Helen Paul: From Performing to Academia
By Tobi Akanni
I remember flipping through the dials of radio stations as a child, bored and looking for something interesting to keep me glued. The radio was primarily synonymous with music for me then, but coming across Tatafo introduced me to the world of radio programmes.
Watin Dey?, an entertainment programme aired on the then Radio Continental, had Helen Paul, alongside Emmanuella Adepoju and Wale Animashaun as the Watin Dey family, with Paul playing Tatafo, the child. They addressed trending topics and exposed the ills in society with their voice, wit, and sarcasm. Paul was exceptional. The intelligent, witty child persona she projected spread like wildfire across the country, and she became every child’s beloved.
She was a source of inspiration for someone like me and many others who did not know her as Helen Paul. What was only a funny activity for her unwittingly became a clarion of hope for many. If a child was doing this, why can I not do more and pursue my dreams and make myself distinctive in my field? Why can I not make use of my talent and develop my abilities? Many children at the time got thrills out of mimicking her and cracking jokes with her name amongst themselves.
Paul, unlike the cheery Tatafo, had a difficult childhood. In the dedication of her doctorate to her mother, she revealed that she was ‘a child conceived in rape’. She was raised by her grandmother and later by her mother, never knowing her father.
This bleak beginning, however, did not douse her natural shine. She loved education and the camera. Most people would consider nerdy children as typically shying away from the spotlight, but Paul embodies both polarities effortlessly. She loved to perform and enjoyed studying as well.
After passing the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination and being offered a place to study Theatre Arts at the University of Ilorin, she could not meet the fee payment window and eventually lost the admission. Many years before this, she also moved schools a lot due to a lack of funds. This did not deter her dogged spirit. She forged on, got a job, and retook the examination. From this point, the overlap between her education and career began to form. She started performing in shows, presenting programmes, and making connections while studying - she was to obtain a bachelor's degree, master’s degree, and a doctorate in Theatre Arts from the University of Lagos, a master’s degree in Business Administration and in Public Administration from the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Oyo State.
On 30th May 2022, she announced her appointment as a professor and Head of the Department of Arts, Music, and Entertainment at Heart Bible International University, United States, on her Instagram account. A significant achievement in her academic pursuits.