10 of the most famous SOAS alumni to know
This September, we’ll welcome a whole new group of SOASians to campus. If you’re one of the lucky ones joining this year, congratulations! You’ll be part of a SOAS community of over 54,000 people from 130 countries. In its 100+ year history, SOAS students have gone on to do remarkable things across industries and around the world.
Here are 10 of our most famous SOAS alums you should know – a list by no means extensive! While a few alumni hit the headlines, all of the community stand out for being passionate, keen to disrupt the world for the better, and carry the core values of inclusivity and social justice with them in the work they do, whatever path they take.
Maro Itoje, Professional Rugby Player
Balancing a degree whilst playing international rugby sounds like it would be some challenge, but that’s exactly what ‘Super’ Maro Itoje managed to do in 2018 – graduating with a BA in Politics at SOAS. Representing England, he has won three six nations as well as a number of international and club titles. Outside of rugby, Maro has been involved in the creation of the exhibition A History Untold– which looks to bring greater attention to black histories and where school curriculums fail to address the complexity of colonialism. Recently he wrote a forward for The Black Curriculum Migration: Uncover the journeys that define Black British History. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.
Fatima Bhutto, Writer and Columnist
Fatima Bhutto is a Pakistani writer and columnist who was born in exile in Kabul. Her memoir Songs of Blood and Sword: A Daughter’s Memoir (2010) tells the story of the Bhutto family, one of power and tragedy central to modern Pakistan’s story. She is the author of the novels The Shadow of the Crescent Moon (2015), longlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, and The Runaways (2019), which follows three young people of South Asian descent who travel to Iraq to join an extremist organisation. Bhutto’s journalism and essays have appeared in The Guardian, New Statesman, Literary Hub and many more. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
Paul Robeson, Human Rights Activist, Actor and Singer
Student of Swahili and Phonetics
Paul Robeson was a man with an incredible range of talents. An African-American lawyer, writer, actor, singer, star sportsman, human rights activist and anti-racism campaigner – apparently, the only thing he couldn’t do was whistle. The son of a pastor and former slave, Paul Robeson studied Law at Colombia University. He rose to fame in the Jim Crow era as an international movie star but later chose to leave Hollywood because of the consistent derogatory portrayals of Black characters. Instead, he used his celebrity status to fight for civil rights. In 1998, 100 years after he was born, Paul was recognised with a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Explore campus, and you’ll be able to find a commemorative plaque and a SOAS Hall of Residence named after him. You can also watch a special SOAS tribute to Paul Robeson from 2014.
Zeinab Badawi, Journalist
MA Middle East History and Anthropology
A highly regarded journalist and international broadcaster, Zeinab Badawi’s extensive career has seen her work on Channel 4 news, BBC Radio 4, BBC HARDtalk and more. Born in Sudan, Zeinab moved to London as a child and later studied PPE at Oxford University before studying for a Master’s degree in Middle East History and Anthropology at SOAS. Zeinab’s outstanding contributions to journalism were recognised by SOAS in the award of an honorary doctorate in 2011. In 2021, she was appointed as the new President of SOAS. She is also the former Chair of the Royal African Society and winner of the President’s Medal of the British Academy in 2018 for global political journalism and female education advocacy. She is the Founder of Kush Communications production company. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
Lowkey, Hip-Hop Artist and Political Campaigner
MA Near and Middle Eastern Studies
Kareem Dennis, AKA Lowkey, is a British-Iraqi hip-hop artist and political campaigner known for his politically charged lyrics and passionate activism. Growing up in London, he developed his skills and style by taking part in open mics. After a series of mixtapes, Lowkey released a debut album Dear Listener (2008), followed by Soundtrack to the Struggle (2011), which featured Noam Chomsky, Frankie Boyle and Ken Loach. After consistent recording and touring, he went on musical hiatus to carve time out to study MA in Near and Middle Eastern Studies and take time to read and learn to inform his political campaigning. After completing his MA, he returned to music with his released Soundtrack to the Struggle 2. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.
David Lammy, Member of Parliament (MP)
David Lammy MP graduated from the SOAS School of Law in 1993 with an LLB (Hons) degree and became the first Black Briton to attend Harvard Law School. He is the Labour MP for Tottenham and has been an MP continuously for 22 years. He’s currently the Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs. In 2021, David Lammy was appointed as Professor of Practice at the SOAS School of Law, Gender and Media to launch and head a new initiative: the SOAS Project for Carceral Policy, Policing and Race. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.
Ramla Ali, Boxer, Model and Author
The first British female Muslim boxing champion, the first-ever woman from Somalia to compete in boxing at the Olympics and a first-class degree in law from SOAS, Ramla Ali has managed to rise to the top after entering the UK as a child refugee from Somalia. Representation and activism remain a crucial part of Ramla’s life, and in addition to her continued support for Black Lives Matter, Ramla published her first book in 2021, called Not Without a Fight: Ten Steps to Becoming Your Own Champion, which documents the challenges and adversity she has had to overcome to rise to the top. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
Poompat Iam-Samang, Actor and Model
MSc International Relations and Diplomacy
Poompat Iam-Samang’s profile has skyrocketed in recent years as an actor and model from Thailand. In 2021, Poompat starred in the worldwide cult show Lovely Writer: The Series. Poompat played Gene, a writer who has pressure from the head of a publishing house to write a novel in the Boys’ Love genre. He also starred in Gifted in the lead role and the South Korean Reality TV show Babel 250. You can find him regularly posting on YouTube. Follow them on Instagram and YouTube.
Nick Mulvey, Singer-Songwriter
Singer-songwriter Nick Mulvey graduated with BA in Music Studies in 2007. He is one of the founding members of Portico Quartet – a group formed at SOAS – whose debut album, Knee-Deep in the North Sea, was nominated for the 2008 Mercury Prize. In 2011, he focused on his solo career with his first album First Mind nominated for the Mercury Prize. In an event, Nick has spoken fondly of his time at SOAS: “I loved it…being here. It was the broadest horizon I could find in music.” His latest album New Mythology is out now. Follow him on YouTube, Twitter and Instagram.
Jemima Khan, Screenwriter, Producer and UNICEF UK Ambassador
Jemima Khan (AKA Goldsmith) is a screenwriter, producer, founder of Instinct Productions and a UNICEF UK Ambassador. At 21, she hit the limelight by marrying the famous retired cricket star (and later prime minister of Pakistan), Imran Khan. After the divorce, she became a journalist and a former associate editor of the New Statesman and European editor-at-large for Vanity Fair. A UK Ambassador to UNICEF, she uses her celebrity status to campaign and fundraises for children in countries around the world.
Jemima’s latest screenplay, What’s Love Got to Do with It?, is an upcoming British romantic comedy film directed by Shekhar Kapur and starring Emma Thompson and Shazad Latif. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
Poppy Ajudha, Singer-Songwriter
Releasing her debut album, The Power in Us, this year, Poppy Ajudha is a rising star whose music engages with today’s social issues and injustices. Graduating with a BA in Social Anthropology and Music in 2017, Poppy has spoken about how her degree has influenced her music career, stating that her “degree completely changed the way I think about the world and therefore the way I write music and what I write about has been politicised in new ways.” Follow her on Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.