TV’s Radzi Chinyanganya talks levelling up, jumping out of planes, writing and his beloved Wolverhampton to Shelley Carter
Radzi Chinyanganya’s CV is a scorcher featuring BBC stalwarts Songs of Praise and Blue Peter alongside a nail-biting run on Ninja Warrior UK, presenting at both the winter and summer Olympics, the US Open and the World Snooker Championships. With a children’s book set to launch in January, he can now add author to the bulging list of achievements.
Radzi’s book, Move Like a Lion, is aimed loosely at children aged six to 11 years and encourages youngsters to move in a way that’s non-competitive and imaginative. As a sporty child, Radzi used his prowess to make friends – he went to seven different schools and moved house six times, so he had a lot of experience of fitting in.
He says: “I used sport as a way of communicating. If I could make it to break time, I could show people I wasn’t bad at most games and use it to make friends. Meeting children through Blue Peter made me realise that’s just not the case for everybody. Sport can exclude as much as include and there are some children that dread PE.”
ARE YOU A PRESENTER YET?
Move Like a Lion features exercises modelled on the natural movements of animals which lets children explore life in the animal kingdom while getting the heart pumping. There are no motivations in terms of how exercise makes you look, it’s all about enjoying the experience. Radzi says: “Rather than an end goal, it encourages children to look at the flowers along the way.” Having never written a book, he approached DK to get their view and they loved it. Due out in January, it’s something that Radzi is proud of.
Before getting into TV, Radzi studied economics which didn’t fill him with joy and he knew he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life doing it. People would come up to him on a weekly basis in the street and at the gym and ask him if he was a presenter. He’d help out in his mum’s dance school for certain events where one of her friends would ask the same question. “She’d say, ‘Radzi are you a presenter yet?’ which I found slightly annoying because deep down I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
In November 2010, Radzi bit the bullet, made a show reel with a camera at university and spent every day e-mailing people and arranging meetings. He did a lot of work for free at various events like the Olympics and Paralympics as well as interning at shopping channel, QVC. Radzi remembers: “I earned just enough interning to pay the train fare, hostel and food.” He also did a stint on Big Brother, was a mascot twice, commentated on netball and volleyball and worked at CBBC for free.
Then came his big break when he was asked to do a screen test for Wild on CBBC which involved having a giant Gambian pouch rat perched on his head. Radzi is petrified of two things – sharks and rats, but he hid the fear and got the job. The Blue Peter gig followed soon after which was Radzi’s dream growing up. He said: “If you asked 10-year-old Radzi what he wanted to be when he grew up the answer would have been Blue Peter presenter. Whether you’re nine, 19 or 90, you know Blue Peter and it just makes people smile.”
The experiences Radzi enjoyed through Blue Peter are varied and in some cases breath-taking, like his exhibition routine at the World Gymnastics Championships with a giddy Beth Tweddle and Matt Baker looking on and throwing himself out of a plane with the RAF Falcons, but it’s the small moments that please him most. He explains: “When a child comes up to me in the street and says I’ve grown my hair because of you that’s special. It was such a privilege. Bucket list just doesn’t do it justice.”
Long term, Radzi wants to contribute to making societal change, particularly in education, and is an advocate of levelling up. “My mother was and is implicitly supportive, but it’s not the case for everyone. I’d love to see a re-imagining of the education system where the glass ceiling is removed. Seventy-five per cent of the country’s Prime Ministers have come from one school where tuition fees are greater than 50 per cent of the population’s salary. That’s a sad indictment.”
He adds: “There needs to be more emphasis on life skills in schools – cooking, paying bills, interview skills – things that help you flourish. Pupils need a grasp on the world we live in to thrive.” Radzi appeared on Question Time alongside the likes of Ken Clarke which was a bit daunting. He says: “I’d just landed from covering the Pyongyang winter Olympics when I got the call. I watch Question Time every week and always feel that it’s a shame no one looks like me, so I had to do it.”
BLOKE WITH A MICROPHONE
When Covid-19 hit and lockdown became a reality, like lots of people Radzi lost work – he was supposed to be in Tokyo covering the Olympics as well as the World Indoor Athletics Championships and the London Marathon, but he’s fairly philosophical about it. “My mum’s worked in the NHS for 40 years and I’m acutely aware of the challenges, so really, who gives a monkey’s about a bloke with a microphone?”
Radzi moved back to Wolverhampton to be with his mum during lockdown. He says: “I shoehorn two things into every interview, Wolverhampton and my supportive mum. I love being from the Midlands. Would it have been more convenient for a career in TV if I had parents with a six-bed house in Kensington? Yes, but growing up in Wolverhampton has shaped me and therefore laid the foundations, so I’m grateful. People don’t tend to shout about Wolverhampton, but I love it.”