Actress who defended comments about ‘fat Jewish’ managers in tirade against Emma Barnett

Kelechi Okafor pulled out of Women’s Hour after claiming she heard the new Radio 4 Woman's Hour host speak about her in a ‘degrading and vile’ manner


LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Nadine Young Global Head of Strategy Blue 449 and Emma Barnett Women's Editor The Telegraph speak during the Wired Women discussion at Advertising Week Europe 2016 at Picturehouse Central on April 18, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Eamonn M. McCormack/Getty Images for Advertising Week Europe)

An actress and fitness studio owner who once defended derogatory comments made about “fat Jewish” music managers has said she pulled out of an appearance on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour after claiming she heard host Emma Barnett speak about her in a “degrading and vile” manner.

Kelechi Okafor had been due to appear on Wednesday’s episode of the show, which has been presented by Ms Barnett after she took over from long-time host Jane Garvey on Monday.

But Ms Okafor, founder of Kelechnekoff Fitness Studio and the Say Your Mind Pod podcast tweeted just before the show began at 10am: “Hi guys I’m coming off woman’s hour because what I’ve just had to witness is absolutely degrading and vile.

“The host didn’t realise her mic was on as she was talking about me before the interview started is all I’m going to say.

“You can have a genuine concern about something you’ve been told about me and address it in a manner that is kind. That wasn’t what took place. Myself and the other people who would be talking during the segment could hear me being talked about like a dickhead.

“When she clocks the mic is on suddenly it’s ‘well kelechi could you just explain to me because I’m trying to give you a chance to explain’.

“It was on your producers to have explained and done their research. It was on you to check your mic.”

Wednesday’s show had included discussions on the merits of the Me Too and Black Lives Matter movements, with the author Lionel Shriver offering criticism of both.

The JC previously uncovered remarks made by Ms Okafor during a podcast made three years ago in which she claimed the BBC presenter Reggie Yates was speaking the “truth” when he claimed it was “great” that the young generation of grime music artists was not “managed by some random fat Jewish guy from north west London, they’re managed by their brethren”. 

Ms Okafor had said that Mr Yates was wrong to apologise for the comments and to step down as a host of the BBC’s Top of the Pops programme, adding she  “had a huge problem with people apologising for things that they meant.

When approached for comment over the remarks on the podcast by JC reporter Rosa Doherty in December 2017, she replied: “Hi @Rosa_Doherty thank you for your email regarding my podcast. I appreciate the time you took to reach out to me. What does the Jewish Chronicle do to tackle anti-blackness?”

Continuing to tweet on Wednesday, Ms Okafor said: “The need for me on today’s show was to offer balance to these wayward women thinking that the MeToo movement is no longer needed. The fact is that if you feel it’s no longer needed for your white middle class sensibilities, marginalised voices still need it.

“We haven’t heard from everybody regarding the violations they’ve faced. The originators of the MeToo movement were Black women. From enslaved Black women who were raped by slave owners to Tarana Burke yet their voices are yet to be honoured.”

Ms Okafor has previously appeared in TV adverts for Maltesers, Samsung and Irn Bru as well as on stage and documentaries.

On Wednesday’s show, Ms Barnett spoke to Hollywood actresses Caitlin Dulany and Rosanna Arquette about the MeToo movement. 

In a statement Ms Barnett said that before she went on air she was alerted to the fact that Ms Okafor had “made alleged antisemitic remarks”.

The presenter said was also sent a press report of the transcript of what Ms Okafor had said on the podcast in support of Mr Yates’ comments about “fat Jewish” music managers.

Ms Barnett confirmed that as Wednesday’s show coincided with the anniversary of Harvey Weinstein’s court case, she had been  “discussing with my producers the role of this guest in light of her allegedly antisemitic comments.”

She added: “Kelechi overheard that chat to an open Zoom link – with 2 minutes until airtime.”

Ms Barnett said she then talked “directly” to her guest about the allegations “standing by my queries, and said she could put her response across in the programme.”

The Woman’s Hour host said this prompted Ms Okafor to deny the allegations,  hang up and refuse to take part in the programme.

Ms Barnett said she “stands by my questions to my team and to Kelechi.”

She said she would have “happily” hosted her on the show and that “any guest is entitled to make their own decisions about whether to appear on a programme but in the interests of fairness I feel it is important to add some detail to the accounts that are currently circulating in the press and social media.”

Ms Barnett added she viewed Woman’s Hour as a “wonderful platform” and she was “greatly enjoying” her first week as presenter.

A BBC spokesperson said: “During an off-air conversation ahead of the programme, Emma Barnett and the production team talked about a guest’s role in the discussion, and how to reflect some of the guest’s alleged previous comments and the issue of antisemitism as part of the Woman’s Hour discussion on the role of minority voices in the MeToo movement. This was also raised directly with the guest before going on air.”


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