Bradford-born Anita Rani is Countryfile’s newest recruit. Catherine Scott discovers the presenter’s Yorkshire upbringing means she’s no stranger to the great outdoors.
Anita Rani seems to be able to turn her hand to just about anything.
The 37-year-old television presenter is as happy hosting highbrow culture shows for Sky Arts as she is tramping through farmers’ fields for BBC Countryfile or presenting live coverage of the Royal Wedding.
It is this chameleon-like ability to adapt to any situation which has allowed her to avoid being pigeonholed and seen her career skyrocket in recent years.
It is eight years since I last interviewed this petite woman from Bradford. She had just landed the job presenting the Cricket Show, another string to her very long and full bow, was doing a host of other jobs, was partying hard and life was looking good for the then 28-year-old.
She was living life at breakneck speed, loving everything she was doing, but also hankering after a bit more stability.
Fast forward eight years and Rani is the same ambitious and savvy woman I interviewed in 2006, but she is now married, has bought a house in Hackney and has slowed down somewhat on the partying.
“I am more likely to throw a select dinner party and talk about things like good builders, than go clubbing,” she laughs.
But her career has not slowed down; on the contrary she is much in demand, with most of the major channels fighting over her. So much has she impressed those in the higher echelons of broadcasting that she is now approached about presenting their shows, rather than having her agent put her up for jobs.
“I do feel very fortunate,” she says. “But I also believe hard work pays off, and I work very hard. Luck favours the brave.”
The work ethic was drilled into Rani from an early age but this is coupled with a desire to enjoy what she does, whether it is presenting a hard-hitting documentary on the growth of obesity in India’s children to live coverage of the Royal Wedding in 2011 for the BBC.
Born and brought up in Bradford, she didn’t have the upbringing that many Asian girls of her age had.
“My parents are pretty liberal,” says Rani.“They encouraged me to be independent, individual and follow my dreams.”
Rani’s mother is Sikh and her father Hindu, but she says he is also a staunch Yorkshireman.
“My dad is first and foremost a Yorkshireman and is very proud of the fact – as am I. In fact I fear I have become a bit of a Yorkshire bore. Growing up, we spent our weekends on Ilkley Moor or going on adventures. That’s one of the reasons I was so excited to be asked to join Countryfile, although I haven’t been anywhere near Yorkshire yet.”
Rani was recruited to Countryfile this summer, making her the newest member of the Sunday night show team.
“I am really enjoying it,” says the woman who presented Watchdog alongside Anne Robinson – although rumour had it that Robinson refused to be filmed next to the svelte Rani for fear of looking fat.
Next month Rani will be seen without her wellies, this time hosting Sky Arts’ new The Great Culture Quiz which brings two teams of arts professionals from different British organisations together in a head-to-head battle to test their knowledge of the arts, and their own institutions. Each heat sees organisations – from the British Museum, the Royal Court Theatre and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra to Handel House Museum, the Bach Choir and the National Ballet of Ireland amongst others – answer a broad range of arts questions across a number of round.
“It’s quite a highbrow culture quiz,” says Rani, who is in her element. Her late uncle was the celebrated artist Govinder Nazran who tragically died in 2008 in Bradford.
While studying in Leeds and working on Leeds Student Radio, Rani had a part-time job at West Yorkshire Playhouse.
“I worked in the box office which meant that I got in to see all the plays for free – I loved it.”
Rani inherited a love of acting from her mother, Lakhbir, and although she had a brief spell with Bradford Theatre Royal, she decided that acting wasn’t the career for her.
Instead she decided to turn to her other love, broadcasting.
She’d worked on local radio in Bradford as a teenager and was usually found there every day after school working for free because she loved it.
Her first experience of television was on Bradford Festival TV during the annual cultural festival in the city and she was hooked, enrolling on a four-year broadcasting degree at Leeds.
As part of her degree she got a placement on music programmes The O-zone and Top of the Pops. Music is another of her varied passions and she has also been a regular face of major events for Channel Five, including Spring Break Live, Party in the Park and Pop City Live. It’s not surprising she jumped at the chance to present The Great Culture Quiz, although she says she is glad to be asking the questions rather than answering them
“The teams are experts in their fields and I have really had to brush up on my Italian and French as some of the pronunciations are quite a challenge.”
Upon graduating from Leeds, Rani knew that she had to leave her beloved Yorkshire behind and move to London where all the movers and shakers in the broadcasting industry were based.
“I remember being at uni in Leeds and having a discussion with other people on my course who were saying they didn’t think they could go to London. There was never any doubt in my mind, I was going to London.”
And once there she quite quickly made an impression on the people who mattered, something which doesn’t seem to be a problem for this determined young woman.
Her interests are wide and this is reflected in the variety of programmes Anita has worked on – from BBC 2’s Four Wheels series looking at the impact of the motor industry in China, Russia and India through to the BBC 1 documentary Make Me White, investigating skin lightening within the Asian community.
She has fronted a number of films for the This World strand for BBC2, tackling issues from obesity in children in India (India’s Supersize Kids) though to decreasing birth rates in Japan (No Sex Please, We’re Japanese) and rising population in the Philippines (World’s Busiest Maternity Ward).
Live TV is an area that excites Rani and in 2012 she co-presented the groundbreaking Foxes Live for Channel Four.
In 2011 she landed the sought-after role of presenting the Royal Wedding coverage for BBC1, broadcasting live to millions worldwide. She was given a prime spot outside the Goring Hotel where Kate and the rest of the Middleton clan were staying and from where she left to go to Westminster Abbey.
Does she worry that being so diverse could lead to her being seen as a jack of all trades but master of none?
“It suits me to be that way,” she says frankly. “At school I was the kind of kid who would be in the hockey team, the netball team and the school play. We are all multifaceted.”
She also isn’t afraid to speak her mind. During the recent debate about Scottish Independence, Rani was one of 200 public figures who were signatories to a letter to the Guardian opposing it.
“I am not political with a capital P,” she says, “but I do have views and I am not afraid to share them. I felt quite passionate about the Scotland vote. I made the comparison with the partition of India. People of the same culture and language being divided. I just didn’t think it should happen.”
So what does the future hold for Rani’s career? “In terms of TV I still feel like I am just starting out. I know I am doing really great programmes but in my mind I’m still just starting. There are so many things I want to do: write a book, write a screenplay, so much.”
It is hard to see where she will get the time to do these things as well as juggling filming The Great Culture Quiz, Countryfile, and Escape to the Continent. But if anyone can do it Rani can.
• The Great Culture Quiz, Sky Arts from Monday December 1, weekdays at 7pm.