Yvonne Ridley, Patron
Born in a County Durham coal mining community in the north of England, Yvonne Ridley is proud of her working-class roots which she says is part of her DNA. She entered journalism straight from school and underwent four years of training at the Durham Advertiser Series before moving up an award-winning career ladder, breaking through several glass ceilings on the way. Before leaving school and during her early career, Yvonne fought against a community raised on patriarchal lines and blatant misogyny, which tried to restrict and confine her as an ambitious career woman.
A committed trade unionist and feminist, she was one of the founders of Women in Journalism. She entered Fleet Street in the 90s working for several titles including, ‘The Sunday Times’, ‘The Observer’ and ‘Daily Mirror’ before joining ‘The Sunday Express’.
In 2001, she became the headlines when she was captured by the ruling Taliban after sneaking into Afghanistan wearing the all-enveloping blue burka ahead of the US-led war.
Two days into an undercover mission for Express Newspapers, she was arrested as a suspected American spy by the Taliban (they didn't recognise her Geordie accent as being English!).
Few expected her to survive the ordeal but she emerged unscathed 11 days later after being released on humanitarian grounds. The Taliban described her as: "A very bad woman with a very bad mouth!". During her imprisonment, she experienced the "sheer terror" of being bombed by America and Britain, as US President George W Bush launched his war in revenge for the terror attacks of 9/11. The experience, she says, propelled her straight into the ranks of the anti-war movement.
She further confounded her critics by embracing Islam two years later, having given her captors an undertaking to study Islam and the Holy Qur'an if they released her. People think it was a great leap of faith but it wasn't as she was already a practising Christian, and always had a core belief in God. Moving from Fleet Street in 2003, Ridley went to Qatar to help launch the English language website for Al Jazeera before returning to the UK as a broadcast journalist, drawing on her experience for start-up ventures with the launches of Islam Channel and Press TV.
During her freelance years she was also commissioned by and worked for BBC TV and radio, CNN, and numerous Middle Eastern broadcasters; valued both as a commentator and presenter of news analysis, especially in the MENA region.
A member of the Society of Authors, her most recent book is an academic biography called The Rise Of The Prophet Muhammad: Don't Shoot The Messenger. Yvonne has also recently published The Caledonians: Mr Petrie's Apprentice, a Scottish-based fantasy trilogy called The Caledonians.
When she's not writing, she spends her time giving lectures on humanitarian, extremism and women's issues at university campuses and conferences around the world. She recently took a Masters Degree in Modern War Studies and graduated from the University of Buckingham. She is the current Secretary General of the European Muslim League, jointly headquartered in Switzerland and Italy and is focussed on the empowerment of Muslim women.