The Thursday Interview: Keranjeet Kaur Virdee

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The 54-year-old is the founder of Leeds-based South Asian Arts-UK, which promotes Asian culture. She tells Neil Hudson about growing up in Africa and why her first impression of Leeds was a frosty one

What is your earliest memory?

I was born in January 1961 in Kitale, Kenya, which was then still under British rule. My first memory is of being in a nursery which had a huge tree in the centre of a big green outdoor play area. There used to be the main building and then a series of tents and when it rained, we all had to run into the tents and put our wellies on. When we lived in Africa, our house was big, with three bedrooms and about a quarter of an acre of land.

When my mother and father decided to move to the UK after Kenya gained independence, when we arrived at Leeds-Bradford Airport, it was snowing and we just had flimsy pretty dresses on. We weren’t prepared for that at all.

What happened when you got to the UK?

I grew up in Leeds from the age of about six or seven, we lived in a back-to-back in Beeston, I went to St Matthew’s and Roundhay School, Jacob Kramer Art College and then studied fashion and design at Manchester. After that I went to live in Ilford, London for 13 years and that’s where I had my two children. We moved back to Leeds to be near my parents in 1997 and I took on an administration job before gaining a job with what was then the Leeds Centre for Indian Music and Dance.

What does SAA-UK do?

We run all kinds of events throughout the year promoting South Asian art and culture. We have a production of Sleeping Beauty planned at West Yorkshire Playhouse on July 23, telling the story through traditional Indian dance. In April, we will be hosting a live Indian folk evening courtesy of Chapel FM in East Leeds and on March 8 (International Women’s Day), we are proud to be hosting Roopa Panesar at Leeds College of Music. We have lots of other events throughout the year.

If you had to flee your burning house, what objects would you save?

I am a Sikh by religion. It would be a painting of the first guru, Gura Nanak, not because he’s the first guru but because it was given to me by my aunt as part of my wedding present and it’s very precious.

When did you last have a drink and why?

I don’t drink but I do like mocktails and the last time I had one of those was at Bundobust just before Christmas.

If you could have a super power, what would it be?

I would like to have the ‘beam me up’ superpower, so I could get from A to B straight away.

What is your pet hate?

Things which are not put back in their place. I like things to be orderly.

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