Who is Anita Rani?
Anita Rani is everywhere. From fronting documentaries to hosting daytime TV, jumping into a pair of muddy wellies to throwing herself into energetic dance routines on a Saturday night, it’s hard to turn on the TV without seeing her.
Anita on Countryfile
But from the long and rapidly expanding list of her small screen appearances, there's one that stands head and shoulders above the rest: Countryfile.
Countryfile is watched by more than nine million viewers. “Incredible, isn’t it?” says a wide-eyed Anita. “Everywhere I go, people ask me about it. I think we’re going through a time when we’re very aware of heritage and Britishness. It’s the same reason why Bake Off does so well.
“There’s something very reassuring about a programme that is warm and cosy and safe. And something, too, that celebrates this green and pleasant land. We live on a beautiful island that has so much to offer. Also, it goes out at seven o’clock on a Sunday evening, a perfect slot. People know that no one’s going to shout at them from the screen. We’re all there to let the individual stories gently unfold.''
Where is she from?
Despite finding fame on Countryfile, Anita is actually a city slicker. “What’s interesting,” she says, “is that I’m an urbanista, brought up in Bradford, now living in East London. I’m different from the other presenters, all of whom come from a more rural background.” But she loves getting involved in stories that take her out of her usual comfort zone.
Ask her to nominate some of her favourites and she doesn’t hesitate. “I loved the one about the Tamworth pig farmers. It was about two young brothers from the North Cotswolds who reared a pig and eventually took a sample of the meat to a local restaurant. It went down so well that the owner asked them to supply more and so their business grew to a point where they now run the largest Tamworth pig farm in the country.”
- Countryfile's Adam Henson tells us about his farm life.
Working on Countryfile since 2015, she says, has really opened her eyes to the natural world around her.
“It wasn’t until I got involved with the programme that I became aware of just how much wildlife there is to be seen on these shores. From my kitchen window in London, for instance, I often see foxes and squirrels and all sorts of birds like plump wood pigeons and our very own robin. Last summer, we seemed infested with slugs.
“There’s a lot of talk these days about mindfulness but actually, if you just sit and watch the wildlife around you, in the city or the country, you can achieve the same level of calm contemplation. Trust me, I come from a culture that has been practising meditation for centuries so I know what I’m talking about.”
Anita always knew, she says, even when she was young, that her future wasn’t going to be in Bradford where she was born and raised. The daughter of Punjabi immigrants, she was ambitious for as long as she can remember. “But then my parents have always seen life in a wider sense, without blinkers.” Her mother, Lakhbir, but everyone calls her Lucky, helped start a business manufacturing jackets with her husband, Bal, and then began doing bits and pieces on the local Asian radio station, Sunrise, in Bradford.
At 14, Anita went along with Lucky one day. “And, before long, I found myself sitting in a studio, a microphone in front of me, hosting a kids’ show.” That continued throughout her school career to a point when, picking a university degree, she chose to do broadcasting at Leeds. She’s barely paused for breath since.
Anita on Strictly Come Dancing
She’s loved everything she’s tackled, she says, but Strictly is inevitably one of the jewels in her crown.
“It was so fabulous because it was pure, unabashed entertainment.” And now she’s getting another bite of the cherry, having been asked to host the UK Strictly tour which begins in Birmingham on January 20. “I love that I’m going to be back in that Strictly bubble. I can’t wait to taste a bit of glamour again. I get to wear lashes and big hair. I insist on wearing nail varnish, lipstick and eyeliner on Countryfile but it pales into insignificance compared with my get-up on Strictly.”
The Royal Wedding
Anita helped to cover William and Kate's wedding back in 2011, and got an early look at Kate's dress before she left for Westminster Abbey.
My Family, Partition and Me: India 1947
Earlier this year Anita presented a two-part BBC1 documentary to mark the 70th anniversary of the Partition. She and her family returned to the small village in Pakistan where her grandfather once lived. She also spoke to three other Indian families about their experiences.
Anita's family history
As well as Strictly and Countryfile, you might recognise Anita from her appearance on Who Do You Think You Are? Back in 2015 she investigated the life of her grandfather Sant Singh. She also won the first series of the BBC Great Sport Relief Bake Off in 2012.
Anita has just celebrated her 39th birthday. She’s happily married to husband Bhupi and the pair live in Hackney, London. Do she and her husband ever talk about starting a family? “Of course,” she says. “I was 32 when I got married and that’s very late for an Indian. My career is going great guns. But I’m healthy and in my head I’m 25. A lot of people these days have kids in their 40s. We’ll see.” She smiles her sunny smile. “It’ll all work out. I’m an optimist. To be honest, I don’t think there’s any point in being any other way. ‘Seize the day’ may be a cliché but that,” says the unquenchable Anita Rani, “doesn’t make it any the less true.”
- Words and interview by Richard Barber
- For Strictly tour tickets call 0844 875 8758 or visit www.strictlycomedancinglive.com
- Countryfile is aired on Sunday evenings on BBC1