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Keith Vaz: Passion After Politics

After retiring from Parliament, former MP Keith Vaz has thrown himself into raising awareness of Diabetes – the condition which claimed the life of his beloved mum, Merlyn.

He stepped down in 2019, after 32 years in the role of MP for Leicester East, and is credited with being British Parliament’s longest serving British Asian MP.

Leicester Time: Keith Vaz: Passion After Politics
Picture: Keith Vaz

With a passion for Leicester and politics, he achieved a lot during that time – taking on around 36,000 cases on behalf of the local community.

However, today his most important passion is ‘Silver Star Diabetes,’ the charity he established in 2007 in memory of his late mum. Merlyn died suddenly of Diabetes related complications at the age of just 74.

“She was a local councillor – my inspiration. She was a widow at a very young age, she brought up three children, all of whom became lawyers, two of whom became Members of Parliament. So to me, she was an incredible woman,” explained Mr Vaz.

“When she was diagnosed with Diabetes, I was the Minister for Europe and to be honest I didn’t understand it. I didn’t understand that it was quite wrong for her to be having Insulin and then also eating chocolate quite happily. I knew nothing about Diabetes as an illness. After she died, I thought to myself I must do something in her memory and in order to stop other people going down this path.”

Mr Vaz himself was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes back in 2000. It was a ‘huge wake up call’- a shocking revelation which forced him to make huge changes to his lifestyle – exercising more and making healthier choices when it came to food.

“In Leicester today there are 18,000 Type 2 Diabetics like myself,” he tells Pukaar. “But there’s another 30,000 who actually have Diabetes and simply don’t know about it. These are massive figures that can change if people change their lifestyles.”

To help raise awareness of Diabetes and highlight the importance of getting checked for the disease, the Silver Star charity group runs mobile Diabetes testing units in London, Leicester and overseas.

Leicester Time: Keith Vaz: Passion After Politics
Picture: Keith Vaz

This summer, the charity’s sixth annual Diabetes Awareness Walk will take place in Leicester.

People are being encouraged to get involved by joining in with the challenge, which will see them walk down Melton and Belgrave Road. Over 7,000 has been raised so far.

People can also donate money to the cause by visiting: https://donate.giveasyoulive.com/fundraising/diabetes-awareness-walk-1

“Exercise is so important when it comes to Diabetes. Enjoy your food but make sure you do the exercise, which means that you don’t keep it within your system,” he said.

“Diabetes is The single biggest challenge that we face in the South Asian community, because we like sweets – we like eating and we like eating late.

“It is a silent killer that I feel very passionate about because of what happened to my mum – because of what I have got now and because of what thousands and thousands of South Asians have got too,” he added.

“Silver Star is the most important passion of my life now. I pursue it with vision and passion. It’s something I believe in very strongly and want to dedicate the rest of my life to.”

Keith Vaz’s four top tips for beating Diabetes: 

1) “Stop eating at 9 PM. Start again at 9 or 10 0’clock the next day. That 12 hours makes a huge difference to the way in which your body reacts.” 

2) “Drink a lot of water – 2 litres a day at least to clear out those kidneys.” 

3) “Make sure to eat your vegetables. As a community, we don’t like eating vegetables – we love our Biriani’s and we love our curries, but it’s so important to eat your vegetables too!”

4) “Walk. Finish your meal, get up and just walk around the house. It will make a huge difference. If you do that, you can eat anything you want (within reason). Take the joy but do the work and you’ll feel much better.”