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Profile: Sathnam Sanghera, from bunny to columnist
27th August, 2007

Going from dressing up in a bunny outfit and producing "Topless Darts" to being a weekly business columnist for The Times newpaper isn't bad going really.

Especially when you consider Sathnam Sanghera has just turned 30 and already has a deal for his first book. It's enough to make anyone think they're terrible under-achievers.

Sathnam caused a bit of a stir a few years ago on the AIM forums with a column on diversity and race for his previous employer - the Financial Times - where he was then a columnist.

Poking fun at "diversity schemes" at newspapers, he says things are a lot more complicated than people assume.

"It's not a simple case of the suppressed, underprivileged, working class brown man being suppressed by the privileged elite: there are privileged white and black people now, and underprivileged ones; and many of us second generation Asians are a mixture of things," he says.

Beyond being mistaken for "the other Asian guy on the paper" (writer Gautam Malkani) or an IT support guy, and the occasional reader abuse, he says he's not experienced any serious racism in the industry.

"But it hasn't been easy. I came from a working class Indian part of the Midlands, grew up in a community where everyone was Indian, and it can be intimidating dealing with hyper-sophisticated white people. But it's a question of class as much as race."

It's harder to get into journalism, he acknowledges, if you come from a different background.

But if there is one trait he seems to possess in droves, it's perseverance.

The journey to his own column he says doesn't feel quick since he has been writing for newspapers since he was 15. After a start at the EXpress & Star in Wolverhampton writing about music, he went on to being music editor at his university paper in Cambridge freelanced briefly for the Sunday Telegraph.

He admits frankly: "Basically I was obsessed with being a journalist." His work experience stints went as far as producing a programme called Topless Darts and dressing up every hour as 'News Bunny' to act out the news in hand signals for cable channel Live TV. Pure class.

After graduation he applied for The Times and FT graduate trainee schemes and managed to get into the latter. After a few years of writing news and features, he rose to prominence by winning the Young Journalist of the Year award in 2002 got a chance at writing a column when a colleague took a sabbatical. When she came back he was offered own column. Nice work, if you can get it.

And has he gotten any weird email from readers?

"I get lots of weird email, and lots of nice stuff too," he says. "The weirdest message was probably from someone in jail in the US, who responded to a piece I write about beards in the office."

And then there have been the odd dinner and holiday invites too. Honestly, we don't know why he's complaining about that.

What does he think makes a good newspaper columnist?

"I think there are different types of good columnists. There are those that have brilliantly argued and strong opinions and then there are those who write well and entertainingly about smaller aspects of life. I'd like to be among the latter group one day," he says, rather unassumingly.

Sathnam's style is not so dissimilar to that of the other well known Asian writer, Sarfaz Manzoor, if it is possible to compare styles and writers who simply happen to share ethnicity.

Both focus on using personal experiences to make a point rather than writing about issues they do not have direct experience of, like most polemicists.

His book follows a similar trajectory. Written as a family memoir called 'If You Don't Know Me By Now...', it is about his family's struggle with mental illness, illiteracy and that recurring Asian issue: attempts at arranged marriage.

But by talking of personal family problems he is breaking that strongest of Asian taboos.

He acknowledges that mental illness is a personal issue Asians would "rather not air in public", but adds that sometimes, "the people closest to us are those we know least well."

The book will be out with Penguin in March next year.

Sathnam Sanghera's column is in the business section of The Times every Saturday. He also writes a car column for Management Today magazine.

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