Meera Syal

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Meera Syal

Meera Syal 2017.png
Syal at the 7th Asian Awards in 2017
Feroza Syal

(1961-06-27) 27 June 1961 (age 60)
Wolverhampton, England
Education Queen Mary's High School
Alma mater University of Manchester
OccupationComedian, writer, playwright, singer, journalist, producer, actress
Years active1983–present
Shekhar Bhatia
(m. 1989;div. 2002)

(m. 2005)

Meera Syal CBE FRSL (born Feroza Syal; 27 June 1961) 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 portraying Sanjeev's grandmother, Ummi, in The Kumars at No. 42 . She became one of the UK's best-known Asian personalities.


She was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 1997 New Year Honours and in 2003 was listed in The Observer as one of the 50 funniest acts in British comedy. [2] [3] She was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2015 New Year Honours for services to drama and literature. [4] [5]

Early life

Meera Syal was born in Wolverhampton and grew up in Essington, Staffordshire, a mining village a few miles to the north. Her Punjab-born parents, Surinder Syal (father) and Surinder Uppal (mother), came to the United Kingdom from New Delhi. Her father was Khatri, and her mother was Jat. [6] When she was young, the family moved to Bloxwich, north of Walsall.

This landscape, and the family's status as the only Asian family in a small Midlands mining village of Essington, was later to form the backdrop to her novel (later filmed) Anita and Me , which Syal described in a 2003 BBC interview as semi-autobiographical. [7] She attended Queen Mary's High School in nearby Walsall and then studied English and Drama at Manchester University, graduating with a Double First. [8] [9]

Acting and writing career

During her studies, Syal joined the Stephen Joseph Studio, acting and latterly writing stage plays. On graduation, she had secured a place to study for an MA in drama and psychotherapy at the University of Leeds, and then to study for a PGCE to teach. However, she had also co-written the one-woman play One of Us with Jackie Shapiro, in which Syal performed all fifteen parts, about a West Midlands-born ethnic Indian girl who ran away from home to become an actress. First performed at the Stephen Joseph Studio, she then performed it at the National Student Drama Festival where it won a prize to perform at the Edinburgh International Festival, where it also won a prize. As a result, a director from the Royal Court Theatre contacted Syal, and asked her to perform in a play at the Royal Court on a three-year contract. [10]

Syal wrote the screenplay for the 1993 film Bhaji on the Beach , directed by Gurinder Chadha, of Bend It Like Beckham fame. In 1996 she played Miss Chauhan, a high school soccer coach in the film Beautiful Thing. She was on the team that wrote and performed in the BBC comedy sketch show Goodness Gracious Me (1996–2001), originally on radio and then on television. [9] She was a scriptwriter on A.R. Rahman and Andrew Lloyd Webber's Bombay Dreams [11] and she played the grandmother Sushila in the International Emmy-award-winning series The Kumars at No. 42 , which ran for seven series, [12] reviving the character in 2021 for BBC Radio 4's Gossip and Goddesses with Granny Kumar.

In October 2008, she starred in the BBC Two sitcom Beautiful People . This role, as Aunty Hayley, continued in 2009. [13] Syal starred in the eleventh series of Holby City as consultant Tara Sodi. [14] In 2009, she guest starred in Minder and starred in the film Mad, Sad & Bad. [15] [16] In 2010, she played Shirley Valentine in a one-woman show at the Menier Chocolate Factory, later transferring to Trafalgar Studios. [17] In the same year she played Nasreen Chaudhry in two episodes of Doctor Who alongside Matt Smith. [18]

Other notable appearances

Syal is an occasional singer, having 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. [19] She earlier (1988) provided vocals for a bhangra version of "Then He Kissed Me", composed by Biddu and with the Pakistani pop star Nazia Hassan, as part of the short-lived girl band Saffron. [9] 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. [20]

Having studied English at university and penned two novels and a variety of scripts and screenplays, Syal was chosen as one of the guests on "The Cultural Exchange" slot of Front Row on 30 April 2013, when she nominated To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee as a piece of art work which she loved. [21]

As a journalist, she writes occasionally for The Guardian . [22]

Awards and recognition

Syal won the National Student Drama Award for performing in One of Us which was written by Jacqueline Shapiro while at university. [23] 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. [22] She was given the Nazia Hassan Foundation award in 2003. [24]

In 2011–12, Syal was appointed visiting professor of contemporary theatre at St Catherine's College, Oxford. [9] She has an honorary degree from SOAS, University of London and from the University of Roehampton. [2] [25]

She received her CBE from the Prince of Wales on 6 May 2015 at Buckingham Palace. [26] [27] In 2017, Syal was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. [28] [29]

Personal life

Syal married journalist Shekhar Bhatia in 1989; they had a daughter together before divorcing in 2002. 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 register office, Staffordshire. [30] They have a son, born 2005.

In 2004, Syal took part in one episode of the BBC series Who Do You Think You Are? , which investigated her family history. [31] Syal discovered that both her grandfathers were supporters of the Indian independence movement: one as a communist journalist, the other as a Punjab protester who was briefly imprisoned in the Golden Temple. [31]

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. [12]

Syal's brother is investigative journalist Rajeev Syal, [32] who covers Whitehall, writing stories for The Guardian . [33]

In February 2009, Syal was one of a number of British entertainers who signed an open letter printed in The Times protesting against the persecution of Baháʼís in Iran. [34]

Writing credits



  • One of Us (1983)
  • The Oppressed Minorities Big Fun Show (1992)
  • Goodness Gracious Me (1999)
  • Bombay Dreams (2002)




  • Anita and Me (1996)
  • Life Isn't All Ha Ha Hee Hee (1999), published in German under the title Sari, Jeans und Chilischoten in 2003
  • The House of Hidden Mothers (2015)

Acting credits



  • True Believers (1990)
  • The World As We Know It (1999)
  • Double Income, No Kids Yet (2001)
  • A Small Town Murder (2008–2020)
  • Bindi Business (2017)
  • Gossip and Goddesses with Granny Kumar (2021)

Film and TV

Academic reception

Her book Anita and Me has found its way onto school and university English syllabuses both in Britain and abroad. Scholarly literature on it includes:

Related Research Articles

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Goodness Gracious Me is a BBC English-language sketch comedy show originally aired on BBC Radio 4 from 1996 to 1998 and later televised on BBC Two from 1998 to 2001. The ensemble cast were four British Asian actors, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Kulvinder Ghir, Meera Syal and Nina Wadia. The show explored British Asian culture, and the conflict and integration between traditional South Asian culture and modern British life. Some sketches reversed the roles to view the British from a South Asian perspective, and others poked fun at South Asian stereotypes. In the television series, most of the white characters were played by Dave Lamb and Fiona Allen; in the radio series those parts were played by the cast themselves. Some of the white characters were also played by Amanda Holden and Emma Kennedy.

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