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Interview: Tola Doll Fisher, editor, writer, model

16 October 2020

‘I didn’t want to wait until life got better to be able to say that God is good’

Dimitra Sardi

I wrote all the articles and interviewed my neighbours for my first magazine when I was nine or ten. I read journalism at Birmingham and was a “Girl About Town” columnist for the then Birmingham Evening Mail. I worked at Pride magazine and The Voice’s supplement Woman 2 Woman, and was asked to come to edit Woman Alive! last year.

I’m not your typical white, married-with-children, conservative Christian, and I think God’s put me here for a reason. There are more single women in the Church than ever before, most mothers are working, and grandmothers are looking after children rather than just retiring.

My favourite scripture is John 10.10: “The thief came to steal and destroy, I came that you might have life and have it more abundantly.” My personal mission is to encourage women to know that God intends us to live an abundant life and explore what that means, even if you don’t have the children you want, or you have a disability, or whatever may be difficult. The plan is also for life together: we’re definitely not meant to be doing this by yourself.

When I was a child, my family was involved in a church that was kind of a cult. When we left, it was really hard to pick ourselves up, but I remember just getting straight on to find a job and get my life together. Mum said that she admired how I just kept on going, but I feel like there’s a deep sense of joy within me that recognises this John 10.10 life that Jesus came to give. I really want to share that with readers. Despite the crazy, fallen world we live in, God has given us so many reasons to celebrate, and I’m so grateful for that.

In my book, too, I challenge the perfectionism I learned as a competitive little girl in a highly educated family. The pandemic has shown us that the most valued people are the least well-paid, and that it’s not easy to be a stay-at-home mum either.

Ask yourself, how would you judge your own success if you weren’t posting your life on social media? Success is usually thought of in terms of public recognition; but what is really successful is doing what God has called you to do, quietly, without making any noise about it.

Woman Alive! invites us to be part of a community, especially if we are or feel isolated. Readers can post articles on a website, and there’s a thriving book club, and the Premier Radio side of it, too.

My work actually hasn’t really changed now, except that it’s been much more intense, and I’m being asked to do more on different platforms: on radio and on social media.

My daughter Annie was born by spontaneous labour at 24 weeks, and it was only a few hours before her lungs collapsed. I didn’t really mourn her loss then because I was also fighting for my marriage, but, last year, as she would have been seven, I went to Mortlake Cemetery for the first time, and heard God say: “Your mourning is over.”

After my child died and my marriage was ending, people just talked about the end of the journey. But I didn’t want to wait until life got better to be able to say that God is good. God is good because he is good, and that doesn’t change depending on your season.

I’m really appreciative of Mum, knowing her children and making sure that we got the best education, even if she had to do it. I really wanted to go to the same co-ed state school as my friends and she gave me one year to knuckle down to work there. Inevitably, I didn’t, and she pulled me out and put me in the same private school as my sister. It was the best thing for me, although I didn’t think so at the time. Not every child needs the structure of a private, single-sex school, but I was an easily distracted child.

I absolutely loved modelling. I still do it now when I get asked, for friends who are fashion designers and photographers. There’s nothing like the thrill of walking on the catwalk in beautiful, sometimes unpractical, clothes, surrounded by lights and cameras. Behind the scenes mainly just involves standing with your arms up and having people fuss around you with clothes and make-up.

Photo shoots are harder, because you have to pull the right faces and tilt your body in the right angles. If the photographer or stylist knows what they want, they can guide you, but sometimes you just get yelled at.

The worst thing is the castings, the audition process. You’ll get called in with similar girls for one job and often lined up to be talked about and prodded. That’s not much fun.

I had a very happy childhood in London’s suburbs. We had au pairs and nannies when I was very little. When my parents divorced and we became a one-parent household, we spent more time with Mum’s best friend’s children, a boy and a girl who’s still my best friend today. We were more cash-strapped, but we were always going the theatre, and had tennis, music, drama, dance, swimming, and riding lessons. Mum worked really hard to make sure that we never missed out.

I was always so excited about everything. Mum used to call me Bright Eyes as I was always still awake when she came to tuck us into bed: I didn’t want to miss anything.

I don’t blame anyone specifically for injustices against BAME people. What’s important is that white people recognise the injustices and inequality leveraged against non-white people which still persist today. Denial is not helpful.

I have no remedy for racial divisions in the Church. That sounds like an issue for St Paul.

I can’t remember my first experience of God, but I do remember going for prayer in church when I was in my teens and feeling such a strong presence of God and just crying.

I’m a real worshipper. I love to worship with music and song, and can spend hours in worship with God. I come from a musical family, but my voice takes on another level when I worship, and it’s like God wants me to only use that voice for him.

For the future, I want to write more books, for starters. The rest I’m keeping close to my chest, but let’s just say, watch this space. I’m never still for very long.

Any kind of ill treatment towards children makes me angry. It makes me feel physically sick. Social gatherings with good food, good music, and good friends make me happy — and champagne.

I love music, but the genre depends on my mood. Valerie Jeannis is a friend in New York, and she has the most soothing voice I have ever heard. She records devotionals and sends them to encourage friends, and we all love them.

About six months ago, someone asked me what I wanted prayer for — and for the first time ever, I felt I didn’t need prayer for anything. Not that there aren’t things I’d like, but I felt ready to start praying for other people. I trust God hears my prayers, and I want to help other people to feel encouraged for their season, whatever that looks like.

Soon after leaving the cult, God taught me an important practice of getting up early in the morning for a quiet time with him, my Bible, and a mug of hot water. I notice a significant difference if I neglect it. I can’t pour love, patience, kindness, or energy into others unless I let God fill me up first.

I’d choose to be with my friend Mary Santo if I was locked in a church. She’s a singer. We can talk for hours about anything, and we both love to worship. I can just imagine us laughing and crying a lot, because I know God would speak to us there.


Tola Doll Fisher was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.

Still Standing is published by SPCK at £9.99 (Church Times Bookshop £9).

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