Katie Traxton takes time out with the presenter Nadia Ali to discuss law, motherhood and why she’s happy to call Essex home
Raised in and still a resident of Essex, Nadia Ali is someone who makes an impact on you from the first time you meet. I’ve only known her a few months, yet the warmth she exudes makes you feel from the start like you’re catching up with a trusted friend. In her professional life, she is a highly accomplished powerhouse who moved from a career as a barrister to become an award-winning radio presenter, and she’s also held her place in the British Bangladeshi Power 100 since 2013.
Life hasn’t always been easy for Ali, yet if you ask those who know her, the first thing they’ll tell you about her is that she’s always smiling and has a good word for everyone. A victim of domestic abuse, Ali has overcome considerable trauma to find herself stronger and use the most challenging experiences of her life to help others who are suffering.
A loved and loving daughter, wife and mother, she prizes people above all else and with family and friends around her is choosing now to share her story, past and present, as well as her hopes for the future. As she balances a busy work schedule, home-life and connecting with her considerable Instagram community (@simplynadiaali), Ali took the time to catch up with me over an exquisite home-cooked curry.
There’s no place like home – growing up in Essex
“I was born in Tower Hamlets and raised in Essex. This county has the perfect balance of city life and greenery. Essex has a really rich heritage, beautiful places to visit full of history and many other wonderful things to do. We have a multi-cultural community and are always busy celebrating and enjoying different festivities together. I love how inclusive Essex is – on each street there are neighbours with different beliefs, from different cultures, yet we all support each other, live happily side-by-side and want to learn about these differences as well as our similarities.”
Switching paths – from barrister to presenter
“My grandfather came to the UK in the late 60s to study law. He later qualified as a barrister and was the first Bangladeshi elected councillor in Tower Hamlets. He’s always inspired me so much – he was my role model and gave me the belief that anything is possible if you set your mind to it. Being the eldest grandchild and so close to my grandad, it seemed a natural choice to follow in his footsteps and enter the law. I never doubted that qualifying as a barrister was the path for me. From a young age, I’d always take part in moots and debates – and win every argument in my house!
“While I was studying at university, I started a new hobby – hosting! I got my first gig at a Sky television channel where I hosted a live children’s television show every Saturday for seven years. My passion for this hobby grew and grew and I soon realised that deep down it was what I’d always wanted to do. In 2012, I hosted the first ever international reality TV show in Bangladesh and doors started opening for me to pursue my passion full-time. By the time I got back to Essex, I’d landed myself a radio show on BBC Asian Network every Sunday.”
Becoming a mum – in the middle of a pandemic
“First off, I should say that being a mum is not as glamorous as it may look on the ‘Gram! It’s hard work – you never stop being a mum. Every moment of every day, I’m thinking about my daughter. My mind is full of love for her, worry for her, mum tasks that I need to complete and a million other things besides.
“Becoming a mother was a reality check for me. Having a Covid baby made the start of motherhood difficult. I was very isolated and had no family support at the time due to lockdown. However, looking back now it’s definitely made me a stronger person and a more hands-on mum. In such a short space of time my priorities have definitely changed; I always happily put my daughter first. She comes before any work or project.
“Despite that I think it’s fair to say I’ve worked the hardest and had more opportunities in the past two years than I ever had before, and I have to work hard to find the right balance. Being a working mum in my industry can be challenging at times. You risk being discriminated against, because people recognise that you have other priorities and often project onto you what that means in terms of your availability or commitment. I need to remind people constantly that I’m still the same person with the same personality and work ethic. I just have more life experience now.”
Overcoming trauma – finding unknown inner strength
“In my previous marriage, I was the victim of abuse, a subject which remains largely taboo in South-Asian communities. I’m not the only one who’s suffered, so I wanted to use my platform to become a voice for the voiceless. I’m now an ambassador for an amazing charity called Nour DV. This charity speaks up for those who are unable to stand up against domestic violence and supports the victims of such violence through education and by raising awareness.
“Even now, I still have to consciously work on myself and every day I learn something new about myself and my emotions. Importantly, through my personal experience I discovered that there are many forms of abuse, some visible, some invisible. I urge everyone to look out for the tell-tale signs of domestic abuse and be patient and supportive to anyone who is suffering this kind of assault, whether it be mental or physical. Let them know there are many charities out there to help them. No-one should have to suffer in silence.
“I can also finally say that I’m writing a book where for the first time ever I’ll be talking about how I managed to escape my abusive relationship and what I learnt as a woman going through a complicated divorce in the 21st century. I’ll be talking about the taboos of divorce in the Asian community and the battles I had to fight just to get my rights through the Shariah Council (Muslim Law Council) when I applied for a khula (when a wife initiates divorce proceedings under Muslim Law) and lots more.”
The future – coming soon from Nadia Ali
“I’ve been very busy lately working on a few projects and doing extra shows on the BBC Asian Network. I hosted most Fridays of the Breakfast Show during the pandemic, which gave me the boost I needed to start my own podcast about motherhood and the challenges we face. I’ve also started my own coaching and mentoring scheme on leadership, presenting and public speaking.
“I hope to carry on with television and radio work in the future, maybe even diversifying into documentaries. I’d love to tell the story of my grandfather and his peers when they first came to the UK. Oh, and most importantly – I want to be a super mum!”
Katie Traxton is the founder Good Vibes Only Talent. All images from Andrew Hone, director of Photography at Good Vibes Only Talent. See more at goodvibesonlytalent.com, IG: @goodvibesonlytalent