Asian Network presenter Nadia Ali juggles media with law

Asian Network presenter Nadia Ali Nadia Ali would like to help other women going through a divorce

Not unlike the BBC, the last year has been a mixture of highs and lows for presenter Nadia Ali.

She was approached by the Asian Network to host a live Bengali show on Sunday nights and qualified as a barrister; but she also went through a painful break-up and subsequent divorce.

She is able to talk about the divorce now, but for a while found it hard to vocalize what she was feeling.

"Now that I have come out of it and gone through a divorce, I'm thinking why was I so scared to talk about this? I am educated, I did nothing wrong.

"Why do these women who go through domestic violence or have husbands cheating on them, why don't they talk about it? Because they feel scared and oppressed."

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Age is going to work against me, but I love media and that's what I really, really want to do”

End Quote Nadia Ali Asian Network presenter

Ali, who is British Bangladeshi and actively involved in the community, says her family comes from a conservative Muslim background.

It has made the divorce more painful because many people believed she was somehow to blame for the failure of her marriage to a prominent broadcaster on an Islamic channel.

"I don't wear a hijab and lots of people do point fingers and say, 'Oh, he is leaving you because you are not wearing a hijab'. It's actually because of what he did. It's sad that this does still happen in our community."

Her struggle to prove she was wronged is one of the more serious moments in a conversation that largely focuses on her dreams.

"Don't laugh," she warns and proceeds to giggle, "but I'd like to be on TV, whether it's doing the X Factor or The Voice, it's something I want to do."

A passion

Ali makes little secret of the fact that she has big ambitions for her media career. At the age of 19 she joined Channel S, a free-to-air channel targeting British Bangladeshis, and worked there for eight years. She loved every moment and it fuelled a passion for live programming.

In 2011 she hosted an international reality TV show in Bangladesh called Forgotten Roots, broadcast on the country's main TV channel.

It took youngsters from the US, UK and other countries to a rural village in Bangladesh and expected them to live there for three and a half weeks.

Ali, who returns to Bangladesh every year with her family, learned a lot about herself in the process - including how to live without hair spray. "That's when I realized, wow, there's so much to Bangladesh I didn't know about."

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It could take years for me become a barrister or a really big presenter, but I'm going to keep trying”

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The part-time presenter comes from a prominent family; her grandfather is a politician in the country and she is candid about "living in high society and going to parties".

Just hobbies

This background has influenced the path she's taken in her career, because her family pushed her to study hard and pursue subjects outside of media.

"I've always had a love for art and drama and presenting, but my parents were very strict in the sense that you have to study and the other things are hobbies," says the 28-year-old.

Her parents are mentioned frequently as being supportive - but she does admit that they held her back from pursuing a career in the fickle world of TV and radio. "It's not a stable job and they weren't sure if I'd make it."

So instead they pushed her to follow a career in a world that is no less demanding but perhaps less risky - law. With her grandfather also a barrister, it seemed a natural choice for the oldest grandchild in the family.

"I don't blame them," Ali says matter-of-factly. "I think it's great they put pressure on me to study and to become a barrister because it's helping me in different ways. It's amazing. I love law as well."

But she might have done things differently if her parents had told her to pursue her media dreams when she was younger.

She explains how she was talent scouted for EastEnders as a teenager at a summer camp, but didn't attend an audition because her parents didn't believe it was a good idea. She accepted their judgement without question and didn't think to rebel.

Question of age

Although not even 30, Ali wonders if she's getting too old to break into a competitive and crowded market. "Age is going to work against me, but I love media and that's what I really, really want to do."

She is reticent when asked if she believes older women have it harder than their male counterparts in broadcasting, a debate that has been raging for months in the mainstream press.

"I'm trying to change that," she laughs. A moment later, she adds: "You see actresses and they tend to retire a lot earlier than actors, so I think it's true to a certain extent, but hopefully it's changing."

Although Ali feels the pressure of age, she looks extremely youthful and exudes a certain glamour that feels a bit like a cross between Bollywood and Hollywood.

Nadia Ali at Boishakhi Mela Nadia at the Boishakhi Mela in Victoria Park

She wears towering heels, but she's still very small even with them on. Oversized glasses and a gold-encrusted iPhone complete her look.

Demanding jobs

The Asian Network gig is a relatively new thing; she was approached to do the Sunday show late last year and started in December. The Bengali presenter has worked hard to be inclusive of the community she comes from.

"I think there was a gap when it came to the listeners and the show itself, so I wanted to build a bridge for the Bangladeshi community so that they'd realize it's actually their show and we're here for them, so come and join us and be a part of it."

Ali believes this paid off with the Boishakhi (Bengali new year) Mela held in London's Victoria Park in May. She co-hosted the event with another Bangladeshi presenter and it attracted about 100,000 people.

The Bangladeshi community is a theme she returns to time and again. Ali believes she can use her law experience and her media contacts to improve the lives of women in particular.

She would also like to pursue a career in family law, helping other women who are struggling to get a divorce or don't know where to turn for help.

The law graduate is also a director for the British Bangladesh Chamber of Women Entrepreneurs. But at the moment she is looking for a pupillage - a six-month process whereby she shadows another barrister. It's also extremely competitive and she won't be fully qualified until she completes that last part of her training.

Does it worry her that she's pursuing jobs in two demanding fields?

"It worries me a lot, but I see it as a challenge. I want to break the rules and do something different. It could take years for me to become a barrister or a really big presenter, but I'm going to keep trying," she says brightly.


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