Tazeen Ahmad was one of the first South Asian Muslim women to progress steadily up the slippery ladder of broadcast journalism to reach its upper echelons.
There are certain moments in most of our lives when we come across someone who is so magnetic, who radiates so much light and energy that they leave an indelible impression that lasts a lifetime.
For me, one of those people was British journalist, Tazeen Ahmad. I first met her many years ago when I briefly worked for the BBC. Although we were in the same age bracket, I had taken a junior position, having entered journalism relatively late.
I spent most of my time beavering away diligently in a quiet corner while Tazeen, who was a news anchor, was quite literally commanding attention and turning heads with every step she took.
She had that rare combination of a Herculean presence, along with a warm and friendly disposition and, naturally, I was utterly in awe of her and secretly hoped one day I would somehow acquire at least a fraction of the confidence and worldliness she clearly possessed.
I didn’t stay long at the BBC, but I continued to follow her work for years to come. It was impossible not too; everything she produced seemed to make it into the spotlight because it was so engaging and ground-breaking, be it a documentary, a television news report or a print article.
Tazeen, who was of Pakistani descent but moved to the UK at an early age, enjoyed a prolific career spanning more than twenty years. At various times she was a BBC news anchor, an NBC foreign correspondent and an investigative reporter for Channel 4’s current affairs show, Dispatches.
She progressed swiftly and decisively in her career and produced some of the finest and most varied journalism of our times.
She also wrote a book, ‘The Checkout Girl’, about her undercover investigation chronicling the lives of British supermarket workers. As if all this was not enough, she also was a passionate champion of women’s rights, was closely involved in charities focused on combating domestic abuse and founded an emotional intelligence consultancy named EQ Matters.
Tazeen was one of the first South Asian Muslim women to progress steadily up the slippery ladder of broadcast journalism to reach its upper echelons - and that’s why she was such an inspiration to me and many others from similar backgrounds, as we endlessly tried to reconcile our ambitions with a playing field that had for as long as we could remember been anything but level.
In an industry with so few role models for women of colour, it was often very easy to allow ourselves to become engulfed in a cloud of despondency. But Tazeen, though her courage and determination, showed us that it really was possible to overcome the obstacles we would invariably face.
But it wasn’t just her professional life that got my attention. Tazeen endeared herself to many of us by lucidly articulating the personal struggles and challenges she had faced throughout her life, ranging from family disagreements, existential questions relating to her cultural and religious background and even mental health issues.
All of this reminded us that we were not alone in our own experiences and revealed Tazeen to be not just a brilliant journalist, but a human being first and foremost.
I didn’t get to know her too well at the BBC but as fate would have it, many years later, our paths were to cross once more, albeit indirectly. By 2013 I was working for an international news channel and had been appointed as one of the judges for the newly-founded Asian Media Awards - something I’m still involved in.
One of my categories was 'Best Investigation', and Tazeen’s Dispatches documentary, ‘The Hunt for Britain’s Sex Gangs’ had been shortlisted as one of the finalists.
I remember how the other judges and I agreed that it was a brilliant, nuanced, well-researched and brave piece of journalism. For us, it was the clear winner. But this was by no means the only award Tazeen received. She was Bafta-nominated, won a Royal Television Society award and was the recipient of several other accolades.
It has been a long time since I first met Tazeen. Since then I’ve gone on to become a foreign correspondent. My work has taken me all over the world. I’ve covered everything from wars and refugee crises to elections and natural disasters. But all these years on, from time to time my mind wanders back to some of the people who, by inspiring me, have played a part in my journey.
Tazeen is one of them. She was a true pioneer. She led the way, smashed glass ceilings and gave so many of us the courage to pursue our dreams, and for that I will always remain indebted to her.
I can’t even begin to imagine how her two sons, other family members and close friends must be feeling right now, but I can only hope they will find some comfort in the knowledge that Tazeen was held in the highest esteem by so many.
Her untimely death is not just a great loss to journalism and to the British South Asian community, but also to many, many others.
Rest In Peace, Tazeen. You were one of a kind.