Countryfile presenter Anita Rani has revealed that the Duchess of Sussex is on her wish list to be a guest on the programme. "She's an incredible, very cool, stylish woman," told HELLO! in August 2018. "I also love her for declaring she’s a feminist. It would be great to have her – and Kate [the Duchess of Cambridge] – on Countryfile and get an insight into their countryside. They’d be a dream to interview." Speaking about her love of royals, she added: "On top of that, it was amazing to see how much love Harry has for Meghan. His openness in showing emotion is a testament to his mum, Diana.
"When I was talking about her to my husband Bhupi, he told me he'd had a crush on Diana since the age of three when she visited his nursery and he sat on her lap. We don’t have a photo; if anyone out there can provide one I'd love to see it." The presenter continued: "Diana was the first radical member of the royal family; the first to hug and show affection in public and, as a radical member of my own family, you bring a certain energy." Anita, 40, who grew up in Bradford speaking English and Punjabi, opened up about her heritage and how her Indian parents supported her ambitions. "My parents encouraged me to follow my dreams," she explained. "I was – and still am – outspoken, confident, and focused on what I want to do. The best advice was from my mum, who told me to let nothing hold me back – and never to tread on people to get to where I wanted."
Anita Rani would love to meet Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle
Anita has been a presenter on Countryfile since 2015, and among the six million viewers are some distinguished fans: the Prince of Wales, who guest-edited its 25th- birthday edition, and his mother the Queen. With her lifelong passion for animals and the countryside, Her Majesty recently gave an unprecedented royal seal of approval to the programme - whose hosts include John Craven, Adam Henson, Charlotte Smith, Tom Heap, Matt Baker and Ellie Harrison - by granting access to her country residences, Balmoral, Sandringham and Windsor Castle, to mark the 65th anniversary of her Coronation.
"My favourite part of our royal specials," said Anita, "was retracing the Queen's family holidays in the Highlands. The landscape is breathtaking, the rivers are crystal clear and you can walk in total seclusion for miles. It’s absolutely magical. You can see why a family that could go anywhere in the world would pick Scotland.” Anita met the Queen last year at the Young Leaders Awards at Buckingham Palace. "She was disarmingly down-to-earth. We shook hands and talked about Countryfile. I have nothing but admiration for her."
The daughter of Indian immigrants, Anita grew up in Bradford speaking both English and Punjabi. But unlike her parents, whose (very happy) marriage was arranged, she became the first woman in her family to choose her own partner and path in life. "My parents encouraged me to follow my dreams," she revealed. "I was – and still am – outspoken, confident and focused on what I want to do. The best advice was from my mum, who told me to let nothing hold me back – and never to tread on people to get to where I wanted. "As a girl I wasn't interested in marriage or boys, just in making something of myself. At weddings my Indian aunties would try to matchmaker – so I stopped going to weddings." She added: "Mum told me I could marry who I liked – as long as he was Indian. I'm the first woman in my family to choose my own husband. I married the man I fell in love with, who just happens to be Indian."
Inside Anita's gorgeous home
Anita, who studied broadcasting at Leeds University, met Bhupi Rehal, who runs a tech company, through mutual friends, and tied the knot in a traditional Sikh ceremony. "I was 30, which for an Indian girl is so past it," she laughed. "Two days later, I presented Watchdog." If there's one thing that irks Anita, it's the suggestion that presenting a show about the British countryside is somehow incongruous for a British Asian woman. "It surprises me because where I lived as a child was surrounded by beautiful countryside," she shared. "My parents would take me and my younger brother for picnics to the Yorkshire Dales, the Lake District and Ilkley Moor. I loved being outside, the feeling of driving down country lanes to the middle of nowhere."
"It's important as someone from the North, from a city, from an Asian background, to have a presence in a programme like Countryfile," she added. "There's an irony to people thinking that ethnic minorities going into the countryside is strange. My dad’s family is part of a farming community, with wheat fields and tractors, just like the places we visit on the show. But I genuinely think people who watch Countryfile just see me, not the colour of my skin."
Anita had never really experienced blatant racism until recently. "I'd just posted a picture on Instagram of the thousands of anti-Trump protesters marching in London," she said. "Then this guy wrote to me: 'Why don't you go and live in another country?' No one had ever said such a thing to me before and it really hurt. I never replied. I'm deeply proud of being from Yorkshire, of being British and of my ethnicity. How little have we evolved if in 2018 we still can't get beyond the colour of someone's skin?"
With the scandal of workplace inequality and the gender pay gap – the top 12 earners at the BBC are all men – being a hot topic, Anita said she welcomes a change in direction. "It's wonderfully empowering to hear women and people of colour finally being able to speak out about inequality,” she revealed. "Our experiences and chances haven’t been the same for generations. It's time we all accepted that and worked towards redressing the balance. Pay should be equal."
Proving the world really is her oyster, Anita recently visited India – where she has travelled frequently since she was a child – to make a two- part documentary, Bollywood: The World's Biggest Film Industry, and she has just launched a podcast, It's Anita Rani, including interviews with the first black British man to walk to the North Pole and a young Syrian girl who became a refugee after being forced to flee her home. Anita’s own traumatic story was unveiled in an episode of Who Do You Think You Are?. She discovered that her maternal grandfather’s first wife and child are thought to have died during the violence of the Partition of India in 1947.
"This brutal revelation changed my life," said Anita, who went on to make the BBC documentary, My Family, Partition and Me. "When I heard that men were killing their own wives and daughters so they wouldn’t be murdered or raped or taken, I cried tears from a place deep inside. It happened 70 years ago, yet I never learnt about it in history at school. I'm campaigning for a commemoration day and for it to be on the curriculum in British history. I’m smashing glass ceilings and won’t take no for an answer."
Like this story? Sign up to our newsletter to get other stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.