Anita Rani: Family roots revealed

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Anita Rani may be donning the sequins in Strictly, but we are also set to see another side to her. Catherine Scott reports.

They say timing is everything and for Anita Rani that is certainly the case,

This former Leeds University student is never far from our screens. She is either wearing wellies in BBC’s Countryfile, investigative reporting the One Show or hosting a cultural quiz on Sky.

Now she is putting on the sequins and pulling on her dancing shoes as a contestant in the latest series of Strictly Come Dancing which starts in earnest this weekend.

Rani is like an excited puppy when she talks about Strictly.

“I just love it,” she says. “I can’t wait. Underneath it all I am a bit of a girlie, despite spending most of my time in wellies, and I can’t wait to learn to dance and put on those amazing costumes.”

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Her excitement is added to by the fact that she landed new professional dancer Russian Gleb Savchenko as a partner. “I couldn’t believed it when I was partnered with Gleb. He has an amazing back ground. He is going to have his work cut out. I love dancing but only the type of dancing you do in clubs, nothing like to you se in Strictly. I was so thrilled to be asked. My mum is the biggest Strictly fan and is over the moon that I will be taking part. I just plan to enjoy every single minute.”

Just days after Anita appears strutting her stuff on Strictly, we see another side to her as she learns some shocking facts about her family, in Who Do You Think You Are?

“It was a real privilege to be asked to be on the show,” says Anita whose mother is Sikh and her father Hindu and grew up in Bradford.

“I was concerned that it might not be very interesting,” She needn’t have worried on that score, as the show takes her to India and Pakistan where her maternal grandfather was caught up in the horrific violence of partition.

“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.”

Anita sets off to find out more about her grandfather, and what happened to his first wife and child. On the way she makes 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.

“I’ve heard so much that I wasn’t expecting to hear on this journey, so much that’s 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. 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.” She says while being a very personal story, during which she became very emotional, the story goes far beyond just her own family.

“I became very attached to his first wife and what happened to her. All the history books are from the male perspective, but I wanted to know about the plight of the women during that brutal period.

“It became so much more than just about me and a part of my family. I started to feel that I was doing something for everyone involved.” She says she wasn’t really prepared for the lasting effect the programme would have on her. “It really changed me,” she admits. “I knew a bit about that period in history, but really only what you can get from books. I was determined not to blub, but on the first day of filming with my mum she started crying. I was overwhelmed by how I felt, and I was shocked by my own reaction.”

Anita says she has always been an independent woman, and now she believes that came from her grandfather.

She worked on local radio in Bradford as a teenager and was usually found there every day after school. 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 at the University of Leeds she got a placement on music programmes The O-zone and Top of the Pops.

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.” From there is has been a story of hard work and lucky breaks. She seems to be able to turn her hand to anything. Now it seems she is trying her hand at dancing, which she admits could be one of her biggest challenges yet. “I have never danced before but I am so excited about learning. I am so proud of support I have got from Yorkshire and all the good wishes from my home.”

* Who Do You Think You Are? BBC 1, Oct 1, 9pm. Strictly Come Dancing starts on Friday, BBC1, 9pm.

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