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Romesh Ranganathan, the comedian set to replace Claudia Winkleman on BBC Radio 2

Romesh Ranganathan has been announced as Claudia Winkleman’s BBC Radio 2 replacement, cementing the comic as the busiest man in the UK entertainment industry.

On Saturday (2 December), Winkleman announced that she was stepping down from the 11am to 1pm Saturday morning slot on Radio 2 in order to spend more time with her children.

Revealing Ranganathan as her replacement, she called The Ranganation host, 45, “one of the smartest people on Earth”. “Think of this, if you will, as an early Christmas present,” she said.

Ranganathan is no stranger to Radio 2, as he currently hosts his own show For The Love Of Hip Hop at midnight on Saturdays, which won him the prestigious Radio Academy Aria Gold award for Best Specialist Music Show in 2023.

The multi award-winning comedian is best known for fronting Bafta-winning TV series such as The Misadventures of Romesh Ranganathan and The Ranganation. In 2021, he replaced Anne Robinson as the host of game show The Weakest Link.

Now, Ranganathan is one of the most prolific faces on TV. This starry career is worlds away from his previous life as a maths teacher.

Raised in Crawley, West Sussex to Sri Lankan Tamil parents, Ranganathan and his brother attended private school, until his accountant father was sent to prison for his role in a dodgy business deal. The family home was reposessesed and his mother moved with the kids to live in a B&B. They transferred to a state school in “one of the worst areas of town” – the same school that Ranganathan would one day return to teach at.

Acting in ‘Avoidance' (BBC / RangaBee Productions / Jack Barnes)
Acting in ‘Avoidance' (BBC / RangaBee Productions / Jack Barnes)

At his new school, Ranganathan started smoking weed and getting involved in fights. When his A Level results ended up being poor, he struggled massively with his mental health, describing it as “the toughest time”.

He went on to study maths at university, while creating music on the side as a freestyle rapper under the name Ranga, the same name as his dad. Ranganathan put out mix tapes and competed in freestyle competitions alongside the likes of Professor Green.

In 2004, he reached the final of a UK freestyle battle competition, only to be “absolutely destroyed” in the final. “The last line I uttered on stage was ‘Here be the Ranga, rocking at the Scala, Bringing the heat like a chicken tikka masala.’ A chicken tikka masala is not hot. Everyone knows that,” he recalled in a 2011 interview.

After studying, he returned to his old school as a maths teacher. Here, he began performing stand-up comedy – although his first taste of audience laughter came many years before, at a talent competition at Pontins Holiday Camp when he was just eight years old.

With Prince William and Rob Beckett at the 2019 Royal Variety Performance (Getty Images)
With Prince William and Rob Beckett at the 2019 Royal Variety Performance (Getty Images)

“I did stand-up and I took all of the jokes, except for one, from a joke book called 3001 Jokes For Kids,” he recalled. “I made the bizarre decision to put a Sri Lankan accent on for the entirety of the set. But I did beat a kid playing a kazoo.”

Looking back in a 2020 interview with Jay Rayner, he mused: “So much of that material was from this joke book I had at the time, and in that joke book was loads of racist jokes… I don’t know what I was thinking... [This] is the first time I have reflected on that and I have got to say I am not proud of it.”

While working as a teacher and performing comedy in the evenings, Ranganathan met future wife Leesa, a drama teacher with whom he now shares three sons. His stand-up star growing, he decided to quit teaching in 2011. Three days before he was meant to leave, his father died of a heart attack, with Ranganahan and his brother forced to find money to settle his affairs.

They took over their dad’s pub – an experience that would later inspire 2018 sitcom The Reluctant Landlord – only to run it into the ground. With the comedian having quit his job, Ranganathan’s family sunk into further debt. When his car was reclaimed after his failure to pay road tax, and the debts piled up, he ended up abandoning the vehicle.

Ranganathan is now one of the busiest men on TV (BBC/Alan Peebles)
Ranganathan is now one of the busiest men on TV (BBC/Alan Peebles)

All this time, Ranganathan kept on gigging. His first big break came in 2013, when he appeared on Live at the Apollo, carving out his candid and self-deprecating brand of humour. Presenting gigs came, first with travel show Asian Provocateur in 2015, which saw him and his mother travel to Sri Lanka.

In 2018, he began hosting comedy travel series The Misadventures of Romesh Ranganathan, the Bafta-winning show with a fourth season on the way. He also picked up a Bafta for discussion show The Ranganation, and frequently collaborates with fellow comedian Rob Beckett on their Sky series Rob & Romesh V…. Ranganathan stepped up to the The Weakest Link podium as the show’s new host in 2021.

Alongside his presenting work, Ranganathan acts too. He created and starred in the BBC comedy series Avoidance, as well as the Sky sitcom Romantic Getaway with Katherine Ryan.

With his new Radio 2 show, Ranganathan must be living the dream. But speaking to The Times last year, the comic admitted that he “feared ever wanting more than I’ve got”.

“When I started doing it, the idea that you could pay for your electricity through doing comedy just felt incredible,” he said. “I know people who are doing quite well who are just driven insane by a belief that they should be doing something more. They don’t smell the roses, because they’re just so caught up in what they could be doing. If I go on a steep decline now and the phone stops ringing, I like to think I’d be all right with that.”