IN a new book written by Bradford-born broadcaster and TV presenter Anita Rani has revealed that for much of her life, she has felt like an outsider, a girl who doesn’t fit in anywhere.

The presenter, who for so long tried to navigate her Asian culture with all its Indian traditions, while trying to blend in with the British world outside her front door, realised she had morphed into what was expected of her.

“It was the expectations of my family, my culture, the community – and on top of that, you step into another world, like school. Maybe I’m just someone who needs to please all the time,” she said. “Within my own culture, there’s a huge weight of expectation, particularly on the girls.”

Writing her memoir, The Right Sort Of Girl, has helped Rani, 43, find her true identity, reclaiming power for herself, she says.

“I had time on my hands in lockdown and it was time to put my story out there as an Asian woman who’s achieved a platform and has a voice. It was really empowering for me writing it.”

She was raised in a gregarious, noisy and hugely hard-working household by first-generation working class Punjabi immigrant parents, who ran a clothing factory and believed in traditional arranged marriages.

There was lots of fighting in the house when she was growing up, in an environment in which women were considered of little value and, over the years, a rage built up inside her, as she endured being called racist names by her white peers, and also by her relatives, because of her perceived proximity to whiteness, the way she spoke, her taste, her white friends.

“In Bradford, in the Eighties, racist slurs were chucked around like tennis balls at Wimbledon,” she writes. She loved wearing Indian clothes but would only do so in Indian situations; she put up with the racist jokes told in her presence by her teenage friends at grammar school. Her parents were paying for her to fit in, but made it clear she had to keep her ethnicity at home.

“People would shout the ‘P’ word at you sometimes from across the street for no reason. You might see it on TV or someone telling a racist joke. I had a thick skin and I didn’t see my colour for a long time.”

When her house became a hotbed of arguing, she self-harmed for a few months during her teenage years.

“The only time I felt I gained some control over my life and felt some kind of release – felt something – was in those moments when I’d sit in my room and cut myself and watch the blood slowly appear from under my skin.

“Growing up was really tough for me. I was straddling lots of worlds, I was straddling class, and there was a weight of expectation that me and my brother were the new hope.

“I wasn’t going to write about my self-harm, but when I started writing about being a teenager, I felt it was a really important thing to share. Sometimes, when you share your own pain, it helps others.”

Although Rani’s mother saw her forearm covered in scabs and scratches, neither of them said anything.

“I don’t think she knew (I was self-harming) – she didn’t know what to say,” Rani said. “Even though cutting myself was a release, it also made me feel great shame.”

Faced with the pressure from home to marry an Indian, Rani couldn’t wait to leave and admits she had secret relationships at Leeds University, where she studied broadcasting, before moving to London to begin her career on a BBC placement, later joining Channel 5 as a presenter.

She had dreams of being the next Oprah Winfrey or Chris Evans.

“They had ownership over their creativity. I used to love watching Oprah and I still do. It’s remarkable what she’s achieved, the way she conducts herself and the way she makes everyone feel at ease.

“I loved Chris Evans in TFI Friday and I also watched The Word, all the edgy, anarchic, subversive shows that were shifting culture forward.”

Ironic then, that she has ended up on Countryfile and Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. “I’m subverting them both,” she says, laughing.

She believes she has had to work harder as an Asian woman to achieve the success she has.

“I was always going to work hard, but now brilliantly, the landscape is changing. Why wouldn’t we want people from different backgrounds on our screens? But 20 years ago, it was very different. Even now, we’re having to push harder.”

She recalls that the last time she heard the ‘P’ word was only a few years ago in a work situation while she was having a social drink with colleagues, who she describes as ‘liberal TV types’.

“In this present-day work situation, as a full-grown adult in my 40s, all I did was awkwardly laugh it off. Why did I do that? I remember feeling pathetic, crushed,” she writes.

Her own response made her question her identity and how weak she was. The book has been cathartic in helping her reflect on her life and who she is now. Does she still feel like an outsider?

“That’s just in my DNA,” she said. “I love being on Woman’s Hour. I’ve finally relaxed. It’s such a huge space, even though I only do it on a Friday. I feel really happy that I’m representing not just women of colour but a whole generation of people who grew up in the Eighties and Nineties and fought for what we want.”

Rani, who appeared in Strictly in 2015, was the first woman in her family not to have an arranged marriage, and for years, saw marriage as a threat to her career.

“It was not for want of the family trying – I just rejected it. There was no decent example of marriage around me. I didn’t really see how marriage was beneficial for women. I have remarkable, powerful women all around me who have just put up with their lot. I wanted independence, choice and control over my own life.”

So, her mother must have been delighted when, by chance, Rani fell for an Indian, Bhupinder Rehal, who also happened to be Punjabi.

“I met the dream Indian son-in-law,” she says wryly.

They met at a warehouse party in Dalston, east London, and a year later, they were married – in the sort of massive Indian wedding in Yorkshire that she’d always kicked back against.

“He’s free-spirited, he’s living his own life, he’d been travelling for a year, he had a big record collection – and we had similar values. I just thought, this is somebody I could build a life with. He’s gorgeous, kind and gentle. He just astounded me, because he was soft, kind and vulnerable, which intrigued me.”

She suffered a miscarriage in 2018 and doesn’t want to discuss that, but there is so much more on her mind. The book ends in her writing a letter to her younger self, in which she tells the young Anita to put her fears to bed.

And it seems she has gone some way to doing that.

The Right Sort Of Girl by Anita Rani is published by Blink. It is priced at £16.99 and is available now.