Forthcoming TV awards will see her receive Fellowship in person…
MEERA SYAL has identified the moment that made her want to go into showbusiness.
The successful actor (pictured above), screenwriter and novelist, is to receive a prestigious Bafta TV Fellowship award at the Bafta TV Awards on Sunday, May 14, it was announced.
Syal – in a video interview with Bafta (see link below), ahead of the presentation, and the mentoring duties that come with her Fellowship – also says that the network of support from other Asian and black creatives had helped her career and was important in shaping her professional success in the absence of formal support or mentoring.
At the end of the interview, and getting a little emotional, she says: “I’ve never stopped feeling lucky.”
Earlier in the interview, she tells Bafta how she was taken to see the pantomime, ‘Dick Whittington’ at the age of six, with her local Wolverhampton mining village Sunday School – and was selected from the audience to pat an imaginary dog.
She described the lights being on her and the audience watching as “magical” nnd it got her hooked on storytelling.
Asked about earliest her creative work, she says that before the pantomime, she had created a drama, loosely based on ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and one of her male schoolfriends had to kiss her at the end.
“He went off to Australia,” she joked, intimating that the experience sent him as far away as possible.
She also describes her first professional acting job on the long-running ITV serial cop drama, ‘The Bill’ and how she went in her own clothes and make-up.
Her favourite TV role she remembered was Granny Kumar in the BBC chat-show sitcom, ‘The Kumars at No 42’.
The show was fronted by Sanjeev Bhasker, her husband – who on the show was ‘Sanjeev’, divorced but still living at home and interviewing star guests on his sofa with his family – and granny Kumar in attendance. She told Bafta she improvised a lot and loved doing that.
Syal says she also loved meeting the guests – and name checked Hollywood stars, Alan Alda, Cybil Shepherd and Richard E Grant.
But most memorably of all, she met and got to sit close to her childhood idol – American singer Donny Osmond who along with his brothers, The Osmonds, were a hugely popular band in the 1970s.
“I had a poster of him on my bedroom wall and I thought I was going to marry him,” she confides with Bafta.
By the time Osmond came on the show he was already married and had children, while Syal herself was falling for her co-star Bhaskar and married him in 2006 after her divorce from journalist Shekhar Bhatia some years earlier. Syal has two adult children, one from each marriage.
In the Youtube interview, she talks about how she never had a mentor – and one of the few obligations a Fellowship requires, is that you offer mentoring to young creatives.
“I never had a mentor, you never know if you made the right decision, I didn’t go to drama school, I learnt on the job,” she told Bafta.
She says she was excited by the mentoring role the Fellowship now conferred.
“There’s a place for everyone here but you have to sing your own song and tell your own story and then what we (Bafta mentors) do is give them the infrastructure and confidence to know that your story matters.”
In the official release about the Fellowship, Syal says: “I am thrilled and honoured to be the recipient of the Bafta Fellowship. I am particularly delighted that this year’s award is twinned with opportunities to mentor and support participants in Bafta’s learning programme – where I hope to engage with many talented practitioners and continue working to make Bafta a truly representative and celebratory place for all our creatives. And I am grateful for the chance to pay forward the opportunities and experiences I have been lucky enough to have over my career.”
Jane Millichip Bafta CEO says: “Meera Syal has made an extraordinary impact on the screen and literary arts. As an actor and writer, she is an exceptional storyteller with enormous range, which means she is loved by peers and the public as much as she is critically acclaimed. At Bafta, we very much look forward to working with Meera over the next year on her mentoring scheme.”
Syal’s best known TV work is ‘Goodness Gracious Me’ (1998-2001) and ‘The Kumars at No. 42’ (2001-6). She has published three novels, ‘Anita and Me’ (1996), ‘Life isn’t all ha hee hee’ (1999) and ‘The House of Hidden Mothers’ (2015) . The two oldest have been adapted for the screen by herself and she has appeared in numerous TV dramas, including the much acclaimed marriage story, ‘The Split’ (2018-22) and co-wrote (with Gurinder Chadha) one of the earliest big screen films, centred around a group of Asian women, ‘Bhaji on the Beach’ (1993).
Main picture: Meera Syal by ©Rachell Smith/Bafta
The Bafta TV Awards with P&O Cruises will be broadcast on BBC 1 at 7pm, on Sunday, May 14.