Big interview: Anita Rani, from Countryfile to the catwalk

Anita Rani. PIC: BBC
Anita Rani. PIC: BBC
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It seems there isn’t much that Anita Rani can’t do, be it dancing, presenting or cooking. Now she is set to take to both the catwalk and the cookery theatre at the Great Yorkshire Show. Catherine Scott meets her.

Anita Rani is very much like a chameleon – she adapts to whatever situation she finds herself in, be it presenting the recent Royal Wedding, to strutting her stuff in Strictly or donning wellies 
on Countryfile.

And her forthcoming appearance at the Great Yorkshire Show will be no different by the sounds of it.

“I will be on the catwalk in the fashion show but I am also doing some cooking in the cookery theatre, although I have absolutely no idea what I will be cooking. I am just looking forward to being there.”

Despite presenting BBC Countryfile since 2015, Rani, 40, has never been to the Great Yorkshire Show.

“I have been to other agricultural shows as part of my job with Countryfile but I am so excited to be coming to the Great Yorkshire Show for the first time. In fact I am bringing my entire family with me.”

Bradford-born Rani is a self-proclaimed ‘urbanista’ having grown up in the city, but she says it is her father’s love of walking and the countryside that rubbed of on her and gave her a passion for more rural pursuits when not at home in London.

“My dad is first and foremost a Yorkshireman and is very proud of the fact. We had fish and chips every Friday and spent our weekends on Ilkely Moor or going on adventures. They gave me a real appreciation of ‘God’s own country’.”

She recently convinced her parents to move south to be closer to Rani and her brother.

“My dad misses Bradford and Yorkshire terribly which is why I am bringing them to the Great Yorkshire Show.”

Rani’s mother is from India, and she always had aspirations to be an actress, so it is no surprise that her daughter inherited this desire. Although acting turned out not to be for her, despite a spell with Bradford Theatre Royal, Rani has made a success of her other loves, broadcasting and cricket. At the age of 15 she joined the local radio station in Bradford where her mum, Lakhbir, worked. After a four-year broadcasting degree course she moved to London with the full support of her family.

“I tried to work in Leeds but if you are serious about broadcasting, you have to be in London, so I moved.”

A huge variety of television and radio work has followed since from presenting the Cricket Show to making hard hitting documentaries and of course Strictly and Countryfile.

Her thespian inclinations may also go some way to explaining her love of appearing in BBC One’s Strictly Come Dancing in 2015 where she made the semi-final, having never even danced before.

“I just loved everything about Strictly, even the sequins. I was already presenting Countryfile at the time and people were used to seeing me in my wellies, so it was nice to put a sparkly dress on and perform.” She enjoyed it so much that not only did she do the live tour with partner Gleb Savchenko, the following year she presented the tour.

“I thoroughly enjoyed the live tour, but I think two years is enough.”

Rani, who is married to Bhupi Rehal, believes in working hard and playing hard and takes after her mother in her positivity for life. She seems to live life at 100 miles an hour, and doesn’t seem to believe in saying no, although she says she has drawn the line at any more reality TV show appearances.

She had a stint presenting This Morning with James Martin, as well as Watchdog. There doesn’t see to be much she can’t turn her hand to.

It was during filming for Who Do You Think You Are? that Rani discovered something about her family that she never knew. Her maternal grandfather was caught up in the violent Partition of India and Pakistan.

“My mum absolutely idolised her father. I never met him. I know that he was married before he married my Nan and that his wife and child died, but nobody’s got clear answers about how that happened.”

Rani went to India and Pakistan to learn more about her grandfather, and what happened to his first wife and child. She made some shocking and unexpected discoveries about the appalling violence that was unleashed during Partition – when India was divided to create modern-day Pakistan in 1947.

“It really shocked me to the core. My grandfather lost his entire family in Partition, he had nobody, he had no mother, no father, no wife. He lost two children, he was totally alone. I’m not surprised my grandfather didn’t talk about his life before he married my grandmother. No wonder that generation just didn’t talk about it. How can you? Where do you even start? But now that I have got this knowledge, now that I have learnt what I have learnt I have to talk to his children about it. They need to know.” The programme led to Rani making a two-part documentary for the BBC My Family, Partition and Me: India 1947.

At the end of last year she was back in India, this time making a documentary about Bollywood and its place in a modern India. She even joined the cast of one of the films being made in Mumbai.

“It was so exciting and I loved every minute.”

It will be interesting to see how she copes on the catwalk as she says modelling isn’t something she is used to.

“I am looking forward to the catwalk and wearing some lovely clothes from John Lewis, although I am very nervous about it,” says Rani who is an ambassador for sponsors Kuoni.

Food is another is another of her passions. She took part in and won BBC’s Great Sport Relief Bake Off in 2012.

“For me cooking is a fundamental of life and I find it really sad that some people can’t cook. I also find it a brilliant way to relax,” although it is hard to imagine Rani ever really relaxing.

“I love the variety of the work I do, but essentially it is the same job. I know I have been doing this quite a long time but it is still like I am just starting out in many ways.”