Zoah on her fairground background: Michael Derringer

By most modern standards, Zoah’s life is enviably exotic and intriguing. Born into a family of travelling showmen, her family have been working on the fairgrounds since the late 1800s.

She grew up in a caravan and spent her summers travelling with the fairground, often finding herself working at the Jesus May Ball fireworks.

Now she has achieved her childhood ambition to be “on the other side of the fence”, in her first year studying History at Murray Edwards.

Zoah’s start was far removed from the selective world of Cambridge academia: she was the first member of her community to apply to university. “A lot of people didn’t really get the gist of it.”

“Cambridge was the only university people had heard of, but a lot of people didn’t understand that the application process was selective – they assumed that you could just walk in. But this wasn’t to do with ignorance, it’s just because it’s not really part of our world. People were interested as it was something new and exciting.”

Despite this, Zoah believes that her background has helped her since she’s been at Cambridge, “I think it’s made me very bolshie and self-confident,” she laughs.

“You have to be when you’re running a business. I think a lot of working class people can feel out of their depth coming to Cambridge, but I didn’t have that problem, I’ll talk to anyone.”

She also believes that her background has helped to influence her choice to take a degree in History.

“Some of my favourite childhood memories are of sitting on my Granddad’s knee, with him telling me stories. There’s a lot of sense of heritage and tradition in our community and that’s definitely influenced me.”

However, Zoah does not see herself staying in the family business after graduation. “I’d like to branch out. I mean, we’ve been doing this for 200 years!” she said. “I see myself doing something different, maybe journalism – yes that’s a hint, Varsity!

“But I know this will always be a part of me, and will always be there for me to go back to – it’s not just a business, it’s part of who I am.”

Since arriving at Cambridge, Zoah says she’s been surprised by the amount of attention her story has attracted. On Wednesday she appeared on BBC Radio 4: “People have been very interested, and I find it a bit bizarre. Back at home everyone just knew me as that girl who vanished for six months every year with the weird hair.

“People come up to me and say: ‘Oh I hear you’re that girl who’s from the funfair.’ And it’s weird because to me it’s perfectly normal. I’m not a one-off; there’s a lot more of us than you think.”

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