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“UCL is such an inspiring place, and London is one of the best cities in the world.” – Isabelle Kumar, journalist and anchor of Euronews Tonight

An image of Isabelle Kumar

23 April 2021

Isabelle Kumar (MA French & Theory of Literature, 1994) is a Londoner who relocated to France. She’s spent 17 years as a journalist and anchor for Euronews Tonight, the flagship programme of the pan-European TV news network. She’s also held a number of roles at CNN. And she founded Autisme: Ambition Avenir, an autism school that is hoping to change the model of education in France. For someone who spends her life breaking stories, she also has a good one of her own.

Isabelle's time at UCL in the early nineties marked a turning point and was significant for personal reasons too. She was born opposite at University College Hospital and had always felt drawn to the university. Her time at UCL gave her the confidence to embark on the next very important chapter that shaped her life.

“I found certain aspects of the MA difficult but my professor, Michael Worton, believed in me. I worked really hard and got a distinction, the only person in my year to do so. It taught me that hard work and believing in yourself pays off.”

After graduating, determined to forge a meaningful career, Isabelle was at a crossroads when she learned of CNN’s internship programme. “I entered journalism by chance,” she says. “I met someone from CNN. He told me about their internship scheme and it sounded amazing. I called and wrote to them every week for about six months until I got a place. I basically wore them down!”

Isabelle embraced everything CNN threw at her. “Interns were given real work, researching, going on shoots and helping anchors,” she says. “I taught myself to edit too. It was after the death of Princess Diana – I compiled all the library tapes. Because of that I got my first freelance work at CNN.”

Alongside this, Isabelle started producing shows for Associated Press and Reuters. And by the time she decided to move on from this stage of her career, she was producing a programme for CNN called Inside Europe.

Isabelle’s relocation to France in 2003 was initially motivated by her family. Her son was very sick and she found the hospital care her family needed there. She also found work as a journalist for Lyon-based Euronews, quickly making a splash.

“My first big interview was Pakistan's former President Pervez Musharraf. There were theories at the time that he was hiding Osama bin Laden. My first question was 'where is Osama bin Laden?’. Musharraf obviously did not tell me, but Euronews liked my chutzpah!”

Having turned heads with her forthright style, Isabelle presented several programmes - her personal favourite was The Global Conversation - before switching to anchoring work on Euronews Tonight, a role she loves. “It is incredibly demanding but rewarding,” she says. “My favourite part is covering breaking news events, like the storming of Capitol Hill. You have no time to prepare and have to think on your feet. Thomas Gift, UCL Associate Professor of Political Science, is one of our regular contributors. He came to the rescue that night!”

Outside of her professional life, Isabelle is a passionate champion of autism reform in France. In 2014, she set up Autisme: Ambition Avenir. The school aims to develop a model which gives people with autism a real place in society. Isabelle says: “France is one of the worst countries in the developed world when it comes to autism care. As well as being physically unwell we realised our eldest son had autism, and at age 14 we were told there were no schools for him. So I set one up.”

Looking back at her journey, Isabelle is proud of what she’s achieved so far, and it’s clear to see how moving to mainland Europe has changed her life. She believes that UCL graduates all have the opportunity to make their own fortunes, wherever they’re from and wherever they want to go. She says: “Be ambitious, versatile, humble and kind. All jobs are valuable so try to find enjoyment in whatever you do.”