Anita Rani: “Don’t Worry About Making Other People Happy”

TV presenter Anita Rani chats to Vicky Warrell about lockdown, her love of winter and how she faces life’s challenges

Having watched her on Countryfile for the past five years, it’s great to speak to Anita Rani over the phone, with her warm Yorkshire vowels floating down the line. As well as presenting Countryfile, which allows her to indulge her love of the countryside by travelling the length and breadth of the UK, Anita is also a Strictly Come Dancing alumnus, impressively reaching the semi-final in 2015, and appeared on this year’s Celebrity Gogglebox with her dad. I caught up with the South Asian Heritage Month co-founder to discuss her passion for cooking (if you follow her on Instagram @itsanitarani, you’ll already know about this – she shares her recipes with her followers using #ranisrecipes), why the countryside is so fundamental to her wellbeing and her collaboration with ethical shoe brand Taschka.

Lockdown is the strangest thing that’s ever happened in our world… It was a little bit scary, but we adapted; humans are amazing at adapting. Like everyone, I got on with it and actually got quite into it. I live in a really nice green part of London and enjoyed going on lovely long walks and exploring my area, and we even went on a long bike ride through central London at the height of lockdown when nobody was out, so my husband and I jumped on our bikes and went all around London to experience that. I did tons of cooking on Instagram, which went down really well, and quite a lot of drinking wine as well [she laughs].

Cooking is the ultimate destresser… Being in my kitchen, with the radio on, listening to either music or Radio 4, depending what time of day it is, and creating something absolutely delicious that I can then dive into. It sounds kind of mad, doesn’t it? For a lot of people, cooking is quite a stressful thing to do after a long day, but I love walking in, dumping my stuff and getting straight into the kitchen and cooking something. Just like exercise, what we put into us is also so important for how we function. I associate food with comfort, wellbeing and passion. It’s also to do with being aware of nature and the effort and the miracle of vegetables growing. It’s amazing! Through lockdown, we grew veggies, really basic ones, but they were the tastiest I’ve ever had! They’re full of vitamins and nutrients, Mother Nature gives us everything, everything is provided on Earth. It’s really basic to then cook and eat it, and if you can share it with people you love and put a smile on their face because they’ve eaten something amazing that’s also good for them – it’s magic. I love cooking for friends and family, I’ve grown up around food and it’s a huge part of my life and my culture. I love eating junk as well, not regularly, but I’m married to my husband, who’s Mr Junk Food King, but the pleasure I get from cooking is just something else, and that’s why I like to share it as well.

South Asian Heritage Month [18th July- 17th August 2020] started off the back of my partition programme that I made for the BBC [My Family, Partition and Me: India 1947]… I told a big piece of British and Indian history, and I realised that there is so little known about that part of the world and it felt like we need to celebrate who we are. We’ve got a big south Asian community in Britain and, as one of the few women from a south Asian background on the TV, doing the sorts of programmes that I do, I think it’s really important to champion celebrating who the south Asian community are in the UK, not just our history but who we are in Britain, and I think the more we talk about who we are and the more we understand about each other’s cultures, the better it is.

The countryside is fundamental to my mental health… I grew up in a city, and I live in a city now, but as we only live on a tiny island, it doesn’t take long to drive out to the countryside. Certainly in Bradford, where I grew up, within 15-20 minutes, I was in the countryside, and we used to go every weekend to play around in the moors and get that sense of space and openness, and see a horizon and not see any concrete. I think it’s really good for your mental health. It’s good to get away from work, and destress by going for long walks and seeing nature. It’s in all us, going back however many generations, none of us were born in a city, we’re all from a field somewhere and I think that’s never left us.

Health and wellbeing is everything, isn’t it? I think we know that without health, it’s nothing. Health is the most important thing; to have your health, and to look after yourself in every aspect is fundamental, whether that’s a good beauty regime if that’s your thing, or exercise, eating well or looking after your mental health. Holistic living is what I’m all about, and we all need to think about that because whether you’ve got children that you want to live for, or just for yourself, I think we all need to look after ourselves. That’s true now more than ever, especially when we’re living in a terrifying time when we don’t know what we could catch – looking after yourself is the most important thing, I think.

I think exercise is part of life… I’ve always seen our bodies as a machine, as a physical thing that needs to be moved, and so if I don’t exercise for a while, I’m really aware of it. I’ve hardly done any exercise this week, so I’ve already decided that tomorrow morning I’m going to get up and go for a nice long run. I like to run, because it’s quite solitary and I like doing things by myself, and I can get into my head and have little meetings with myself when I’m running, or I can listen to music, or I can be in nature and look at the trees, I love seeing the seasons change so being outdoors is really good for that. I even love running in the rain. I like doing a bit of yoga, although I am missing yoga classes, and skipping is something I’ve got into during lockdown. A good old fashioned skipping rope is so good for you!

Beauty is really important to me… I grew up with a mother who is obsessed with face packs – even to this day when I visit her, the first thing she’ll say is “I’ve just made a face pack, come on, put it on, put it on!” and I won’t even have a choice! It’s all natural stuff, I use a lot of natural products that are in my fridge that feel very good, like yoghurt, lemon is a good astringent, honey is really good for your skin, but it can be a bit sticky, aloe vera is really good, cucumbers for the eyes, I love all of that. Otherwise, an all-round healthy lifestyle is probably the best thing you can do for your skin – this is making me sound like I live really healthily, but I do love a glass of wine as well!

I’ve had quite a few challenges in life, and I’ve just gone for them… Moving to London from Yorkshire at a really young age was a challenge, but you don’t really think of it as a challenge if you’re so determined to do something you get on with it, so it’s more of an adventure than a challenge. I always like to push myself; I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, which was physically and mentally tough. Talking about my miscarriage was a huge challenge, but actually I find when you face a challenge, own it, tackle it and embrace it, it makes things much easier. So I’m not afraid of trials, but there’s been a few. Living in a pandemic is a challenge, isn’t it? That’s the biggest test for everybody right now.

My advice to my younger self would be to not worry about making other people happy… I think we’re so concerned about what other people think and it’s such a waste of time. Don’t worry about fitting in and making other people happy. You should only make yourself happy and be comfortable in who you are, and focus on you rather than what everyone else expects of you. It’s easier said than done, but that would be my advice to my younger self. Sod other people’s expectations!

I’m an ambassador for a water charity called Frank [frankwater.com]… There are a lot of people on the planet who don’t have access to clean water, and it impacts every single aspect of their life, particularly the lives of women and young girls because they’re the ones who go and collect water. It takes hours out of their days and it’s incredibly dangerous, so I’m a real promoter and supporter of this incredible little charity. So, when they asked me if I wanted to do a collaboration with a British shoe company called Taschka (taschka.co.uk), also run by a woman, it felt like a really obvious collaboration because I love trainers, but also I’m a big supporter of clothes that are made thoughtfully, and have a bit of effort put into them. I’m a big supporter of small business, and ethical brands, so it was the perfect fit really. Frank has also worked with lots of ethical brands making clothes and there is one particular item that I love, which is a dressing gown made by a company called Naked Generation (nakedgeneration.co.uk). It’s absolutely gorgeous, it’s block printed in India and it’s my favourite thing.

I do different things for Christmas every year… My family are pretty cool about Christmas, so my husband and I go away a lot. Last year we were in India, one year we were in Vietnam – there’s a lot to be said for drinking a pina colada on the beach on Christmas Day! Obviously this year we won’t be going anywhere, and we’ve got a puppy now, so it depends on what the rules are. When I am at home for Christmas, I go all-out. I think because we didn’t really celebrate Christmas when we were kids, we never had decorations or a tree, I now go bananas and I make my house a magical fairy tale Christmas house. I think Christmas is a really magical time of year, and this year more than ever I’m going to make the most of it. I make the same resolutions every year but I’m rubbish at keeping them! I bought myself an upright piano, and I want to learn to play it. I say it every year, but maybe 2021 is the year that I get creative.

Quickfire questions

Where’s your favourite place to visit?

“I love Yorkshire because I grew up there. It’s a huge county with the Dales, the North York moors and the beautiful coast. I love anything dramatic like the Northumberland coastline and Dartmoor because it’s wild.”

Have you been grateful for anything this year, despite the pandemic?

“I think what the pandemic has shown is just how privileged some of us are, so I’m grateful for my health. I’m grateful to have my family nearby, grateful to have had a roof over my head, and very aware of the privilege of my life.”

What’s your favourite outdoor activity?

“Walking; it’s so easy. You don’t have to live in the countryside to go for a walk, I think we all realised during lockdown that lots of us are cooped up in our homes, but you can enjoy the simple pleasure of going for a walk. Even if it’s cold, just put some layers and gloves on and get out there. It completely changes your day.”

What was it like going on Celebrity Gogglebox with your dad?

“Brilliant! I’ve spent my life shouting at the TV with my dad, so it was great to be able to do it. It was also nice to spend that time with my dad, and thankfully there was nothing too embarrassing that I had to watch with him. I wouldn’t have known what to do if we’d had to watch Naked Attraction! That would have been mortifying.”

What do you love about winter?

“Wrapping up warm, getting out my jumpers, wearing baggy clothes and loads of layers, going for lovely long walks and getting the fire on!”

Health & Wellbeing