A girl whose mother fled war-torn Somalia in the 1980s has won a scholarship to the leading private school that Kate Middleton and Samantha Cameron attended.
Nadia Hassan, 16, a comprehensive school girl from one of London’s poorest areas, has been accepted to Marlborough College.
She impressed school leaders after taking her GCSEs in maths and core science a year early and getting A* grades in both – with similar results expected when she takes the rest next summer.
Nadia, whose mother survives on benefits and brought her up single-handedly, will now swap the room she shared with her sister for a dorm at the £35,000-a-year school.
The teenager, who also has two brothers, will be following in the footsteps of privileged young women including the Duchess of Cambridge and her sister Pippa.
Nadia lives in a council house in Leyton, East London, which has some of the city’s most deprived communities and has been blighted by gang violence.
She said yesterday: ‘To think that I will be getting the same quality of education as a princess got sort of blows your mind a little bit. When I walked into the courtyard it felt like I was in a dream. It seemed like a different world from my home in Leyton.
‘You don’t get buildings like that around here. It was a bit intimidating. But I know that if you want to get into the elite top jobs, you have to get used to it, and that’s something I’m willing to do.’
Nadia’s mother Kaltun Bulbul, 46, fled Somalia in 1987 to live with family in the United Arab Emirates. She married in 1993 and came to Britain with her husband, but the couple later separated and he went back to Somalia.
She brought up her four children alone, and had to give up work to care for Nadia’s younger brother, who has autism and ADHD.
Nadia said: ‘Gangs used to occupy the area a few years back. It was worrying, but I wasn’t outside a lot when I was younger. I was just at home reading books.’
She showed early signs of talent. ‘I began to speak before my first birthday and my first language was English rather than Somali, because I used to watch TV quite a lot,’ she said.
Her mother saved to pay for extra maths tuition for her, and at the age of eight she was completing work for 11-year-olds. She excelled in all her subjects at Riverley Primary School.
‘My teachers told my mum I needed to be challenged more,’ she said.
‘So I did a lot of work outside of school. The war was traumatic for my mum but she’s a strong woman and she tries to think about giving us the best foundation for our future.’
At George Mitchell Secondary School teachers singled her out as a star and decided to coach her to apply for a scholarship. She was entered in debating competitions and received extra mentoring.
Nadia also had an offer from The Latymer School and interviews at Cheltenham Ladies’ College and City of London School for Girls.
She said: ‘I have had a very good education at George Mitchell, that’s the main reason my grades are so good. The other thing I have been taught is that your race or gender should not be a barrier to being successful. They believed in me, which has given me the belief I have needed to get through this process.
‘When I went for the interviews, I realised that a lot of the others had these privileges. But at the end of the day we are all aiming for the same thing and I’m going to have to compete with these people in the working world anyway.
‘I tried not to think of them having the advantage, I just needed to put in the extra work.’
She will join Marlborough’s sixth-form next September and has been given the William Morris All-Rounder scholarship, which means she will get an extra £3,400 a year on top of the fees to pay for uniform, books and school trips.
Nadia, whose older brother and sister are both at university, added: ‘I didn’t choose the school because Kate Middleton went there or Samantha Cameron.
‘With respect to them, I don’t want to be the wife of a king or prime minister, I want to be the prime minister myself.’
She hopes to realise her dream of studying French at Oxbridge, and to eventually set up her own scholarship scheme for children from similar backgrounds.
George Mitchell headteacher Saeed Hussain said: ‘Nadia is an exceptionally bright girl and we take great pride in helping her to achieve her dreams.’