Graham Clark, Music Features Writer

Interview With Dr Ranj - Bradford’s New Panto Star

Dr Ranj is a well known TV personality as well as still being an NHS Clinician working on the frontline. He makes his Bradford pantomime debut at the Alhambra Theatre alongside Billy Pearce, playing the Royal Doctor in Sleeping Beauty.

Is the pantomime in Bradford your first one to appear in?
Interestingly, this is the second pantomime that I have appeared in, though there has been a massive gap in between this one in Bradford and the last one I was in, due to what’s been going on for the last 18 months. My first panto was in Canterbury, that was kind of like my baptism and I absolutely loved it - it was such a magical experience as it is at such a joyous time of the year.
I got the opportunity to come up to Bradford and to work with Billy (Pearce) and I couldn’t say no as I’ve been missing this and craving for it. I think a lot of people have been craving going to see shows and I am absolutely over the moon to be here.
I have been to Bradford before fleetingly, and now I have the chance to spend a bit more time here.

Do you have any connection with Bradford?
None at all really, I have some relatives in Leeds, my best friend is actually moving to Burnley soon which is not far away.

Did you know about the tradition of the Bradford panto?
I had heard about it and people were telling me that Billy was amazing, he is hilarious - you better watch out if you are going to be doing panto with him, you might be the butt of his jokes. He is a legend up here and part of the furniture and it is an honour to be here with all the cast.

Was it a daunting prospect about appearing in what is regarded as the best panto in the north?
It was a big deal for me as it is my first show at the Bradford Alhambra. As soon as you step into the theatre, you see how big it is. I’ve got to step up now - this is going to be a challenge. I love setting myself up for a challenge - a lot of the stuff I have done on the telly has been a challenge as you have to remember that this is not my day job!
I like pushing myself out of my comfort zone and I think I am giving myself a good push with this one.

Dr Ranj with Billy Pearce
Dr Ranj with Billy Pearce
Are there going to be any good current pop songs in the panto?
There is going to be some and at least one big one, I’m not allowed to say which one it is although I can say that it is very current, very catchy and I think everyone will know it.
I am a big music fan myself. Adele is about to bring out a new record which I’m excited about. I like Lady GaGa, Kylie, Years and Years who have just done a duet with Kylie. I went to the Hoopla event, that was the last music show I saw. Cheryl Cole was on as was Alexandra Burke and Chic. As I am a massive music fan panto was just perfect for me.

Do you miss your day job?
I still do it! I work part time in the NHS. I stepped that up during the height of the pandemic. I am taking a little time off for panto, as I work in London I cannot feasibly get back to London to work and back up to Bradford to do the panto. I will miss it though.

As a doctor what would you say to someone who is reluctant to have the Covid jab?
I totally understand why people are hesitant probably because of things they might have heard or read. There is a lot of misinformation about, or they might have had a bad experience personally. For some people it’s about access and not being able to get to places where they can have the jab.

There are problems including those in my own community. What I would say to them is that I would never recommend something that I would not recommend to my own friends and family and we are all double jabbed. I’m putting my money where my mouth is, don’t believe everything you see on line or what friends or family might say as often it is hearsay and not facts.

The majority of good solid decent evidence that we have got out there is that the jabs are safe, are effective and are a way for us, especially in my community where we are at a higher risk, to keeping ourselves and others safe and I would recommend everyone to have it. Please do not believe the hype and sometimes the nonsense on line and on social media - it’s not true and people are deliberately trying to mislead you.

It is not a 'scamdemic' as some people are calling it, the vaccines have not been designed to cause you harm. As NHS workers we want to do what is right for our patients and we want everyone to be happy and healthy. Listen to people who work in the NHS on the front line and listen to their experiences.

You have had a varied career to date, how do you fit it all in?
I was a kid who grew up with very little and just had a lot of dreams. I always think to myself that you have only got one life so make the most of it. If an opportunity arises you should make the most of it, if it works out then that’s fantastic, if it doesn’t it is always a learning experience. I dream big and work hard, that’s how I ended up with my medical career, and how I ended up on television, in theatre and writing books too.

The cast of Sleeping Beauty
The cast of Sleeping Beauty
Do you try to eat healthy?
I would say that I eat normally, I don’t believe in good food and bad food - it is all about moderation, it is ok to have cake - just don’t have it every day. I’m a massive cake fan and I would have it morning, noon and night if I could but I know that’s not good for you, so I try to eat as healthy as I can but at the same time life is for enjoyment and it is important sometimes to have something like cake or things which are not good for you as long as you are doing it in moderation.

Diet, exercise and sleep are the three core things in my opinion that we all need to pay attention to. There is an individual responsibility but we have a responsibility too to educate and inform people about making the best choice, but I feel there is a bigger responsibility for government and food organisations to label food and to make healthy food cheaper. We are in a situation where burgers are cheaper than a packet of vegetables so you are naturally going to veer towards something that is a less healthier option, so I think we need a system change. We need to change the narrative and that needs to come from the top as well as from the bottom.

At an early age you are laying the foundations for the rest of your life as well as learning the habits for the rest of your life. I feel like now we are coming out of this pandemic and we need to have a bit of a reset and to start thinking long term and the government too can help by helping and enabling people to make healthier choices.

Are you in good health as the pantomime schedule can be tough?
I’ve never fitter than when I’ve done panto. I’m doing it again to get fitter! It is like a workout every single day, I feel so good at the end of it, I can’t wait to get stuck in.

How was it appearing on Strictly Come Dancing?
That was full on, I have never done anything that was so physically demanding in my life, it was a challenge physically and mentally - lots to take in and this is coming from someone who works in A&E. The rehearsals were so intense - 6 or 7 hours a day and you are trying to learn so much and there is the pressure too because at the end of the week you are going to have to dance in front of the nation and the pressure was constant as there was no let up at all, but it was a good experience to be part of but it wasn’t easy. I still dance but I do it for fun now and for exercise rather than performing and being judged for it.

Did the experience give you more discipline?
If you want to do anything you have to have a degree of discipline if you are serious about it. A lot of it is mindset - I started seeing a sports psychologist during Strictly because I needed to change my mindset as I got really anxious about things. He had taught top sports people how to cope and dealing with results you might not like but also celebrating the positives as well and building yourself up both mentally and physically.

How was your sexuality received in the Asian community?
Do you know what? I have had an unanimously positive response and that’s good because often in certain communities I think if you come out some people have a negative experience. My experience is not universal but I think it is important to show that you can have a positive experience. I like to tell people that I just happen to be Gay, it’s not my identity, it does not determine who I am, but I am somebody who does X,Y and Z but also a proud member of the LGBT community.

Sleeping Beauty - Alhambra Theatre, Bradford
Saturday 11th December 2021 to Sunday 16 January 2022
Tickets from £16.50 (inclusive of booking fee)
Box Office Telephone 01274 432000