Wonderland.

MAYA JAMA

The presenter talks resilience, reclaiming her narrative and why she’s refusing to limit herself in any way.

Maya Jada wearing Bulgaria for our Autumn 2020 issue

Jewellery by BVLGARI, watch by OMEGA and stylist’s own bustier

Maya Jada wearing Bulgaria for our Autumn 2020 issue
Jewellery by BVLGARI, watch by OMEGA and stylist’s own bustier

Taken from the Autumn 2020 issue. Order your copy now.

Maya Jama just got back from Ibiza, and she’s brought the sun with her. It’s Friday afternoon, the third hottest day on record in London, and in a parallel universe she would have been preparing to host the BAFTAs tomorrow night — but right now, like most of us, she’s in limbo.

Cut short by unexpected quarantine restrictions for those arriving back from Spain, Jama says it’s been the best trip of her life — mainly for the rush of freedom after months spent indoors, but also because it was the first time in forever she could relax without having an immediate job lined up to come back to. In ‘normal’ times there aren’t enough hours in a day for the presenter, radio host and TV personality, let alone time to take a few more days off. Anyone who follows her will know she approaches life with a bubbling, effervescent energy and the kind of tenacity people start gratitude journals and screenshot self-help-quotes trying to harness. Fuelled by a deep-rooted drive to take every opportunity she can, Jama’s ambition is not to be mistaken for fame hunger — though she is, and always has been unapologetic about her desire to be seen, to be successful, to be on telly.

Maya Jada wearing purple two piece
Maya Jama wearing black and white dress

(LEFT) Top and trousers by PRADA and shoes by MOSCHINO (RIGHT) Dress by MUGLER

Maya Jada wearing purple two piece
Top and trousers by PRADA and shoes by MOSCHINO Dress by MUGLER
Maya Jama wearing black and white dress

“I think for someone that just moves at a million miles an hour it’s wild to just stay still,” she shrugs — the first of three mentions of moving “a million miles an hour” in 15 minutes. “My attention span is terrible. I’m always just like, ‘Ok, what’s next? What can we do now?’ It’s what keeps me passionate, I suppose. I like doing different things. I don’t like routine.”

She’s what she calls “just naturally quite wahay! all of the time,” and even though she knows how to check out, turn her phone off and eat toast in bed every now and again, doing so for an extended period of time has meant a drastic change in pace that’s been both a challenge and a relief. But while lockdown may have disrupted carefully laid plans for the next stage of her career, sometimes sitting back to take stock is the best precursor to stepping it up. Now, with another two weeks of enforced isolation before her 26th birthday, she has time to reflect on the past year and recollect herself before exploring the new doors it has opened.

Maya Jada wearing pink and white jacket

Lingerie by ADINA REAY, coat by FLORENTINA LEITNER and shoes by AQUAZZURA

Maya Jada wearing pink and white jacket
Lingerie by ADINA REAY, coat by FLORENTINA LEITNER and shoes by AQUAZZURA

This time last year, Jama turned 25 arriving in a Lamborghini to an all-day celebration with every- one and everything that she loves. “MCDONALDS WERE AT MY PARTY I HAVE PEAKED IN LIFE LOL ITS OVER NOW”, she captioned an Instagram post, posing next to the McDonald’s x MAYA catering stand with her chips and drink in a custom, 90s Versace-inspired dream dress. The party kicked off a year of highs and lows that played out publicly and propelled her to the centre of tabloid attention, but more importantly, saw her consolidate her own respected and versatile voice in the media.

First, there was a summer of speculation about the dissolution of her relationship with Stormzy — reignited when his sophomore album dropped in December with lyrics issuing her a public apology. Jama handled the whole situation with grace that commanded nothing but respect, staying silent in a way that sent a clear signal for us to finally shut up about it too.

It’s coping with this constant dissection of her personal life that she cites as her biggest learning curve this year, and in turn she’s become more cautious about sharing her world — something that doesn’t come naturally for someone who is clearly exceptionally open, and has cultivated a connection with her audience by letting us past the glossy sheen of post-glam pictures. “I used to show my whole life — like, woo! — and bring you along with the journey. Now I feel like I’m really clickbaity […] Like, I’m giving you too much for you to just make up silly made-up stories,” she explains. Rather than dampen her online presence, it’s been a necessary boundary that has allowed her to protect her energy, and create her own pedestal without relying on those who could tear it down at any moment.

Maya Jama wearing pink mesh dress
Maya Jada wearing multi-coloured dress in bath

(LEFT) ress by FRANCESCA.R.PALUMBO and bodysuit by AGENT PROVOCATEUR (RIGHT) Dress by GUCCI

Maya Jama wearing pink mesh dress
ress by FRANCESCA.R.PALUMBO and bodysuit by AGENT PROVOCATEUR Dress by GUCCI
Maya Jada wearing multi-coloured dress in bath

Though Jama has been saying less lately, what she has said has mattered the most. This year she’s spoken more extensively than ever about the obstacles she has faced in her life — from growing up with her father being in and out of prison to losing her former boyfriend, Rico Gordon, who was murdered when she was 16. “You know what, as soon as I started getting attention from — I don’t know, papers or whatever — I spoke out about everything,” she says. “Because I did have a fear that if I don’t talk about stuff, I don’t want them trying to dig it out and be like, ‘Oh yeah, she comes from this home and this happened…’ I don’t ever want anyone to be able to use it against me, so I felt like I’m going to speak out about it first and own it.”

Shortly after Gordon’s death Jama moved to London, where he had lived, finding solace in the company of those who knew him and freedom in a fresh slate. Whilst living in a complicated situation with a family member who became heavily caught up in drugs, she threw herself into work — balancing college with her first internship as a runner for Jump Off TV — and has been doing so ever since.

“Initially, I think I was a bit worried about ‘Oh god, what if they say she can’t present this because she’s not educated enough?’ Or I don’t know, all these things,” Jama adds, referencing a conversation she recently had with Man United midfielder Jesse Lingard for mental health organisation Heads Together, about overcoming fear of judgement and claiming ownership of her story. “I said it in the interview I did with Jesse where I was just like, I think all of these things that happen in life give you battle wings […] You learn bits about yourself you wouldn’t learn if you just had an easy-breezy ride.”

Jama’s unwavering positivity feels all the more profound considering everything she’s been through, and she hopes it will inspire a similar resilience in her audience. “I understand that speaking out about things that you’ve been through does make a massive impact to people that are going through similar things and maybe don’t have hope, or can’t see the end,” she explains, her voice warm but her message firm. “It’s good; it’s kind of like therapy almost to be like, you know what? This happened and I’m here now, I’ve moved through it and you can too. Knowing there could be just one of — I don’t know how many followers, 1.7 [million] something — [if] one out of those people actually sees me, changes their thought process or thinks they can do it to, then that’s sick.”

Maya Jama wearing black mesh trousers and cardigan
Maya Jada wearing pink fur hat and dress

(LEFT) All clothing by MIU MIU (RIGHT) Hat by BENNY ANDALLO, dress by PREEN BY THORNTON BREGAZZI and shoes by MOSCHINO

Maya Jama wearing black mesh trousers and cardigan
All clothing by MIU MIU Hat by BENNY ANDALLO, dress by PREEN BY THORNTON BREGAZZI and shoes by MOSCHINO
Maya Jada wearing pink fur hat and dress

That 1.7 million-strong Instagram following is largely made up of people who discovered Jama through her work presenting radio and online shows, but recently she reached a new, wider audience co-hosting Peter Crouch: Save Our Summer (“proper, proper telly!”), which held a coveted Saturday night slot on BBC One. While expanding her influence, Jama makes it clear she wants to use her platform to take important conversations beyond the echo chamber of social media. In an interview on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch in June, where she had been invited to promote Save Our Summer, she took the opportunity to discuss the prominence of racism in the UK, the essence of the Black Lives Matter movement and the importance of continuously pushing conversation forward around both. “To me it felt like the whole world was just speaking about it, but then I understand that that’s just my audience, and the people that I know and follow and are familiar with. Then sometimes I’d do a post and people would still be saying things like ‘all lives matter’, and not be understanding the context and what the whole point is in us even saying that Black Lives Matter,” she explains. “So I just felt on a platform like that, where the audience is different to mine, it’s a good thing to raise a bit of awareness and encourage people to speak out.”

If 25 has been the year Jama reaped the rewards of being herself independently, honestly and unapologetically, 26 is the year she wants to try her hand at being someone else. “I want to try acting now, so I’m going to have a go. Might be great, might not…” She laughs, telling me about the film she has been cast in, which had been due to start filming in April. “I just feel a bit pressure-y, because I think you spend so much time becoming yourself and growing into who you are, and like, everyone knowing me for me. And then now I’m just going to have to pretend to be someone else, which doesn’t come naturally, but it’ll be a challenge.”

It’s this willingness to constantly skirt around her comfort zone that has allowed Jama to create space for herself to grow, and stay open to opportunity in a world where women are too often encouraged to make themselves small. When I ask if she has any advice for young girls watching her switch seamlessly between industries (there’s a range of face masks in the works, too) and want to do the same, her response is insistent. “Don’t put yourself in a box, even if other people try to… I just think people limit themselves a lot and it’s silly. Who do I look at — Idris Elba, for example. He is an actor, a DJ, with companies and all this. I’m like, why don’t we look at that and be like OK, I don’t have to stick in this one lane?”

Maya Jama wearying long pink dress

Jewellery by BVLGARI, watch by OMEGA and dress by SELAM FESSAHAYE

Maya Jama wearying long pink dress
Jewellery by BVLGARI, watch by OMEGA and dress by SELAM FESSAHAYE

She expressed a similar sentiment — or, as singer Ray Blk commented, “Leo energy” — in a tweet recently too: “I refuse to dim myself down, people will chip away at you in hopes that u stop what you’re doing & lesser yourself to make them feel better about themselves & sometimes it can feel heavy knowing ur happiness angers someone but as soon as you realise ur own power you’re unstoppable.”

“It can be hard when you’re presenting shows — because you’re like the deliverer of information — not to just get lost in what everyone else wants you to be and still be able to stay true to yourself,” she expands, on finding and refusing to dim her light. “Sometimes in the past I’ve been like, ‘I don’t even know what I’m doing. Who am I? What’s going on?’ And I managed to get myself round that. It’s been an up-and-down-er, but at the moment, I feel unapologetically myself […] I’m just able to come into myself a bit.”

In so many ways, Jama’s power has always been this resilience — a word that has consistently been used to describe her — from the way she has dealt with hardship, to her unfaltering pursuit of her dreams, and resistance to changing who she is no matter how many people try to pick her apart. “Yeah, I definitely think I’m resilient,” she smiles, chuffed. “Sometimes I surprise myself, because there’s been a few times I feel like ‘Oh my god, this is the end of the world’ — and then it’s not the end of the world. And then I’m back.”

Maya Jada wearing red sequin dress

Dress by BOTTEGA VENETA

Maya Jada wearing red sequin dress
Dress by BOTTEGA VENETA
Photography
Bartek Szmigulski
Fashion
Toni-Blaze Ibekwe
Words
Rosie Byers
Hair
Anastasia Stylianou.
Makeup
Letitia
Fashion Assistant
Anastasia Busch.
Nails
Edyta Betka
Special Thanks
The Mandrake Hotel.
MAYA JAMA
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