My Yorkshire: Bradford-born writer and actor Kamal Kaan

Writer and actor Kamal Kaan. Picture: Maria Spadafora
Writer and actor Kamal Kaan. Picture: Maria Spadafora
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Kamal Kaan was born in Bradford and studied at the universities of Cambridge and Glasgow. He won a place on the Royal Court’s writers programme and after living away for a few years he is now back in Yorkshire.

What’s your first Yorkshire memory? My first real memory of Yorkshire is when I left. I arrived at King’s College, Cambridge, and thought the stone looks familiar – it’s built from yellow Yorkshire sandstone imported all the way down from Yorkshire in 1446. Wherever I see it now, it always reminds me of home.

Kamal Kaan would like to take Sir Ben Kinglsey to lunch.

Kamal Kaan would like to take Sir Ben Kinglsey to lunch.

What’s your favourite part of the county and why? Of course I’m going to be biased and say Bradford. It’s home and it’s where the heart is. All my sisters got married and live around Bradford and there’s an incredible sense of connection with and between people. It may not have the gloss of the bigger cities, but makes up for it in spirit.

What’s your idea of a perfect weekend/day out in Yorkshire? Waking up in a cabin lodge in Otley, then breakfast at the LS6 cafe in Leeds before a wander around the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, followed by afternoon tea in Castle Howard. I’d catch a show at the beautiful Alhambra theatre in Bradford, followed by a spicy curry at Akbar’s restaurant in Bradford. Finally, I’d watch the sun go down in Whitby, then spend the night staying at my favourite hotel, Swinton Park at Masham.

Do you have a favourite walk, or view? The Cow and Calf Rocks in Ilkley. I love the fact that the place has a whole narrative behind it. The legend says that the Calf was split from the Cow when the giant Rombald was fleeing an enemy and stamped on the rock as he leapt across the valley. There is something incredibly romantic about that view.

Which Yorkshire stage or screen star (past or present) would you like to take for lunch, and why? Sir Ben Kingsley. I almost got to meet him when he was shooting a film whilst I was at Cambridge. The cast were all wearing 
black tie, so my friend Andrew and I borrowed someone’s tuxedo and charmed our way onto the set. We ended up being extras in the film, but I never met the main man.

The Cow and Calf in Ilkley are one of Kamal Kaan's favourite spots in Yorkshire. Picture Tony Johnson.

The Cow and Calf in Ilkley are one of Kamal Kaan's favourite spots in Yorkshire. Picture Tony Johnson.

If you had to name your Yorkshire ‘hidden gem’, what or where would it be? An artwork by James Turrell called Deer Shelter Skyspace at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. You enter into what I can only describe as like a concrete tomb and then you sit down and then you look up to a square aperture cut into the roof. Through this aperture, you get a heightened vision of the sky.

What do you think gives Yorkshire its unique identity? There’s something about horizon lines that you don’t find anywhere else in the country and living in Bradford, you get the most stunning views, looking out over valleys, which fill you with this brilliant sense of wonder and determination. Like its textile history, it certainly is a tapestry of cultures, beliefs and identities.

How do you immerse yourself in Yorkshire’s cultural life? Yorkshire has a fantastic all-you-can-eat buffet of theatres, art galleries, parks and shops. It’s never a disappointment and never leaves you with indigestion after. You’re just left with that full feeling – at the end of a hearty meal.

Do you have a favourite restaurant or pub? There’s a Gujarati vegetarian restaurant called Hansa’s in Leeds. It’s real homemade style and if you go to the kitchen downstairs, you can see the women in the saris cooking the food, which reminds me of my mum.

Do you have a favourite gallery? The Yorkshire Sculpture Park. It’s quite spectacular how they manage to attract such stellar artists as Antony Gormley, Ai Weiwei and Anish Kapoor to exhibit there. The first ever date I went on, we went to the park. It holds so many happy memories – memories that are now great monuments to a love that no longer is...

Do you ever find yourself ‘selling’ Yorkshire to other people? All the time! Most of my friends are in London and I boast about how lovely my life is being in Yorkshire and how clean the air is and how delicious the water is and how cheap the rent is. We’re also certainly well equipped with all the things to nourish the soul.

Who is the Yorkshire man or woman you most admire, and why? David Hockney. An actual legend. He was born two streets from where I live and whenever any of my friends from outside of Yorkshire come to visit, I take them to 61 Steadman Terrace.

How has Yorkshire influenced your work? Everything that I’m working on or have been working on for the past year has been situated/influenced/based in Yorkshire. Recently I wrote a radio ballad for Radio 4 called Whilst the Water Weeps Next to the Water, which was about my father’s migration to Yorkshire and the floods that we encountered in December 2015.

Name your favourite Yorkshire author/artist/performer? Ted Hughes. What a beautiful tragedy of a life: such talent and success underpinned by such loss. I think that the best artists create greatness by dipping the pen into their wounds and turning the wound into masterpieces of art. I was fortunate enough to spend a week at his house in Lumb Bank on a writing course in 2011 and it was then that I believed that I could be a writer and that little old me from Bradford could possibly go out into the world and be a writer and actor.

What are you working on at the moment? I have been writing an afternoon drama for Radio 4 – funnily enough about Bradford – called Breaking up with Bradford, which goes out in the summer. I’m also writing a play for the Bush Theatre in London and I will be appearing in The Chef Show by fellow Bradfordian writer Nick Ahad. It will be opening at the Dukes Theatre in Lancaster and touring Cumbria, Northumberland and Lancashire.

Kamal Kaan’s Headline Ballad Whilst the Water Weeps Next to the Water is available on BBC iPlayer until February 13.