Anita Rani: Bradford-born presenter on BBC talent search and why city should 'celebrate itself'

Anita Rani is head judge of a new BBC talent search for Bradfordfordians who can report on the City of Culture. She tells John Blow about her love for her home city.

Anita Rani, quite simply, wants Bradfordians to be themselves – and when it comes to broadcasting these days, perhaps they really can be.

“What people wanted from presenters 20 years ago when I was starting out, even, never mind 50 years ago when everybody talked like that” – she does a mickey-take Received Pronunciation – “thank God we've moved on from that because I’d never been working on Radio 4.

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"The game has completely changed and now what people want is authenticity. They want people to be themselves and they want a variety of voices. So I would say don’t change the way you are just for this.”

Anita Rani (centre) presenting Celebrity Fashion on the Kuoni Catwalk at Great Yorkshire Show in 2018. Picture: James Hardisty.Anita Rani (centre) presenting Celebrity Fashion on the Kuoni Catwalk at Great Yorkshire Show in 2018. Picture: James Hardisty.
Anita Rani (centre) presenting Celebrity Fashion on the Kuoni Catwalk at Great Yorkshire Show in 2018. Picture: James Hardisty.

Rani, 46, is offering the advice for specific reasons – she is a head judge of a new BBC talent search to find the next “voice of Bradford” to report on the UK City of Culture 2025.

Alongside the likes of Girls Aloud star Kimberley Walsh and cricketer Jonny Bairstow, who are also both from the West Yorkshire city, she is encouraging the public to record their own 45-second audio or video clips describing what Bradford means to them and why it is such a special place.

More than 1,000 new performances and events are in store during 2025, including 365 artist commissions, a series of major arts festivals as well as national and international collaborations.

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With BBC Radio Leeds being part of the coverage, the channel will pick the New Voices Bradford winner or winners to join its team to help report on the special year alongside presenters such as Rima Ahmed and Gayle Lofthouse.

But it’s not just broadcasters who are invited to apply – the team is also keen to hear from bloggers, influencers, poets, podcasters and anyone who feels they have something to say about Bradford.

That’s not an opportunity that comes around too often, says Rani.

“If you’ve not had any experience, if you’ve not had any contacts, if you have no idea how to get in and don’t have anybody in your life who is already doing it or might open the door for you, it’s nigh on impossible.”

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It’s the sort of chance that Rani – who started presenting radio at 14 on Sunrise Radio – would have loved to take when she was starting her career.

She says: “I would have been the kid glued to my radio, I probably would have been listening to Radio Leeds – I listed to local radio when I was in Bradford, I used to listen to late night radio on my own before going to bed,” she says (and night time phone-ins on Pennine Radio were also a favourite).

"I would have snapped it up, I would have instantly gone, ‘It's me’, and I think at that point, nobody probably would have known that I wanted to be a presenter. I would have just done it in secret and sent it .

“That's what I want to say to people as well – even if you have never mentioned that this is something you'd like to do but you have always harboured a passion for it and know that you might be pretty good at it, or fancy having a go, everyone should just do it. Don’t let anything hold you back is the point I'm trying to make.

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“Somtimes you can get in your own head. ‘Should it be me? Why would it be me? What have I got to offer? Even if I got it would I be able to do it?’. I would say, put all that to one side, all that negative talk-yourself-out-of-it-before-you’ve-even-tried-it. Don't exclude yourself before you've even given it a go.”

Rani’s grandfather settled in Bradford in 1954 in one of the first Indian families in the city. She grew up in Duchy Drive, Heaton, before the family moved to Odsal and went on to study broadcasting at the University of Leeds (from which she has an honorary degree). Now, the broadcaster is known for presenting on the likes of Countryfile, Woman’s Hour and much more.

She based herself in London but maintains that “Bradford was the city that cultured me” – whether that be her Punjabi heritage, the grandiose buildings, exploring its photography museum (now the National Science and Media Museum) or its abundant surrounding nature.

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“You can walk the streets and be inspired by the incredible Victorian architecture and then jump on a train or in a car for 20 minutes and be in the most beautiful West Yorkshire countryside and just be inspired and get some fresh air and get some grass underfoot. So much art and literature had been inspired by that landscape. And the diversity of the city: that's what enriches it, the different communities that live there, and who have turned the cultures that they came with, mixed with that very Yorkshire sensibility, and created something totally unique and brilliant.”

Rani, a supporter of the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, speaks of her pride in Bradford for being recognised as a 'City of Sanctuary' – a welcoming place for people forced to flee their homes.

She is clearly looking forward to next year. “It's an opportunity for the city to really show off. I think people, historically, have always had an opinion about Bradford, often people who have never set foot in the place. It's got an energy and the vibrancy and people who go there for any reason – particularly students, young people who go to the university (of which she is Chancellor) – they absolutely fall in love with it.

"And those of us who have been born and brought up there know what it's about. So it’s a city that has kind of have its ups and downs and now it's time to celebrate itself.”

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Submissions will be open for four weeks before the shortlisted finalists are invited to a finale at Sunbridgewells in Bradford on April 28. Entrants must be 18 or over and submissions have to be received before 11pm on April 7. They must in English, but English doesn’t have to be an entrant’s first language. Visit

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