'I don't believe in PR and I don't buy into branding,' Batmanghelidjh tells PRWeek

Kids Company founder Camila Batmanghelidjh shocked observers with her performance at a select committee hearing last week. PRWeek spoke to her about what went wrong

Combative: Batmanghelidjh, pictured in 2008 (Credit: Garry Knight via flickr)
Combative: Batmanghelidjh, pictured in 2008 (Credit: Garry Knight via flickr)

Camila Batmanghelidjh built a career and raised millions with her charismatic persona, but in recent months she and Kids Company, the charity she founded, have faced relentless scrutiny over numerous allegations of poor management and wrongdoing.

Batmanghelidjh has remained combative regarding the allegations. After harsh criticism during and following last Thursday's session of the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, she spoke to PRWeek to give her side of the story.

Commenting on her performance, Batmanghelidjh said: "The style of questioning was not fair, it was like a point score. It was not an inquiry about facts, it was about what someone said in The Enquirer."

Most commentators agreed Batmanghelidjh’s performance left much to be desired – and talking to PRWeek after the session, Kids Company chair Alan Yentob expressed his concern over the stress it put on Batmanghelidjh.

She rejected Yentob's concerns, saying: "I didn’t miss a heartbeat in that hearing." She went on to say that her calmness came from the fact that she was confident the charity had acted honourably at all times: "I have been calm, very calm in fact; because in my heart we acted in good faith."

She was bullish when asked what she could have done differently last Thursday to undo negative public opinion, saying: "The right thing for my own PR would be to be servile, apologise, and walk away, with the MPs having the power. This would have not been fair to the children.

"I am like a kamikaze. I owe it to the kids to stay strong. I have paid a price, but it is one that I am prepared to pay."

Batmanghelidjh sees herself as the spokesperson for the "dark subjects" – the street kids, psychotics and violent drug addicts that she says the British middle class have neglected and now ignore – and wants to shine a light on what she calls an "extreme British class divide".

However, she said that this had made her a persona non grata: "I have been turned into an object that publicly people do not want to associate with. There is an issue with my reputation because I am saying something society does not want to hear."

Batmanghelidjh claimed that Kids Company only ever had very minimal PR operations, and said she maintained responsibility for her own PR and reputation. She said: "I don’t want to use PR, I don’t believe in it."

She added: "The nation is losing authenticity because of the middle class affiliation with branding. Although I am looked at as a brand, with my colourful clothes and personality, I have always been like this and haven’t bought into branding."

She argued that because of branding and image, the country cannot have a conversation about the issues plaguing the "dark subjects", saying: "There is a problem in this country, and no amount of branding is going to airbrush that."

However, she also argued that having to act as the face of Kids Company made it difficult for her to authentically relate to both funders and beneficiaries. She said: "With the branding dilemma, funders and businesses are running the business, so I have to be this public figure to appeal to them. On the other hand, there is the street narrative I have to attend to, which is different."

Although she has founded multiple charities, Batmanghelidjh is not wedded to the charity model. She explained: "I never liked charities, because of the branding associated with the funding. Donors want to feel they are invested with a good brand and workforce, but in the case of psychotics, they are hard to match with donors. I never thought the charity model was sustainable."

While Batmanghelidjh’s public-facing fundraising brand is being dismantled by the media, she said she intended to preserve the legacy of the street brand she spent 35 years inventing – although she was unwilling to disclose exact plans. She said: "I don’t want to compromise and I don’t want to sell out. Unrelenting love is the branding I offer the children."

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