Interview: Seb Choudhury, BBC journalist and presenter of Inside Out West
- Credit: © Thousand Word Media
Broadcaster and cricketer Seb Choudhury opens up to Katie Jarvis about his Cotswold Life
Sabet Choudhury is a familiar face on the region’s television screens. A current affairs presenter for the BBC, Seb specialises in investigative reporting for Inside Out West and also appears on the West’s flagship news show, Points West.
What isn’t so well known is how his parents gave up a successful life in Bangladesh – his father a surgeon; his mother a television presenter – to find new opportunities for their family. Not only that, but they took a punt on the Cotswolds. “In 1984, when we moved into Stonehouse, we were the only Asian family,” Seb says. “I’ve often asked myself: Would I do what they did? Would I have the courage? Probably, not.”
Four years ago, Seb had the chance of showing his appreciation by donating a kidney to his mum, Sakina. In fact – as he points out – he had little choice. Sakina had been seriously ill for a number of years; the lack of suitable ethnic-minority donors meant her wait for a transplant could otherwise have proved fatal. The operation has given her a new lease of life.
Seb is married to Kate Adams, a trainee director for BBC South.
Where do you live and why?
We live in Frocester which, for a long time, was my second home. I used to ride my bike from Stonehouse – pretty much every day after school – to play at Frocester cricket ground. Cricket was a saving grace in so many ways: it’s such a great way of becoming part of a community. When we moved here, Stonehouse was tiny - nothing compared to the metropolis it is now! I remember people being extremely curious about us, though it was a very friendly atmosphere. For a long time, I went to Maidenhill School, where I met my best friend, Andrew, on the first day; we’ve been friends ever since. Then I switched over to Wycliffe [College].
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Kate and I now live just a few yards from the cricket ground. We can’t actually see it, but we can hear the clapping and shouts from the wickets.
How long have you lived in the Cotswolds?
Since the age of 11. I was born in Bangladesh, where my dad was an orthopaedic surgeon and my mum was a television presenter. They had a very acceptable life over there, and it amazes me that they were willing to give it up to venture into the unknown. But they had a tremendous sense of adventure – a spirit that refused to be fazed – and they saw that my sister and I would have a good life in the UK. We lived in Manchester first – I had a strong Northern accent to begin with! – before coming to the Cotswolds. I was under a year old when we left Bangladesh; for a long while, we’d go back every year. My parents were keen for us to keep up the language.
What’s your idea of a perfect weekend in the Cotswolds?
We’ve only been in our current house three months and I’ve not yet explored any of the walks around here. I hear there’s a really nice one to Coaley, where there’s a great pub. I’d definitely want to walk on my weekend. I also want to get back to playing cricket next year. I represented Gloucestershire for a bit, but I soon realised there are people who are far better than I am! My mum is the biggest cricket fan in the world, and I got my love of the game from her. As a little girl in Bangladesh – even before it became Bangladesh – she would watch the cricket with her parents. She lost her brothers – my uncles – at a very early age, and they were very big cricket fans, too. I think being able to watch me play brought a little bit of her old life back to her.
If money were no object, where would you live in the Cotswolds?
I recently visited the Cotswold Lavender Farm [at Snowshill]; anywhere near there would be amazing.
Where are you least likely to live in the Cotswolds?
Too close to too many people.
Where’s the best pub in the area?
I used to have a big favourite –the Green Dragon at Cowley - until I newly discovered the George at Frocester. (I’m not just being a loyalist, honestly!) I really like pubs with cosy nooks, a fireplace and lots of locals. The Lodge in Minchinhampton is another I’ve only just found but really like.
And the best place to eat?
Siam Smile in Cheltenham.
What would you do for a special occasion?
There’s a story I covered earlier this year that stands out for me as a life-changing occasion. I slept as a homeless person in Weston-super-Mare, which I thought would be fairly easy. It was one night; I didn’t have to do it for a long period. But what I walked away with was the incredibly uncomfortable nature of sleeping rough - because you’re so scared. I was terrified the whole night that people walking past would turn violent. They’re often shouting, and your adrenaline starts rushing. Besides that, it was minus seven, and I was really cold. I was with a bunch of guys who had these unbelievably sad lives; it’s literally one wrong turn that can determine where you land. I was in a bus shelter with one guy and neither of us could sleep; at about 4am, he asked me if he could watch a film on his little DVD. As he watched, he kept up a kind of commentary: “I’d love to eat a dinner like that! I’d love to be in that dining room.” It was heart-breaking. When I walked back to the hotel where the crew was based the next morning, I was dressed in a hoodie, looking really rough - and people were literally avoiding me. The minute I got changed and went out to breakfast, everyone I passed was so nice.
What’s the best thing about the Cotswolds?
There are places quiet enough that you can still hear yourself.
... and the worst?
The fact that you can hear yourself.
Which shop could you not live without?
Sunshine Health Shop in Stroud. I try my best to be veggie but my mum makes an amazing lamb curry. Kate, my wife, loves to experiment with cooking; every Saturday is a new dawn! But she knows my mother is the best cook in the world. For a long time, when people asked why I gave my kidney to save my mum, I used to say, ‘Because I need her to cook’. It’s not far off the truth!
What’s the most underrated thing about the Cotswolds?
The countryside, to ethnic minorities, can seem daunting because of a lack of similar-looking people; a lot of Asians want to stick together in urban areas. But the Cotswolds are very accepting. Until you sample the area, you don’t know how lovely the people are.
What is a person from the Cotswolds called?
Is this a quiz? I’ll go with a guy I knew in London, who called people from the Cotswolds ‘air-sniffers’!
What would be a three-course Cotswold meal?
I’d get my mum to cook a Bangladeshi meal with local ingredients. She’d get her lamb down the road in Frocester Fayre, and vegetables for the samosas from Stroud Market. She makes this amazing rice pudding - I don’t even know what it is, but a proper, sugary rice pudding. It’s hard to get rice from the Cotswolds but you can get the cream!
What’s your favourite view in the Cotswolds?
I look at it from home every day. I can see Frocester Hill, Coaley Peak and Selsley Common from here. We also get lots of hot-air balloons, and the occasional glider losing wind and crash-landing into the field next door.
What’s your quintessential Cotswolds village and why?
Frocester still holds that ethos of what a village should be – in my eyes, anyway. It has the lovely cricket ground, a great pub, some amazing farms, and even a village magazine. As soon as we moved in, we were invited to a barbecue to get to know everyone. We’ve been to a best-vegetable competition; and even a ‘best dog in village’, which our dog – Spanky – didn’t actually enter. I’m sure her name would have counted against her anyway. You should be at the vet’s when they call ‘Spanky Choudhury’ and I have to stand up.
Name three basic elements of the Cotswolds...
A love of the countryside;
A willingness to get stuck in and look after it;
Inclusion: the Cotswolds might be sparse – a town here and a village there – but they’ll always do things together, as a community.
What’s your favourite Cotswolds building and why?
I do love Painswick church. I used to rent the top part of Kings Mill House in Painswick, which was once Henry VIII’s hunting lodge, and I’d walk into Painswick every Saturday morning, past the church. It’s a lovely area, but a really odd one, too; it can trap sound.
What would you never do in the Cotswolds?
Go anywhere without GPS or a torch.
Starter homes or executive properties?
Starter homes have to be built, but I have a bad feeling that we’re not looking at where we really need to build. It seems to be a case of seeing open ground and thinking, ‘We’ll build here’.
What are the four corners of the Cotswolds?
This is quite tough...If I do it in terms of stories, then I once covered a three-legged race at Coaley in the west. I did a piece at Sprout Farm in Broadway, during a sprouts shortage at Christmas. (I was given a bag when I left and thought, ‘You’re even more short now!’) East would have to be Fairford Air Tattoo. (One of the best days of my life was being able to ride my electric scooter – a real boy’s toy – on the runway.) And south to Malmesbury, where I used to play cricket.
If you lived abroad, what would you take to remind you of the Cotswolds?
I don’t see anywhere in the world as home other than the Cotswolds...but I’ve always wanted to live in Canada. I went once, a long time ago, and I still remember how beautifully wooded and untouched so much of it was. What would I take with me? The people of Frocester.
What’s the first piece of advice you’d give to somebody new to the Cotswolds?
Buy some wellies.
And which book should they read?
A guide to the best pubs in the Cotswolds (though I feel I should have said Laurie Lee).
Have you a favourite Cotswolds walk?
I love the Woodchester Valley. It’s amazingly beautiful and definitely haunted. When I ‘go’, that’s definitely the place I’m going to come back and haunt.
Which event, or activity, best sums up the Cotswolds?
If you were invisible for a day, where would you go and what would you do?
I’d like to go to the local pub to see what they say about me. Rather like being at your own funeral.
To whom or what should there be a Cotswolds memorial?
I’d like a statue of WG Grace, right in the middle of Frocester.
The Cotswolds – aspic or asphalt?
If the landscape changes, so be it. But I’d never want attitudes to change.
OK, then! Which attitudes best sum up the Cotswolds?
Willingness. There are so many people willing to look after the Cotswolds. My dad used to say, ‘Once this generation stops, there will be no one else doing it’. But 30-odd years on, there’s the next generation busy looking after it.
With whom would you most like to have a cider?
My maternal grandfather, who had a great love of cricket and – by all accounts - was an amazing businessman. I wonder what he’d make of me, living in England, in the Cotswolds, in this amazing countryside...I hope he’d be proud of what the family has achieved. I’m just not sure he’d know what cider is – I’d tell him it was apple juice.
The new series of Inside Out West starts on January 14. Stories Seb covered in the last series included exposing a sex-for-rent scandal; revealing the shockingly low number of black teachers; and meeting a couple still together after 45 years, despite the husband becoming a woman.