‘I’d moderately face a polar bear than step on the dancefloor’: Strictly’s Hamza Yassin on salsa, Scotland and singledom | Hamza Yassin

‘I’d moderately face a polar bear than step on the dancefloor’: Strictly’s Hamza Yassin on salsa, Scotland and singledom | Hamza Yassin

For some time, Hamza Yassin regarded set to be a dentist, however the textbooks put him off. His older brother was finding out for the occupation – they’re from a household of medical doctors and dentists – and he confirmed Yassin the e-book. “It was about three inches thick,” he says. “Due to my dyslexia, I used to be like: there isn’t a manner I’m studying all of that.” Dentistry’s loss is the nation’s acquire. Yassin adopted his ardour: he wished to work with animals and have become a wildlife cameraman and TV presenter (he now works on Countryfile and the preschooler CBeebies present Let’s Go for a Stroll). Now he’s a contestant on Strictly Come Dancing – one of many sequence’ most joyful ever.

Have I ever met anybody as light and upbeat as Yassin? I’m unsure. He laughs as he describes arriving in London for his Strictly journey, saying good morning to folks on the road, as he would at dwelling, and them blanking him or wanting alarmed. His most-used phrase appears to be “lovely”, which he makes use of to explain all the things from the very idea of Strictly and his relationship together with his skilled dance companion, Jowita Przystal, to his childhood dwelling in Sudan, the neighborhood in his distant Scottish village, and the animals he waits patiently to movie.

I’m satisfied he’ll win Strictly, however he says he’s not fascinated about that. “No person goes into the competitors not eager to win, however I don’t actually see it like that. We take one week at a time.” His precedence, he says, is making Przystal proud. “I’d moderately face a working cheetah, or a polar bear, than step on the dancefloor. However she makes it so worthwhile, and simply to see how glad she is, that’s all you ever need. As a child, when a guardian says: ‘I’m pleased with you,’ and also you see the smile on their face, that’s mainly what Jowita does.” In fact, he needs to impress the judges, he provides, “however she’s the one who’s seen me from step one once I’m going: ‘I can’t do that, the music’s too quick’ to finally saying: ‘Sure, we’ve nailed it.’”

‘I’d moderately face a polar bear than step on the dancefloor’: Strictly’s Hamza Yassin on salsa, Scotland and singledom | Hamza Yassin
The incendiary salsa: Yassin together with his Strictly companion Jowita Przystal. {Photograph}: Man Levy/BBC

Nailed it they’ve certainly: their incendiary salsa in week 4 acquired them the best rating of the sequence up to now, and this weekend head choose Shirley Ballas described their cha cha as “the most effective” she had ever seen. Yassin is, he says, “completely loving it. It’s tiring, my knees are achey, however I’m having an absolute blast.”

That salsa appeared to return as a shock to him. Did he know he may try this? “Positively no,” he says. He was sick that week. “Jowita really despatched me dwelling for 2 days so we realized the entire dance in two days. The factor about that dance, what makes it cool, is the belief she has in me. I’m chucking her up within the air. If she lands within the unsuitable manner, recreation over.”

Did he ever drop her when he was studying it? “No! Fortunately. I got here shut. I believe it’s from the times of chucking folks up in lineouts in rugby, and in addition tossing the caber in Scotland, which is actually good enjoyable. Jowita stated: ‘I really feel secure if you elevate me.’ That’s all I want. So we went huge.”

He loves dancing, “every time I get the possibility, actually”. For the previous 12 years, he has lived in a tiny village in Ardnamurchan, a peninsula on Scotland’s west coast. He says his nextdoor neighbour, Gail – “She’s wonderful, I name her my Scottish sister” – texts him when she will hear his music blasting to want him a very good morning. “I’m all the time dancing and enjoying music. By no means in 1,000,000 years did I believe I’d be on Strictly.”

Yassin, 32, was born in Sudan, and spent the primary a part of his childhood within the capital, Khartoum, in an enormous rambling home overseen by his grandmother, “the sensible outdated owl that dominated over us. And all of her offspring, seven, lived in the home. We had been all simply cousins in all places.” What number of youngsters had been there? “Oh God, I don’t know. Annually, as we grew, new ones come alongside, after which great-grandchildren,” he says. “You rapidly realized how essential household is. Aunties weren’t actually aunties, they had been like second moms. You don’t cook dinner for one, you cook dinner for a lot of folks, which was actually lovely.”

Every separate household had their very own a part of the home, he says, and he lived together with his brother and sister, and their dad and mom, each medical doctors. He may see the Nile from the highest of the home, the place he may spot crocodiles or hippos. “Wildlife, for me, was a norm,” he says. He was too younger, he says, to be a lot conscious of the civil conflict within the nation, although typically there would riots within the metropolis and he remembers household bulletins that no one was to depart the home that night time.

Yassin filming for the TV programme Scotland: My Life in the Wild.
Yassin filming for the TV programme Scotland: My Life within the Wild. {Photograph}: Hamza Yassin/Hamza Yassin Pictures

When he was eight, the household moved to the UK – his dad and mom had come six months earlier – however as a substitute of viewing the transfer from a heat and busy household home, surrounded by different youngsters, to life in Newcastle upon Tyne as an upheaval, Yassin embraced it.

He rapidly realized English, partly by watching David Attenborough documentaries, however principally in school, even creating a geordie accent for some time. Did he really feel like an outsider? “I knew I used to be completely different as a result of I did issues in a different way,” he says. “I’d arise as a trainer walked into the classroom, and everybody can be taking a look at me. However that’s what we did in Sudan – as quickly because the trainer is available in, or somebody of authority, we’d arise.”

He embraced the climate, too. “I like the chilly. In Sudan, I used to get every day nosebleeds as a result of I overheat. Therefore, why I like going to the Arctic to movie.” He handled his new classmates with as a lot curiosity as they did him. “I keep in mind there was a child I used to be taking a look at, actually perplexed, as a result of he had blue eyes, blond lengthy hair. I’m going: ‘I’ve by no means seen something like that.’ We grew to become good associates.”

The household moved across the UK, his dad and mom working in several hospitals, finally settling in Northampton. However his largest preliminary subject with the UK gave the impression to be that there was no wildlife. “At first look,” he says. “You then begin wanting round like: ‘That chicken, we’ve acquired one thing very comparable again dwelling.’ If the place to look within the UK, it is filled with wildlife.”

His mom, conscious of his fascination with birds, began taking him to RSPB reserves. “She’d be sat studying a e-book within the nook,” he remembers, whereas Yassin would query the birdwatchers, “simply absorbing all their data. They had been simply wonderful males, full of information, that noticed this younger child who was excited about birds, they usually simply type of took him below their wings, like, ‘Proper, son, have you ever acquired a pair of binoculars? No? Use these.’” He’s nonetheless in contact with a few of them, he says (Yassin, I believe, collects friendships like different naturalists acquire shells or feathers). “It’s actually lovely that their love of wildlife rubbed off on me. I had that curiosity already, but it surely simply sparked from there.” Across the identical time, he was additionally given his first digital camera.

It was a college pal who invited him to Ardnamurchan, the place their household went on vacation, with the promise of stags shut sufficient to {photograph}. “I fell in love with the place. Two weeks later, I used to be again for good.” He spent the primary week convincing his dad and mom he wished to maneuver there, and the second week packing his automobile, which he then lived in for 9 months, in a carpark by the pier, showering on the native campsite and consuming on the pub.

On location for the BBC programme Animal Park.
On location for the BBC programme Animal Park. {Photograph}: Manufacturing/BBC/Exceptional TV

In the course of the day, he would “be going up on the hills, taking place the rivers, the glens, attempting to {photograph} all the things. Eagles, otters, pine martens, crimson deer, stags: something that moved was honest recreation for me if I could make a narrative or a picture out of it.” And he quickly acquired to know the native human inhabitants. “I used to be doing all the things: reducing grass, chopping logs, serving to folks transfer stuff. Simply any little bit of pocket cash to maintain the petrol tank crammed up and meals in my stomach,” he says.

Yassin purchased a small home, and spent the following few years perfecting his craft as a wildlife cameraman and breaking into the trade together with his footage. Regardless of residing in an overwhelmingly white place, he by no means felt othered, he says. “I’m the one black individual in most likely 150 miles but it surely didn’t really feel like that.”

A number of studies lately have highlighted how a lot much less doubtless folks from ethnic minorities are to entry the countryside than white folks. A 2017 examine by Pure England discovered that 26.2% of black folks had visited the pure setting previously seven days in contrast with 44.2% of white folks. “Mom Nature is for everyone,” says Yassin. It’s partly an issue of entry, he acknowledges. “I can take half of London proper now and say: ‘Has anybody seen a swan or one thing within the final 10 days?’ Numerous them will say no, as a result of they’re going from their dwelling to work and again once more.”

A report final 12 months for the Marketing campaign to Defend Rural England described perceptions – and the experiences of these interviewed – of feeling unwelcome in “white, privileged, older and extra conservative” rural areas, in addition to sensible and financial obstacles to accessing the countryside. Yassin acknowledges others can have had completely different experiences, however says this hasn’t been a barrier for him.

Variety on TV is essential: he says he will get “lots of people emailing, messaging on social media, saying it’s pretty to see somebody of a distinct persona doing the pure historical past aspect of tv. Sure, predominantly, pure historical past has been white. In the event you love the outside, then go and discover it. I believe we discovered when Covid occurred, everybody was eager for that one hour a day that they had been allowed to be outdoors and it exhibits how essential Mom Nature is. We simply took it, within the industrial world that we stay in, as a right and slowly that’s altering, and hopefully there’ll be extra folks of color within the countryside.”

Yassin in Let's Go For A Walk for CBeebies.
Yassin in Let’s Go For A Stroll for CBeebies. {Photograph}: BBC

If his new villagers did understand him as completely different, he says, it was constructive. “They wished to point out off their tradition to me, which I completely adore.” He remembers, with fun, being invited to a ceilidh dance, and considering he was going to the home of a lady known as Kayleigh. He appears a part of this close-knit neighborhood now, internet hosting film nights at dwelling and speaking with love about “my Scottish dad and mom, Chris and Amanda”, and his nextdoor neighbour Gail and one other neighbour, Tom, who rings him up – he places on an excellent Highland accent – “‘Good day, Hamza, would you want a little bit of train right now?’ Sure, I’d, and I do know precisely what it’s: we’ll spend half a day chopping logs.”

Given Yassin’s youth and health, he has turn into the native log-chopper: the village will get 25 tonnes delivered a 12 months. He’s additionally the individual to whom villagers carry injured animals – a child otter, possibly, or a chicken – to be nursed again to well being. In his 2020 Channel 4 documentary Scotland: My Life within the Wild, he’s proven gently holding a younger sedge warbler a neighbour has given him, with a suspected injured toe. “You appear nice, love,” he coos on the chicken. It’s a neighborhood, he says, the place all of them assist one another out. “It’s a ravishing concord of what humanity ought to be residing like, even in cities,” he says. The closest procuring city is a two-and-a-half-hour drive away, or by ferry to the Isle of Mull. “We didn’t know Covid even existed as a result of we had been remoted,” he says.

Yassin is single: is it exhausting to satisfy somebody, residing so remotely? “Within the village, sure,” he says, although he does loads of travelling for work. “However my job doesn’t actually enable for a relationship. How will you maintain a relationship, like: ‘I’m sending you a textual content message from a satellite tv for pc cellphone, as a result of I’m within the Arctic for 2 months.’ It’s extra of a job type of downside, moderately than a spot, although the place positively provides to it.”

On a courting app – which he’s not on, he rapidly clarifies – he must set the web at 150 miles, he says with fun. “I do really feel remoted on most likely someday a 12 months once I’m simply having a down day,” he says; it appears proper that he will need to have at the very least one down day a 12 months, as a result of no one will be this cheerful on a regular basis. When that occurs, he texts Gail subsequent door and he or she has him spherical for dinner. “However more often than not I’m surrounded by individuals who I like.” Each Saturday night time, half the village collect locally corridor with a projector to look at their neighbour rack up the 10s on Strictly, bringing somewhat little bit of pleasure to us all.