Natalie Kontarsky

Natalie Kontarsky

Natalie began the Cambridge Law degree in 1979. She was part of Fitz’s first intake of women as well as being a student from a school that had never sent anyone to Oxbridge. 

When I applied to Cambridge in 1978 the terms 'social mobility' and 'diversity' were several decades from being used. So it is only in hindsight that I came to realise how I was part of Fitz's extraordinary initiative in reaching out to potential students from less advantaged backgrounds in the late 1970s. I came from a family who had fled persecution in Russia and Poland and so my roots were only lightly planted in the UK. My grandparents had never gone to school and no-one from my family had ever gone to university. I was educated at an all-girls Comprehensive School in North London that had never got anyone in to Oxbridge. So when it was suggested I take the Cambridge Entrance Exam in the fourth term, it seemed so out of my reach that I thought: well, why not just try?

Maybe this was a case of fortunate synchronicity because Fitz were looking for their first intake of women students. I couldn't have been less the Cambridge stereotype, but yet, I think I was somehow a 'Fitz woman' before anyone even knew what that was. I was accepted to read law and matriculated with the other 35 first women undergraduates in 1979. I arrived at Fitz barely 18 years old and I have to say the first term was challenging. Pastoral care was also not a concept then and it was really a case of sink or swim. Somehow, I decided to swim and embrace this extraordinary opportunity. Everything that followed in my life from then flowed from being at Fitz. I found my feet and my voice. I was one of the first women voted on to the JCR and was on the committee for the first-ever Fitz Ball. I was Chair of the ball committee in my second year. I rowed in Fitz's first-ever women's eight. 

I think the role Fitz played in my story was to show me that whatever your background, it is in your power to carve out the life you want. That confidence started at Fitz and has grown over my life. I am now the Legal and Business Affairs Director of the world's foremost publisher on the visual arts. I would never have achieved this without Fitz believing in that 17 year old and giving her the chance to come to Cambridge.