Currently wowing the West End as King Arthur in the hit stage musical Spamalot, comedian Sanjeev Bhaskar insists it is west London which he still holds dear to him. CHRIS LONGHURST speaks to the star of shows such as The Kumars at Number 42 and Goodness Gracious Me to retrace his roots along the A40
EALING, Hillingdon and Hounslow - you name them Sanjeev Bhaskar has done them all. He was born in the former, grew up in the latter and has spent a fair bit of time in the one in the middle! Still able to boast plenty of family ties to all three, Sanjeev is truly a local boy made good.
When he was two-and-a-half, his family moved from Ealing to Heston, in Hounslow, where they lived above alaunderette Sanjeev's father had bought. It remained a place to call home until he moved away to study at Hatfield Polytechnic, now the University of Hertfordshire.
He jokes: "I am very grateful to them because my degree came from the poly, but my honorary doctorate came from the university, which is much more prestigious.
Sanjeev's father worked at the Nestlé factory, in Nestles Avenue, Hayes, as a machinery supervisor on the coffee processing side of the business. Sanjeev remembers passing his driving test and then having to drive his dad to and from work.
"I got to know Hayes very well during that time and began to wonder if this wasn't a subtle nudge from my parents in the direction of becoming a mini-cab driver," he says. "After all, at the time I was driving a Datsun so I guess I was half way there anyway!"
Earlier memories of Hillingdon also revolve around the Nestlé factory, which in his eager young mind was meant to be like stepping inside Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, from Roald Dahl's book.
"When my friends found out my dad worked at the place they made chocolate, it made me very popular," says Sanjeev. "We imagined a colourful land of bizarre dancing creatures, but the reality was rather disappointing and we never really got over it!"
Sanjeev always had a love of the theatre, starting with early visits to the Beck in Grange Road, Hayes, but he started his performing career with his friend Nitin Sawhney - now a noted composer - at Watermans art centre, in Brentford.
The towns of his youth have certainly changed, not least Hounslow, where the pedestrianisation of much of the centre has made a big difference to the traffic jams he remembers.
He says: "Once my friend and I saw two large, middle-aged Indian ladies broken down in a car in the middle of the road so we offered to push them out the way of traffic.
"We started pushing, but instead of turning towards the kerb, the woman put the radio on and started talking to her friend. We were shouting but she treated us like Burma slaves and we had to continue all the way to the car park. Then she got out, locked the car and went to do her shopping.
"We were so embarrassed we had to walk home through the back streets to avoid anyone seeing us."
The first people ever to hear Sanjeev perform, albeit by microphone rather than in person, were the patients of West Middlesex Hospital, in Isleworth, when he was part of its radio station in the early 1990s.
"At the time I was out of work because I had sued my employers, so I was feeling very depressed, as I had not had a job for two years. I knew someone at the radio station and got invited to do a show," he recalls.
"I loved musicals and movies so based my show on those. It was my first brush with showbiz and I was inspired to take my career on from there."
The road would not be an easy one, but Sanjeev had grown used to dealing with tough times, as a result of the racism he had encountered during his senior school days.
"My school was on the border with Southall and there was a 30 per cent Asian mix at a time of high tension. People tried to stop me talking to white kids, which I refused to do, so for six months people just stopped talking to me, which was very hard to take," he says.
"I had a strong personality and a sense of humour, which others found threatening, and peer group dynamics led to my being cast out. At first I thought there must be something wrong with me, but gradually I realised it was the people doing this who werewrong.
"I am grateful for the experience now because it made me realise how prejudice exists on all sides and in all forms. I wanted to be free to be who Iwas, but was also perfectly happy to respect the existing culture.
"I think nowadays people are trying too hard not to appear racist; to me there is a big difference between respecting a culture and imposing it on everyone else.
"My family and I are Hindus, but we are more than happy to fit in with the established Christian traditions of this country. My advice to someone in the same position as I was is to find a creative outlet for your troubles and work hard to overcome them."
Although those who know Sanjeev's will be most familiar with his use of traditional Asian roots to dream up his comedy programmes and sketches, it is the beloved American and British teams such as Laurel and Hardy, The Marx Brothers and Monty Python which make him laugh the most.
He says: "They will last forever, I firmly believe that." He is now firmly loving his role as King of the Britons and is delighted to be able to add 'musical theatre' to his lengthy resume, which already includes radio, television, author and scriptwriter.
He said: "Theatre is better than any other medium at colour-blind casting; I had literally never thought a role made famous by Graham Chapman in Holy Grail and Tim Curry on stage could be played by anything other than a white man.
"I took over from the brilliant Alan Dale (Jim Robinson from Neighbours) and only had 12 days' rehearsal before my first performance in June. I never expected to make it through the audition to be honest.
"I was delighted to see Terry Jones (former Python) on my opening night and to hear how complimentary he was about my performance. Iwas influenced by him and his fellow Pythons to see the world askance and find humour in anything."
Sanjeev is currently negotiating to remain in Spamalot until the end of its run next year.
When asked if he has any remaining ambitions, he replies simply: "To be 5ft 10in, but that one is probably beyond me!
"At the end of the day I am tremendously proud of my heritage. There is such a cosmopolitan mix of cultures where I am from and it is such a creative place; it undoubtedly made me who I am today."
He may be a superstar, but he will always remain 'the kid from west London'.