s and 70s growing up you know, you knew that racism was there.  So as a combination of not allowing it to hold you back because if it does hold you back and you don’t succeed you can easily point to say that’s the reason why it held you back and it probably was but you’ve still got to have the design and focus and ambition to basically say, no matter what you put in my path, I am going to get over it and as I said to you before, sometimes you need help to get over that hurdle and I am not going to stand around say that I didn’t have that help, because I did but once you know how to get over the hurdle, you’ve got to have the strength and purpose and desire and belief to know that my talent is going to win at the end.

Kizzy Augustin, Partner
Mishcon de Reya

Thank you so much Shaun, I’ve just realised I haven’t introduced myself properly because of our kind of rushed start, so I am going to do it in TV style – I’ve been Kizzy Augustin, Partner at Mishcon de Reya and it’s been fantastic to interview Shaun Wallace, Barrister and TV star  extraordinaire.  Thank you so much.

 

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