A former homeless man with a string of criminal convictions raised £30,000 to study at Oxford University after securing the backing of an Oscar-winning director.
Roy Celaire, 31, went to a struggling secondary school in London and was kicked out of the family home as a 17-year-old.
He managed to complete his A-levels, earned a place at Brunel University and completed a Master’s degree at London School of Economics while working full-time.
Roy Celaire, who crowdfunded his place at Oxford University, pictured at his new college
Now he has raised £30,000 to fund a master’s in social anthropology at the prestigious Keble College, Oxford, which he is enrolled in.
The crowdfunding scheme has come under fire after it emerged Celaire was a convicted fraudster.
In 2015, Celaire was found guilty of failing to declare a change in circumstances which affected his housing and council tax payments.
A year later, he was convicted of neglect after a man in his care scalded himself with hot water.
Despite his criminal past, Celaire was backed by Jon Blair CBE, who won an Oscar in 1995 for documentary Anne Frank Remembered and co-created Spitting Image.
Speaking about his childhood in Hackney, Celaire said: ‘I wanted to come to Oxford so desperately. I’m a black man from a council estate, it’s not easy to get here from my background.
‘When I got into Oxford, people said ‘Aren’t you worried you’ll feel out of place?’, but just because I’m poor and black, it doesn’t mean I don’t see myself here.
‘The Holly Street Estate was awful. People were injecting drugs on the stairs, and everything stank of p***.
‘Once, when I was lying down, a mouse crawled over my face. It was real poverty.’
Despite being aware of Celaire’s criminal past, the director said he felt the need to help him
He added that his time in school was fraught with misbehaving children and there was a sense the pupils were ‘expected to fail’.
Celaire said: ‘I was in the top sets, but students would throw things and be so disruptive.
‘You were expected to fail. My teachers would be shocked if they heard I’d made it to Oxford.’
Celaire was speaking about his situation with a colleague while working in Waitrose when Blair overheard his story.
Despite researching his background and finding out about Celaire’s criminal past, the filmmaker felt compelled to help him.
Blair said: ‘I questioned him at length about the circumstances of his convictions but felt that he made some errors of judgement and some mistakes which he truly regretted and didn’t think that this reflected on who he was.
‘My view was and remains that these events were in the past and this young man should be given every opportunity to make a new life for himself by becoming an academic anthropologist as is his dream.’
Celaire was accepted into Oxford in March 2017 but turned to GoFundMe after failing to raise the money needed to enroll.
The sights around Oxford will prove vastly different to his former school, Homerton College of Technology in east London, which was closed due to low attainment and gang activity.
Celaire added: ‘I’m glad I told my story.
‘I wasn’t sure how people would react, and I was almost embarrassed to share where I had come from, but people were so compassionate.
Oxford University said it would have been aware about Celaire’s criminal conviction through the application process
‘I want to show others in my situation that if you want to go to Oxford or Cambridge, don’t think you can’t.’
A spokesperson for Oxford University said declared criminal convictions are considered during the application – with ‘physical harm’ and ‘drug trafficking’ offences particular areas of concern.
The spokesperson said: ‘While you’ll understand we cannot discuss individual cases I can confirm that at the time he would have applied for postgraduate study all applicants were asked about any relevant unspent criminal convictions in their application form.
‘The university would then have considered any declared criminal convictions in line with our procedures.
‘The nature of Roy’s offences as they have been described did not relate to physical harm against the person or drug trafficking, which are the main relevant categories for concern as described in our criminal convictions procedure.’
When asked about ethnic diversity at Oxford University, the spokesperson said: ‘On the question of diversity, I would note that the postgraduate student body is quite diverse: nearly 34% of all postgraduate student come from ethnic minority backgrounds.
‘Oxford is committed to recruiting talented students regardless of background, and also takes seriously its role in supporting students and staff and ensuring a more inclusive institutional culture and curriculum.
‘Students and staff from across the collegiate university are involved in initiatives including curriculum reviews, BME staff mentoring and diversifying Oxford’s iconography.’