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Meera Syal CBE FRSL 

Comedian, Writer, Playwright, Singer and Journalist

 

Meera Syal was born in Wolverhampton with the name Feroza on 27 June 1961.

She grew up in Essington, Staffs and Bloxwich, near Walsall with her brother and parents who had come to the UK from

New Delhi.

She attended Queen Mary's High School in nearby Walsall and then studied English and Drama at Manchester University, graduating with a Double First.

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.

From 1986–87 Syal presented Sunday East, a BBC programme.

She also co-wrote 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. 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.

Syal wrote the screenplay for the 1993 film Bhaji on the Beach, directed by Gurinder Chadha, of Bend It Like Beckham 

fame. 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. She was a scriptwriter on A.R. Rahman and Andrew Lloyd Webber's Bombay Dreams .

In June 2003 she appeared as a guest on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs programme and the luxury she chose to ease her life as a castaway was a piano.

In October 2008, she starred in the BBC Two sitcom Beautiful People. The role, as Aunty Hayley, continued in 2009.  Syal starred in the eleventh series of Holby City as consultant Tara Sodi. In 2009, she also 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 Menier Chocolate Factory, later transferring to Trafalgar Studios. In the same year she played Nasreen Chaudhry in two episodes of Doctor Who alongside Matt Smith.

She rose to public recognition as one of the team that created the comedy Goodness Gracious Me and then for portraying Sanjeev's grandmother, Ummi, in The Kumars at No. 42. She soon became one of the UK's best-known Asian TV personalities.

Her talent as an occasional singer, has provided 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 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.

As a journalist, she writes occasionally for The Guardian.

 

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.

Her family's status as the only Asian family in a small Midlands mining village of Essington, was to form the backdrop to her novel (later filmed) Anita and Me, which Syal described in a BBC interview as semi-autobiographical.

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

Syal won the National Student Drama Award, the Betty Trask Award and the Media Personality of the Year award at the Commission for Racial Equality's annual Race in the Media awards. She was given the Nazia Hassan Foundation award in 2003.

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

She received her CBE from the Prince of Wales on 6 May 2015 at Buckingham Palace In 2017, and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

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