A Place to Grow

Ranvir Singh

Forget Saturday nights - for the student Ranvir Singh (English Literature and Philosophy, 1998, Pendle) it was on Tuesdays in Morecambe that she hit the dance floor, in the knowledge that at weekends she would be home to give her widowed mother the support she needed.

This was long before ‘Strictly’ and even journalism had entered the mind of the future Good Morning Britain anchor woman. She had to tread a fine balance between her desire to carve her own independence as a member of an Indian family, and ‘being there’ in Preston for her mother who was regularly unwell after the death of Ranvir’s father when she was nine. Lancaster University was the perfect place for her to do just that.

“Lancaster was wonderful for me,“ explains Ranvir. “It allowed me to live a full university life from Sunday to Friday and then to be with my Mum at the weekends. I always knew that I was only ever half an hour away from my Mum. People said ‘OMG that is awful for you’, but what they did not realise was that for me being able to go out on a Tuesday to the Carleton, and sometimes also on a Wednesday, was living my best life.”

Now a self-assured veteran of broadcasts from the White House, interviews with UK Prime Ministers and gut-wrenching exposés of the plight of Macedonian refugees, she finds it difficult to convey the scale of the change that her three years as a Lancaster wrought on the shy, Sikh teenager who arrived on campus, largely influenced by a clever and athletic school friend, Michelle Mann. If it was good enough for Michelle, it was was good enough for Ranvir.

“The whole place made me grow,” she says. ”As I think about it, everything I did there contributed to my life ahead. I’m so glad I did philosophy - that is the thing that really made me become an analytical thinker. It made me decipher really complicated ideas, try to understand them and then simplify them in language, which is what I do for a living now - particularly in the past four years with Brexit.”

She remembers coming out of a seminar with Colin Lyas - scarfed and debonair, every inch the university professor - and wondering why she felt strange: “It was the first time I realised that your brain could actually hurt from thinking. I could feel my brain growing!”, she laughs.

The timid 18-year-old, for whom Lancaster initially represented a safe campus and where her family also knew she would be protected, loved life in Pendle. From her first night at university sitting on the floor of a much more confident flatmate’s room drinking Southern Comfort and thinking it tasted ‘like disinfectant’, Ranvir’s confidence blossomed. Kickboxing tickled her fancy, and she took to it, and declares she’s never found anything like the buzz since.

She took up performance opportunities offered at Lancaster - the highlight being a production in her second year called Bouncers and Shakers, in which she played a waitress. “I loved it so much,” recalls Ranvir.

Tuesday however was dedicated to dancing at the Carleton, even though she had never learned how: “ “It was absolutely the highlight of my week - getting on that bus to Morecambe. I was always the last to get ready.”

All this time she had no idea what she wanted to do with her life after graduation and, much to her surprise now, did little student journalism barring a handful of appearances on University Radio Bailrigg. Her light bulb moment came at the end of her second year, sitting in the university careers library on a sunny day and panicking about her future. She pulled out a folder on broadcast journalism and it became perfectly obvious to her that this was the route for her.

Following graduation from Lancaster, she did a postgraduate journalism course at Preston (now UCLAN) before joining BBC Radio Lancashire. From then it was a steady rise through the ranks via North West Tonight eventually as co-presenter with Gordon Burns, Radio 5 Live and Daybreak until she joined Good Morning Britain in 2014 as features correspondent and news presenter, progressing to Political Editor. She has also worked as a presenter on The Martin Lewis Money Show, Eat, Shop, Save, Real Stories with Ranvir Singh and recently Lorraine.

Then there was her appearance in ‘Strictly’ in 2020, reaching the semi-finals, where all of a sudden she was thrust into the public eye purely as herself, not as a journalist, with all the speculation about her private life that this involves: ‘It was such a change from what I was normally seen as. It was so open and raw and it was all me. There was no news other than what I was doing and feeling.”

The ‘Strictly’ experience was such a ‘shock to the system’ that she feels it has propelled her into a new stage in her career, where (after 20 years of hard news) she feels more in tune with programmes with an empathetic, uplifting and human element. “What was quite encouraging was the whole host of people who watched and saw something of themselves in me, “ she muses. “I thought that was quite powerful.”

In a year including lockdown, the George Floyd murder and Black Lives Matter, she feels a sense of responsibility to be part of the change in racial attitudes, and to use her voice and presence to ease conversations rather than burying bad experiences as many BAME people win the public eye are tempted to do rather than to risk confrontation.

So how does Ranvir view herself now that she has moved on from her purely hard-news role? “Gosh - why has that stumped me? At heart I am still a trained journalist and would not want that to change, but I can see that I have expanded beyond a news brief thanks to Strictly. There’s something elevating and beautiful in that too in that you can talk to people about things that are not news, but about themselves and about human interest.”

Her achievements are legion - ranging from reading the news live on ITN, analysing the complexities of Brexit for a television audience on a daily basis, to appearing on Sarah Cox’s Between the Covers series recently - but she is reluctant to elevate any of them above the others, as she sees each as a preparation for the next.

Of one thing she is sure, the 18-year-old Ranvir arriving at Lancaster would not be able to take in the ‘celebrity’ future awaiting her if that glimpse had been possible - including the fact that she balances her career alongside being a mother of an eight-year-old boy.

“I would have fainted if you had told me that all this was going to happen to me - from overwhelming excitement’, she laughs. ”If they had said partner in a law firm, I could have believed it, but not a career that has taken me to so many places and has made me so well-known. It’s been a completely miraculous journey and makes me proud of my determination to push on at each stage.”

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