anita rani challenge

Exclusive: Former Strictly star Anita Rani opened up about her biggest challenge yet

And it's all for a very good cause...

When Anita Rani joined a host of celebrities to climb Mount Kilimanjaro for Comic Relief, she will have a secret weapon in her backpack – "a bottle of chilli sauce", she revealed to HELLO! during an exclusive shoot and interview before the climb. "I don't know what we’re going to get fed on that mountain, but everything tastes better with chilli sauce right? So that’s on my rider." The intrepid BBC Countryfile presenter embarked on the eight-day trek up Africa’s highest peak, which stands at 19,340ft, with Strictly Come Dancing head judge Shirley Ballas, BBC Breakfast's Dan Walker, Pointless host Alexander Armstrong, Little Mix singers Jade Thirlwall and Leigh-Anne Pinnock, former Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, sports pundit and former American football star Osi Umenyiora and Love Island's Dani Dyer.

Anita Rani climbed Mount Kilimanjaro for Comic Relief

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When we spoke to her she was feeling understandably nervous, not least because she only found out ten days before our photoshoot, while on holiday with her husband Bhupi Rehal, that she was going on the trip. "I was sitting in the Maldives on the beach with a piña colada in my hand, checking my email, when I found one saying I had been asked to join the team climbing Kilimanjaro. I was like: 'Hell, yes!' But then I was like: 'Do I put this drink down? Do I finish it?' Let’s just say, training-wise, I’m going to have to do a lot in a week."

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She was "itching to get up there", though, and added: "I think I'm quite adventurous and I love mountains, but I've never done anything like this. Kilimanjaro is quite a feat. That kind of pressure and endurance test I've never done. The last endurance test I did was probably Strictly." There was far more glitz involved when Anita reached the semi-final of the hit BBC series with her dance partner Gleb Savchenko in 2015, and it's through the show that she knows fellow climbers Ed and Shirley. "I hosted the Strictly tour when Ed was on it. He's so charming and has an ability to make everyone feel relaxed. You could be intimidated by someone who's had that level of career at the top end of politics. He's a very, very bright man, but his biggest skill is that he can come to anybody's level. And he's hilarious. He'll be a good energy to have." She said of Shirley, who judged her dancing for the first time when she took part in 2018's Christmas Day special: "What a role model. Honestly, if Shirley is going to do it, I'm just going to be bowing to the Queen. I love watching her on Strictly. She's amazing." As for her own role within the group, she thinks she will be "a big sister to the girls, and a little sister to the boys." She's looking forward to getting to know Jade and  Leigh-Anne, who will be jetting to Tanzania the day after performing at the Brit Awards with their Little Mix bandmates Perrie Edwards and Jesy Nelson. "I'll get them to teach me some dance moves," she laughed.

Anita got in her trek prep whenever she could

Camping in basic conditions with night-time temperatures below freezing, and facing the ever-present risk of altitude sickness, the group will need to be ready for the challenge. Anita was getting in her trek prep whenever she can, even walking to the photoshoot from her East London home. "I've been walking everywhere. Unfortunately there aren't many hills in East London but, look, I'm the sort of person who will always walk up an escalator. I get the tube a lot – that's a lot of escalators. Why stand when you can walk?"

Climbing Kilimanjaro has been on the 41-year-old's bucket list since ban epic three-month backpacking trip around East Africa in 2001. "I was hitchhiking and camping. It is quite unbelievable to think that bmy parents let me do it. I had the most amazing adventure – I went to Zambia, Kenya, Tanzania, over to Zanzibar and Uganda. I didn't get to climb Kilimanjaro. We were on a budget and it was a choice of climbing that or going to Rwanda to  see the gorillas. "Also, Totò's Africa is one of my favourite guilty pleasure songs, so at the moment I've got that playing on repeat in my head." She will be out of contact for the duration of the climb, and while her hectic work schedule often keeps her apart from her husband, who runs a tech company, she says seven days without speaking to him will be tough. "He's amazing. I have moments where I have a wobble and say: 'I'm really nervous, I'm not fit enough.' And he just keeps going: 'If I know anybody who can get up that mountain, even with no training, it’s you.' He’s my rock. He has more belief in me than me sometimes."

Anita got married to Bhupi Rehal ten years ago

The couple tied the knot ten years ago in a traditional Sikh ceremony and are considering renewing their vows this year. "It's only because we had such a big Indian wedding and didn't do anything intimate. But the more we think about it, the more we love the fact we had a big Indian wedding. But ten years needs to be commemorated. Maybe I'll get him to climb a mountain with me. This Kilimanjaro climb could be my training for Everest!"

It’s clear that Anita is dedicated to the Comic Relief cause: "As someone who has travelled binternationally since the age of two, I’ve always been really aware of what poverty in foreign countries is about. What Comic Relief does is open our eyes to how people live across the globe and how imbalanced wealth is on this planet. It doesn't take much effort and not much coming out of our pockets, but it can make so much difference to other people. I am a huge believer in global humanity – we need to look beyond our own borders."

What did she think she would miss about home while she was away? "I have a very good capacity to be able to switch my brain. If I've got a job to do, I get in to job mode and there's no point in thinking about what I’m missing when I've just got to get up a mountain – it's a waste of energy. And the reason why home is so wonderful is that it's there when you've finished the job. So, oh my God, I'm going to make sure my husband has prepared an epic feast of all my favourite foods when I get back – one that doesn't need chilli sauce!"

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