Meera Syal

Last updated 09 January 2020

Meera Syal
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Feroza Syal, CBE

Born: Tuesday 27th June 1961 (age: 62)

United Agents

Meera Syal MBE is a British comedian, writer, playwright, singer, journalist, producer and actress. She rose to prominence as one of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me and became one of the UK's best-known Indian personalities portraying Sanjeev's grandmother, Ummi, in The Kumars at No. 42.

She was awarded the MBE in the 1997 New Year Honours and in 2003 was listed in The Observer as one of the fifty funniest acts in British comedy.

Her Punjab-born parents came to England from New Delhi. She was born in Wolverhampton, Staffordshire, and grew up in Essington, a mining village a few miles to the north. When she was a young girl the family moved to Bloxwich. She attended Queen Mary's High School in nearby Walsall, and then studied English and drama at Manchester University.

Syal wrote the screenplay for the 1993 film Bhaji on the Beach, directed by Gurinder Chadha, of Bend It Like Beckham fame. She was one of the team who wrote and performed in the BBC comedy sketch show Goodness Gracious Me(1996-2001), originally on radio and then on television.

She achieved a number one record with Gareth Gates and her co-stars from The Kumars at No. 42 with Spirit in the Sky, the Comic Relief single. She also sang Then He Kissed Me (composed by Biddu) with the Pakistani pop star Nazia Hassan. Syal, Hassan and Bidddu also came up with the girl band named "Saffron" in 1988

In October 2008 she starred in the BBC2 sitcom Beautiful People. This role, as Aunty Hayley, continued in 2009. Syal starred in the eleventh series of Holby City as Consultant Tara Sodi. In 2009, she guest starred in Minder and starred in the film Mad, Sad & Bad. In 2010, she played Shirley Valentine in a one-woman show at the Trafalgar Studios. In the same year she played Nasreen Chroudhry in two episodes of Doctor Who alongside Matt Smith. Her Goodness Gracious Me co-star, Nina Wadia, also appeared earlier in the same series episode The Eleventh Hour.

Syal won the National Student Drama Award for performing in One of Us which was written by Jacqueline Shapiro while at university. She won the Betty Trask Award for her first book Anita and Me and the Media Personality of the Year award at the Commission for Racial Equality's annual Race in the Media awards in 2000.

She was given the Nazia Hassan Foundation award in 2003.

In June 2003 she appeared as a guest on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs programme with a selection of music by Nitin Sawhney, Madan Bala Sindhu, Joni Mitchell, Pizzicato Five, Sukhwinder Singh, Louis Armstrong and others. The luxury she chose to ease her life as a castaway was a piano. As a journalist she writes occasionally for The Guardian.

In 2004 she took part in one episode of the BBC series Who Do You Think You Are?, which investigated her family history. One of her parents is Hindu and the other a Sikh and since both share the same cultural heritage the families had no problem at all. Syal was apparently surprised to discover both her grandfathers had campaigned against British rule and presence in India: one was a communist journalist; the other was a Punjab protestor, who was imprisoned and tortured in the Golden Temple.

In January 2005, Syal married her frequent collaborator, Sanjeev Bhaskar, who plays her grandson in The Kumars At No. 42; the marriage ceremony took place in Lichfield, Staffordshire. Their baby, a boy named Shaan, was born at the Portland Hospital on 2 December 2005. Syal has a daughter called Chameli from her former marriage to journalist Shekhar Bhatia. Her brother is investigative journalist Rajeev Syal.

In February 2009, Syal was one of a number of British entertainers who signed an open letter printed in The Times protesting about the persecution of Bahá'ís in Iran.

In January 2011, Syal took part in the BBC Radio 4 programme My Teenage Diary, discussing growing up as the only British Asian girl in a small English town, feeling overweight and unattractive.

Biography from the Wikipedia article, licensed under CC-BY-SA