Committed quizzer, Adil Ray just realised a childhood ambition by hosting a hit new TV gameshow. Lingo proved so successful, another series is on the way. And despite lockdown, Adil tells David Johns that Citizen Khan is also set to return – this time as a film!
Presenting Good Morning Britain, hosting a new hit game show, instigating a campaign to encourage Covid vaccination among the BAME community. All in a week’s work for Adil Ray. Oh, and we almost forgot, plans well advanced to bring his famous alter ego, Citizen Khan, to the silver screen.
If the pandemic has driven most of us into enforced exile, the comedian, actor, presenter and writer could be said to have stepped up a gear or three – while of course fully observing all the lockdown rules. It feels like Adil’s been on our screens more than ever, in large part due to the ITV gameshow Lingo, which aired in January and February and proved such a success in attracting nearly two million viewers that a new series has now been commissioned.
“I grew up watching game shows and quizzes,” said Adil. “So, I’d always wanted to do a gameshow, and I remember saying to my agent a couple of years ago, God, I’d really like to have a go at doing this. So, we met a number of broadcasters and production companies to see what they had in development and we came to this one called Lingo, quite recently actually and it happened really really quickly. And it’s just a brilliant experience. I always thought in my head that there are two things I would love. One, to do a quiz show that would allow me to have a bit of fun and secondly, didn’t have any quiz questions. And this is it. It’s just so simple to play along.”
EVEN LASSIE CAN PLAY IT
The premise of Lingo couldn’t be simpler with a grid, a letter and then guess the word. “The kids can play it, the parents can play it, the grandparents can play it – even the dog can play it! Well, maybe not the dog, unless it’s Lassie. Lassie could probably play it,” said Adil.
With most of the nation at home because of lockdown, more of us than ever have been watching TV and Adil is more than aware that we could all do with some escapism and fun in our lives. Of his own experience during the pandemic he says: “You know it’s been tricky for everyone hasn’t it. It’s been so difficult for so many people. We all need reminding that there are people much worse off than we are. Those people who have lost close ones, loved ones, who have not been able to attend funerals. People who were struggling already financially with jobs and family problems. People in other parts of the world that don’t have the NHS like we have. Before the pandemic we were pointing fingers at minorities and we were dividing ourselves as a society and maybe this is one thing that can bring us together.”
PUSHING THE JAB
Like most of us, Adil found not being able to see family and friends the toughest part. Not real sacrifices, he says, but hard nonetheless. “The big thing is to learn to connect with yourself a little bit more. For instance, I got to spend time in my garden and doing some gardening and that kind of thing. It’s really important to be able to reconnect with yourself. I’ve been doing a bit more cooking at home, so I’ve tried to embrace it a bit.”
With Covid vaccines now available, Adil has been leading a big push to get Britain’s ethnic minority communities to have the jab. Research shows a greater reluctance among the BAME community to have vaccinations, so Adil led a new video campaign to encourage take-up of the coronavirusvaccine. Adil was joined by the likes of presenter Konnie Huq, London mayor Sadiq Khan and cricketer Moeen Ali in the five-minute clip which was broadcast across TV channels and on Twitter entitled, If You Could Save Someone’s Life.
COOKING UP A STORM
Adil says the pandemic has really focussed his mind on his own well-being. “It has definitely made me think to look after myself more physically and mentally. I don’t think I will ever stop trying to chase work, it’s a bit of thing, it keeps me going, keeps me sane to a certain extent. That will never stop, trying to work, trying to write something, trying to act, trying to present. Alongside that I’ve got to concentrate more on my health and wellbeing, watch what I eat. I started running last year and I want to keep that going – it’s slight harder in the cold winter months!”
One way Adil finds to relax and unwind is to get in the kitchen. “I absolutely love cooking,” he says, “but not in a competitive way! I don’t think I could ever do Celebrity Bakeoff or Masterchef. Never say never, if they pay well and I’m looking for work, who knows in years to come…
“I find cooking therapeutic and calming. A few times over lockdown I’ve Zoomed friends and we’ve shared curry recipes. That’s just brilliant.”
Born and raised in Yardley and having started his career with the BBC Asian Network, Adil has always been proud of his home city. He says: “I live in the ’burbs of Birmingham now, so I don’t get into the city centre so much but I’m aware of all the plans for the city’s redevelopment and they look fantastic. The big question is what will survive the pandemic? What’s the state of the economy going to be? Are some of the restaurants going to survive? Are some of the big companies that are going to move to Birmingham still going to do that? We are just going to have to wait and see.
PROUD OF BRUM
“I think Birmingham just needs to continue to be proud of itself and not over-compete with other cities. Just be Birmingham. I know that there’s a financial requirement that cities have to redefine themselves but let’s hope we can hold on to our identity, our culture and all the things that make Birmingham very unique.”
He adds: “The city’s arts and culture scene is really important and I think there’s a real worry that as we go through a recession and economic downturn, things like arts and culture can be the services that are worst affected when really they should be the ones that are promoted the most in many ways. They are the ones that allow people to tell their stories, to create narratives and represent communities and groups that need attention. And there are people’s livelihoods at stake.
“There are people in Birmingham who do great things. I am taking on an ambassadorial role for Create Central (the West Midlands trade body set up to help the region’s film, TV and games industries) which I was involved in from its inception. It’s really important we support creative industries, support story-telling in the region and help everyone achieve their goals.”
CALLING OUT RACISM
Adil also continues to be at the forefront of calling out racism having spoken about the abuse he has suffered both as a child growing up and as an adult and the online trolling suffered by BAME presenters on TV. He says he believes there are some promising signs in fighting the abuse.
“I think we are definitely becoming more open as a society to discussing things which is absolutely the fundamental but there’s two things here. First, I think that the problem with the racism debate is that unfortunately we are in a situation where certain media personalities or media companies are desperate for an audience, whether that’s in print, online, on radio or even on television. So, they allow certain controversies and certain theories and views and opinions to be aired and allow polarisation which is a real problem. That needs to be addressed.
“Also, the issue of racism, can’t be one for black people to deal with. It can’t be one for brown people to deal with. It has to be something for white society to deal with and address because if we want real equality you can’t have black people and people of colour fighting race and talking about race for the rest of their lives because that in itself is discrimination. We need black people to be politicians, to be working in commerce, to be creators, to be finding the next vaccine or to be finding the next ground-breaking invention. We don’t need them holding placards and fighting for black lives matter for the rest of their lives because that surely is not what we’re trying to do. That has to come from non-black people. The change has to come from there. And that is what I think we’re still waiting to see in a wider general way.”
CITIZEN KHAN RETURNS
Turning back to entertainment, what is coming according to Adil is more Citizen Khan. “Citizen Khan is dear to me and I know to a lot of people in Birmingham, and we are working very hard to try and turn it into a film,” he says. “It’s tricky at the moment because of the film industry and cinemas finances but we are confident we will get there.
“Hopefully a Citizen Khan film, partly set in Birmingham with Mr Khan going on a bit of a journey – I don’t want to give too much away at this point – could be really fun!”