This is a text-only version of an article first published on Monday, 10 June 2013. Information shown on this page may no longer be current.
Nicola Blackwood MP tells Jo Duckles about her Christian faith and how it influenced her journey as she unexpectedly swapped a world of music for the House of Commons.
Nicola Blackwood, MP for Oxford West and Abingdon Nicola, who was born in Johannesburg, but has lived in the UK since she was two-months-old, grew up in a Christian family and church and faith have always been part of her life.
She took time out from a busy schedule in her constituency (Oxford West and Abingdon) to visit Diocesan Church House and tell her story over a coffee.
"My mother particularly is a very strong Christian.
Wherever we moved to we went to different churches.
We read all of the different Bible stories in picture books before we knew any other books," says Nicola. The daughter of a medical doctor and a nurse (her father is still teaching medical students at the John Radcliffe Hospital) Nicola was brought up with an ethos of giving to others and putting them first. Her father might suddenly leave the dinner table because of a medical emergency, or would spend Christmas Day dressed as Santa giving out presents on a hospital ward.
"It was only when I got older I realised this wasn't normal for many other people and was based on loving your neighbour as yourself. "Nicola was given a flute aged six.
No one in her family can remember why it was a flute, but she soon got hooked on music, later learning to sing and play the piano.
At 14 she began studying at the Trinity School of Music on a Saturday, practising for four hours every day, on top of her normal school work. "I was going to be an opera singer or flautist.
I was completely dedicated, practising for four hours a day. "She studied music at Oxford and Cambridge and it was during a gap year volunteering with aid projects she found herself advising the Conservatives.
It was then that she first found herself delving into a political world she felt she knew little about. "My mother is South African and we always used to take toys, clothes and school supplies to Africa.
There was always an aid element to our family," says Nicola, who has since volunteered in Mozambique, Rwanda and Bangladesh and has also helped run social action projects in Birmingham, Blackpool and Manchester. Her experience made her perfectly suited to her role as parliamentary researcher for Andrew Mitchell MP, the then Secretary of State for International Development, before she decided to take the plunge to run for parliament herself.
"I was frustrated as an adviser because frankly, it felt like no one ever takes your advice. "She was surprised when she won her home seat from Liberal Democrat Dr Evan Harris in 2010, aged 30.
Nicola was immediately appointed Vice-Chairman of the Conservative Party for Social Action.
It's an area that's remained close to her heart as she chairs an All Party Parliamentary Group for Women, Peace and Security, looking at preventing sexual violence in conflict situations, working closey with Department for International Development (DFiD) and The Foriegn and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and looking at issues including the protection of women in Syrian Refugee Camps which will be central to the deliberations at the G8 in June.
She has been involved in her party's Human Rights Commission, which was set up to find ways for the UK to combat human rights abuses in places like Burma and the Democratic Republic of Congo. As a woman in Parliament these days, she does not find she encounters prejudice for her gender, but she does find people look down on her age.
"You are asked to vote on the NHS, immigration, pensions, education etc and even if you were 85 you could not be an expert on all of that. It's not age an MP needs but judgement, a bit of humility to seek good advice and integrity to not be swayed. "'There are Christians in every party and no party has a claim to righteousness. 'She does not find being a Christian a disadvantage.
"There are Christians in every party and no party has a claim to righteousness.
There are more Christians in Parliament proportionally than in the population at large.
We have prayers every morning and it is the one moment in the day when you are not on camera and what you say is not going to be taken down and used against you.
We have chaplains and there are resources for people of all faiths. " She says the experience of the gay marriage debate left MPs on both sides of the argument feeling besieged and personally attacked. "There has been some aggressive lobbying that left me feeling we need to think through how we engage with politics as a Church," she says. Nicola is 33 and worships at St Aldate's, Oxford. In her spare time she is a Governor at a special school and a Domestic Violence Champion.