Bear Grylls’ Island

Bear Grylls’ Island

Published in The Times, 2016

It’s day three of my stay on a desert island in the Pacific, and as it rains ceaselessly in London and temperatures hit zero, I am lying under a tree on a bright white beach alongside two young women who have quickly become friends, watching the Moon shimmering over the surface of the sea and listening to the crashing of waves and the chirruping of exotic wildlife. Sound like paradise? Well, not quite.

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Race in 21st Century Britain

Race in 21st Century Britain

Published in The Times Magazine 2015

Standing in Wolverhampton bus station on our final day of school in 1995, my best friend James Lockley and I made a deal: neither of us would ever willingly choose to set foot on a West Midlands bus ever again. We’d each taken four a day, to and back from school, for seven years, dodging muggings, fights, accidents and fires in the process, while fellow pupils from less rough parts of town were picked up by parents in Mercedes and Range Rovers, and we’d had enough.

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Plantations

Plantations

Published in The Times, 2014

I arrived in New Orleans a week before the start of Mardi Gras, the annual carnival period associated with parades, balls, and, somewhat bizarrely for a pseudo-religious event, scenes of young women exposing their breasts in public. However, I didn’t hang around for any of the partying. Instead, after a grim night in a bleak airport hotel, I set off on a 500 mile round trip tour of former slave plantations across the Deep South.

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Samuel L. Jackson

Samuel L. Jackson

Published in The Times, 2014

There’s an awkward moment, for me at least, near the beginning of my meeting with Samuel L. Jackson in a hotel bar in Atlanta, Georgia, when I ask him for his opinion on 12 Years a Slave and he leans back in his leather chair, strokes his grey cashmere beanie hat and responds, “Are you asking me that because it is a frontrunner for the Oscars, or because I am black?”

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William Boyd

William Boyd

Published in The Times, 2013

When William Boyd was commissioned by Ian Fleming Publications Ltd to write a new James Bond novel, he talked about the gig as if it were the fulfilment of a life’s dream.

He had, he said, first fallen in love with 007 when he was a boarder at Gordonstoun and a copy of From Russia with Love was passed around his “pre-adolescent coevals as if it were some form of rare samizdat pornography”.

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Beef

Beef

Broadcast on the BBC, 2001

Over the years I have shed many of the outward manifestations of my Sikh upbringing. I cut my long hair off when I was 14, 5000 days of hair growth falling to the floor of a barber’s shop like a dead crow. I last danced to bhangra at a wedding in Wolverhampton in 1999, looking as if I was being electrocuted while trying to simultaneously unscrew two light bulbs. And I’m so rusty in what was once my mother tongue that I struggle to convey simple instructions concepts such as “call the fire brigade, please” in Punjabi.

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Mumbai

Mumbai

Published in The Times, 2011

I wouldn’t want to give the impression of being deluged by racially abusive correspondence, but there is a steady trickle and, when the letters arrive, they usually tend to: (a) be handwritten; (b) include clippings of offending articles with passages highlighted in yellow; or (c) feature an “amusing” deliberate comic misspelling of my name before suggesting that I get back to where I came from.

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Column: Stag Weekend

Column: Stag Weekend

Published in The Times, 2011

It's 1am on a Sunday and I am sitting at the back of a strip club in a town in provincial Britain. Needless to say, I'm not here by choice. I'm a feminist. I flick straight from page one to four when I read The Sun. I'd frown at a builder wolf-whistling at passing talent. Frankly, the men who come here are dribbling morons. I don't even see the point, sexually speaking: looking at naked women you can't sleep with just seems an exercise in frustration.

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Wilbert Rideau

Wilbert Rideau

Published in The Times, 2013

Wilbert Rideau was recently sitting behind his desk in the study of his Fifties red-brick home in downtown Baton Rouge, Louisiana, when, looking through the window, he watched a youth walk past a magnolia tree, enter a neighbour’s garage and come out with a leafblower. Being proud of the suburb – “An even mix of black and white households and a good mix of young families, singles and retirees,” he relates in a Southern baritone – and pleased with its low crime rate (“Only 1 homicide in 50 years”), he called the police. But when they apprehended the young man and brought him to Rideau to be identified, the 68-year-old journalist hesitated. “I was 99.99 per cent certain it was him, but I couldn’t say so...” He tails off. “I just wouldn’t want to gamble on that 0.01 per cent.”

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V.S. Naipaul

V.S. Naipaul

Published in The Times, 2010

The prospect of meeting V.S. Naipaul fills me with a strange combination of excitement and trepidation. The author has written 20 mesmerising books of fiction and non-fiction, but is also notoriously difficult, famed for once reportedly dressing down Iris Murdoch while dining with Margaret Thatcher at 10 Downing Street, for once greeting George Lucas with the remark “I don’t know Star Wars, I am not interested in films”, and for once also describing interviewers as monkeys.

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Rock Festivals

Rock Festivals

Published in the Times, 2010

The Isle of Wight, earlier this month, wasn’t, technically speaking, my first festival. Last year I attended Hay as a guest of a corporate sponsor, was put up in a mansion, drove to the literary gathering in an Italian supercar I was test-driving for work and promptly proceeded to have a bad time because, among other things, it’s no fun, when it’s 30C, to spend an afternoon in a marquee listening to an economist talk about whether modern Britons work harder than medieval peasants.

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Martin Amis’ Money

Martin Amis’ Money

Published in The Times, 2010

There is a certain kind of bloke — and, let's face it, it's always a bloke — who cites Martin Amis as his favourite author. Now in his thirties or forties, this bloke read The Rachel Papers and/ or Money as a teenager and enjoyed it/ them so much that he revisited Amis when he studied English at university. He continues to rate the author, even though he is too distracted by boxed sets of 24, 2.4 children and the tedious administration of middle age to have read any of Amis's recent stuff.

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