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Into the blue

She is one of television’s most sought after presenters and now Anita Rani is taking on a big screen challenge as she goes on tour with Blue Planet II.

T here’s an easy way to make Anita Rani jealous. Simply tell her you’re looking out across Ilkley Moor and with a decent pair of trainers could be standing on top of the Cow and Calf in less than half an hour.

“I am totally envious,” laughs the presenter, who grew up in Bradford. “When I tell people where I am from all they imagine is this great industrial skyline. I spend half my life telling people that Bradford is surrounded by beautiful countryside.

“When I was a kid, we would spend most weekends as a family on Ilkley Moor. If I am ever filming nearby I’ll always make a detour, it’s a special place for us.” 

While still fiercely proud of her roots, Rani has come a long way from those early years in West Yorkshire. After studying broadcast journalism at Leeds University, she headed to London determined to be where the most work was.

It was a smart move. Rani’s determination has seen her become a presenter on both the One Show and Countryfile, but she also knows that to achieve longevity in television it pays to be a jack of all trades. Just take the last 12 months.

In between her regular presenting gigs, she also found time to make a documentary behind the scenes of the Bollywood film industry and was part of the team covering the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Oh, and the 40 year old has also just launched her own podcast and was recently was named as the host of the new Blue Planet II – Live in Concert Tour

“That happened like all dream jobs happen,” she says of the latter. “I got a phone call, they asked if I was interested, I said yes, it really was as simple as that.”

The live tour, which takes in Leeds and Sheffield, will see the original footage projected onto a giant screen with a live orchestra playing as that now infamous tusk fish breaks clams against the corals. Like pretty much the entire nation, Rani says she was glued to both Blue Planet series.

“It was watercooler television. After it was on, the next day you could hear people saying, ‘How beautiful were those clown fish?’ My own personal favourite were the dolphins caught on camera surfing apparently just for fun.

“Every David Attenborough series is fascinating, but Blue Planet II was a game changer. It brought the damage which is being done to our seas right into our living rooms and it really empowered ordinary people to want to make a difference.

“That’s why the tour is such an exciting proposition. You get to see it all again, but this time with the addition of an 80-piece orchestra playing Hans Zimmer’s original score which is a work of art in its own right.”

While Rani will be centre stage during each performance, it’s not, she insists, an attempt to step into Attenborough’s shoes.

“Who could? They would be foolish to even try. He’s a national treasure and in a league of his own. My role is to host the evening and it feels like being invited into a really special extended family.”

While Rani has a personal love of the series, having spent three years working on Countryfile she also has a professional admiration for the Blue Planet team. 

“Both Countryfile and the BBC’s Natural History Unit work out of BBC Bristol. The nature of Countryfile means that we have one day to film each segment and it has to go ahead whatever the weather. I’ve been out there in the fog and the rain and there’s a running joke at times like that, where one of the production team will turn to me and say, ‘You know how long the Natural History guys would get to do this? Three months. And what do we get? Twelve hours’.

The quick turnaround of Countryfile is just how Rani likes it. It means she has time for other things, including  launching her own podcast. It’s called It’s Anita Rani, but the focus is more on the people she interviews. They come from all walks of life, but all share one thing in common – achieving the extraordinary.

Among the initial interviewees, there’s Dwayne Fields who escaped gang violence in inner-city London to become the first black Briton to walk to the North Pole and a Syrian refugee who arrived in Britain with nothing and despite being initially turned down from university is now studying
aero-nautical engineering.

“What I’m good at is telling stories. I know what it’s like to feel like the other. I’ve been the northern girl down south, the Asian woman in a largely white male industry and what I really want is for people to listen to the podcast and feel uplifted and inspired.” 

It’s that same belief that anything is possible which means Rani rarely says no to the opportunities which come her way. This year, that meant taking to the catwalk for the first time, albeit in front of a home crowd at this year’s Great Yorkshire Show.

“I often find myself in situations thinking, ‘How on earth did I get here?’ and that was the most ridiculous, wonderful thing.”

It was the same question she asked when she was in front of the judges in the 2015 series of Strictly Come Dancing. While she didn’t carry off the Glitterball Trophy she came a creditable fourth, not bad for someone who hadn’t even had ballet lessons as a child.

“Strictly was both terrifying and life-changing, but it’s lovely to watch it as a fan again. I loved watching Danny John Jules, mainly because I am a big Red Dwarf fan and my mum loved Dr Ranj, but then who doesn’t!”

Christmas will be a family affair for Rani, her husband Bhupi and the rest of the clan and as for New Year’s resolutions she has just one – to bring her parents, but particularly her Dad, back to Yorkshire.

“They moved down to London to be closer to me and my brother. They love it, Dad says it’s like being on one long holiday, but he does miss Yorkshire. They were supposed to come see me at the Great Yorkshire Show, but Dad broke his foot. He was gutted, as he keeps telling me no one has a sense of humour like a Yorkshireman.”

Blue Planet II – Live Tour, Leeds First Direct Arena, March 19th; Sheffield FlyDSA Arena, March 28th.

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