Anita Rani: 'I really wanted to study drama, but my wonderful Indian parents were having none of it.'

Boudicca Fox-Leonard
Anita feels much more content in her identity as an adult - Andrew Crowley

We asked the television presenter, 40, what her younger self would make of her today...

As a child I was part of two very different worlds. At home we ate curry, I was bilingual and would visit family in India, but my school in Bradford was very white, and the two sides of my life never collided. As an adult, I feel much more content in my identity. When you’re a kid you just want to fit in with everyone; now I feel at one with who I am.

I was lucky to have amazing parents who were quite open-minded. My personality was quite forceful from the day I was born. If there were barriers, I was very good at battling them. Even today, I’m very outspoken about equality. I will make my voice heard if I think there’s an injustice happening.

I never remember being told to shush as a child. My parents always engaged me and my younger brother in conversation at the dinner table. We were told to go for it, that if you want to achieve something you can work hard for it. It wasn’t something I was simply told, but something I witnessed. My parents worked hard [they ran a clothing factory; and her mother later became an interpreter at a hospital]. Most children of migrant families see their parents working hard: it becomes embedded in your DNA.

Anita Rani as a child

I really wanted to study drama, but my wonderful Indian parents were having none of it. They thought I was going to do law. So we reached a nice, happy medium where I studied broadcasting at the University of Leeds. From the age of 14 I worked at my local radio station. I did student radio at university and got my first job in telly quickly after that. It was always my passion.

As a teen in the grunge era I was into Nirvana and Pearl Jam. With my black nails and purple Dr Martens I would have been mortified by the idea of appearing on Strictly Come Dancing.

Anita Rani

My 20s were the most fun. I moved to London like Dick Whittington and had this unbridled energy. I got my first break presenting Party in the Park on Channel 5.

My younger self probably wouldn’t recognise me now. I didn’t own a lipstick until I got my first TV presenting job; I was very low-maintenance.

As a teen in the grunge era I was into Nirvana and Pearl Jam. With my black nails and purple Dr Martens I would have been mortified by the idea of appearing on Strictly Come Dancing. I was a bit too cool for school; I’m much more fun now.

Clothes are a huge and stressful part of being a female presenter – it’s not the same for men. I’ve not always got it right, and I’ll probably get it wrong still, but I’m more confident now. In my 20s I was always in jeans and trainers. I had this idea that wearing tight clothes and lipstick was frivolous. Now when I meet old friends they can’t believe how glamorous I look. I really enjoy clothes; I want to be a glamorous 80-year-old.

Doing Strictly changed my life and made me realise I have a platform and a voice. If I’m out filming Countryfile, Asian people come up to me give me a hug and say: “Finally there’s someone representing.” That’s when you take a step back and think: “Yeah, I’m the only woman from my background doing this.” I do think it’s important British people see an Asian woman traipsing around the countryside.

Anita reached the semi-final of Strictly Come Dancing in 2015 Credit: Ray Burmiston /BBC

When I was a child, Dad was always bundling us into a car at weekends and going off around Yorkshire so we could run about outdoors. I loved the adventure, although I didn’t like being woken early in the morning. That’s so ingrained in my system now with work that I can’t shake it.

Having turned 40 I’ve spent a lot of time recently thinking about ageing. While there’s nothing we can do about getting older, you can choose to be youthful. It has dawned on me that I’m not the young generation any more, though. Many of today’s 20-year-olds at university now are fourth-generation black, Asian and minority ethnic, whose parents were born and brought up in this country, and whose communities are part of the landscape. This is Britain now.

In the future I want to do lots more telly. Last year I co-produced my BBC programme on Partition (My Family, Partition and Me). I’m at the stage where I want to use where I am to do some interesting things, and if Asian women think I’m a role model, then that’s all right by me.