News, Culture & Society

Inside the head of… Meera Syal

Actress and comedian Meera Syal, 56, is best known for the series ‘Goodness Gracious Me’, which she helped create, and as the granny in ‘The Kumars At No 42’. She is married to Sanjeev Bhaskar, and has two children.

What is your earliest memory?

Walking through a cornfield with my dad in Essington, the mining village where I grew up.

What sort of child were you?

From quite a young age I would line up all my toys in our back garden, tell them stories and make them act out plays.

What is the worst thing anyone has ever said to you?

An ‘uncle’ – in my community we call any older man an ‘uncle’ – who laughed at me when I was 17 on hearing that I’d chosen to study English and drama at university. ‘Who’s going to want a brown woman teaching their kids English?’ he said.

What law would you change if you could?

I’d abolish death duty because it’s immoral. You’ve been taxed on all the money you’ve saved – and then you can’t give it to your children.

Meera Syal stars in the BBC Radio 4 series ‘Mrs Sidhu Investigates: Murder With Masala’

What are you scared of?

I’m claustrophobic. It was triggered by a kayaking accident when I was at school – I was trapped underwater for quite a while and my life flashed before my eyes.

What is your most treasured possession?

My late grandmother hand-wove a beautiful blanket that has very intricate stitching. She gave it to my mum who gave it to me, and my husband Sanjeev and I used it as the ceiling of the canopy we sat under when we got married.

Describe the best night of your life

A Bruce Springsteen concert in Sydney back in 2003. I’d gone on a publicity tour with Sanjeev. That trip was special because it was when we began to fall in love.

What has been your most embarrassing moment?

In New York, I was on my way to the first day of rehearsals for a play I was in, when my stay-up stockings began slipping down my legs. I was surrounded by all these achingly cool people while having to hold on Nora Batty-style to my stocking tops.

What do you most dislike about your appearance?

My post-two children stomach – it looks like a relief map of Africa.

What is your guiltiest pleasure?

Dairy Crunch. We call it Dairy Crack because I can’t have it in the house. My husband once brought back a giant bar and I ate the lot in one sitting. When he walked in and found me surrounded by the wrapping, he looked at me with such disappointment.

If you could go back in time, where would you go?

I’d love to have seen Shakespeare’s plays when they were first performed. I wouldn’t have been so keen on some of the other things back then though, like the pox.

Who would your dream dinner date be?

Rani Jhansi, the Indian warrior queen, who played a leading role in the Indian Rebellion of 1857. I’d just love to hear her life story.

What was the last row you had?

Last week, with the owner of a local shop when I returned a lamp that didn’t work and he refused to give me a refund. I said: ‘I’ll never shop here again.’ He wasn’t bothered.

Which song do you want at your funeral?

Probably Joni Mitchell’s A Case Of You – a song about love, and love departed.

What’s the best advice you’ve had?

Count your blessings, as my mum says. In other words: ‘Stop bloody moaning!’ 

Meera Syal stars in the BBC Radio 4 series ‘Mrs Sidhu Investigates: Murder With Masala’, Wednesdays at 11.30am


Last film you saw? 

My Pure Land, brilliant spaghetti western-style film about a Pakistani mother and her daughters defending their farm. 

Last book you read? 

I’m halfway through Arundhati Roy’s new novel, The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness, which so far I’m really enjoying, even if it’s not as immediately grabby as her first book. 

Last TV show you loved? 

The Handmaid’s Tale – prophetic, and one of the finest television dramas of the past decade.