Changes: Big Zuu
The audio version of this episode is available here.
Annie [00:00:03] Hello, my name is Annie Macmanus. Welcome to Changes. How are you, lads? I am speaking to you, looking out into the garden on a gorgeous summer's day. And I was just thinking actually, before I pressed record, on what a difference a day makes because this time yesterday I was pulling my hair out inside the house with two not well boys off school, worried about all the work that I had to do in the next couple of weeks. You know that feeling when things kind of start piling up and you feel a little overwhelmed. And then today, suddenly, everything is just glorious. Tomorrow is another day. So, yeah, I hope you're okay. Hope you're enjoying summertime and getting a chance to feel the sun on your face. And, I'm really happy to bring you a bit of a sunshiny episode, actually, to go along with the weather. From someone who is just one of those people that lights up a room whenever he walks in. My guest today is the rapper, chef and huge television personality, Big Zuu. If you're not a grime fan, you'll probably know Big Zuu for his TV show, Big Zuu's Big Eats, which just won two BAFTA awards, the highest accolade in television, and has just returned for a third series on Dave. Zuu's big personality and total authenticity in being himself is what makes the show the success it is. He was born in London, just down the road from where I am actually, in a quite notorious estate called the Mozart Estate, just off the Harrow Road. And his mam came over here when she was pregnant, from Sierra Leone, fleeing war, a refugee, and after five or so years of moving around, finally settled down in permanent housing in the Mozart Estate. I first came across Zuu as a music fan. He is someone at the kind of epicentre of the grime scene. One of the originals, the grime originals, and has obviously expanded beyond then and makes all different types of rap music. He's one of those guys that has all the respect of the scene and the rappers. He's kind of your rapper's favourite rapper, type of rapper. So I've known him from that world. His cousin is the hugely successful rapper AJ Tracey. And yeah, he's got a lot of respect, but not like huge commercial success, I could safely say, in the world of music. It's taken his change into television to afford him that. He's now a permanent fixture on the telly. He's just hosted his own ITV breakfast show. He has a show called Hungry For It, which he's done with Stacey Dooley on BBC three, which is out now. And he's just turned his hand to acting in a new comedy sitcom called Sneakerhead, which is coming out this week. Big Zuu is changing the face of television and we are so delighted to have him. So please, enter the podcast, Big Zuu... How is life post being a double BAFTA winner? Is the phone off the hook? What does it look like now, the career prospects?
Big Zuu [00:03:16] Yeah, it's mad because everything I kind of like- I'm doing this summer, everything that's coming out is already done. So, I guess the BAFTA's kind of just solidified more why those things are getting done. And I think it just added more eyes towards what we're doing.
Annie [00:03:34] Yeah. So how are you in general? Are you good? Are you in good form?
Big Zuu [00:03:38] I'm good. Me and my friends are going on holiday next month.
Annie [00:03:42] No way, where?
Big Zuu [00:03:42] I'm going away for two months. So I'm going Miami for a bit, then I'm going Colombia for like a month, then I'm gonna go Morocco. So I've taken two months off my diary and just said, no work, nothing, leave me alone.
Annie [00:03:58] Good, good, good. Have you ever done that before?
Big Zuu [00:03:59] Nope. It's my first time in like, it's like my first time in I guess like, eight years.
Annie [00:04:05] That's amazing.
Big Zuu [00:04:06] That I've just taken off two months to just go enjoy my life.
Annie [00:04:09] Is it right that you're going with Tubsey and Hyder?
Big Zuu [00:04:11] Yep. Me, Tubsey, Hyder and then my other friend that lives with us. We all live in this house, so we live in a big house in Golders Green, which is very random. But we live like in the suburbs, It's so funny. We live in like a big family house, but we are not like a typical family. So all four of us are going and this morning we was learning how to salsa in the morning *Annie laughs* we put 'how to salsa' on YouTube and we was just in our living room just-.
Annie [00:04:38] Wiggling the hips.
Big Zuu [00:04:38] I was holding Tubsey's hands and that, trying to learn. He didn't- I don't think he liked it but yeah.
Annie [00:04:46] *Laughs* That's such an amazing picture, I love that, you lot salsa-ing.
Big Zuu [00:04:49] Yeah.
Annie [00:04:50] Well I hope you have the best holiday, that sounds like the trip of a lifetime.
Big Zuu [00:04:53] Thank you. Nah it's going to be mad. It's going to be mad.
Annie [00:04:54] Yeah, good. Let's go into our changes. This podcast is all about change. We ask every guest three big changes in their lives. Tell me, Zuu, about your childhood change.
Big Zuu [00:05:04] So, I guess the biggest change for me was like, moving around. When my mum moved to England, it was during the rebel war in Sierra Leone. She was four months pregnant with me, so when she got here she stayed at a friend's house, I was born and we first lived in Victoria. Then we kind of moved. We moved around but we settled in Battersea for a bit.
Annie [00:05:26] Right.
Big Zuu [00:05:27] And then once my mum broke up with my dad- because my dad was living in Sierra Leone, he was living in Africa. So once they broke up, my dad was just being a shithead. Things got a little bit more tough. So we moved in with one of my uncles, you know, that uncle, that family friend. Had to leave his, went to a place called the Da Hotel, which is like this refugee kind of like asylum seeker place where people settle before they go into permanent housing. Lived there for two years. So, up until I was about five, six years old, I had already moved like five or six times. So I was never settled in my childhood until I got to West London, until I moved to Fearnhead Road, which is in erm, I guess the Maida Vale area. So, I have like vivid memories of just moving around, not being settled, not having like a place I would call home for a long time. And then when I got to Harrow Road, I was still going primary school in Marylebone. So no one really around me went to my primary school. So I was still in an area where I didn't feel connected to. Then by the time I got to secondary school, I didn't really know anyone because I didn't go primary school with anyone in my area. So a lot of my childhood, until I was about 10, 11, then I met my friends in secondary school, became close to them and now their my friends for life. But up until about 10, 11, I always felt like displaced. I didn't know where my home was, you know what I mean?
Annie [00:06:52] Yeah. So the only consistency you had was your mum?
Big Zuu [00:06:55] Yeah.
Annie [00:06:56] She was home.
Big Zuu [00:06:57] Yeah. Being with her and- but for my mum, my mum was going through like transition in her life, going from like her mid twenties to her like late thirties. So she was like, having to like, try raise a child while also enjoying her life and living her best life. So I guess the biggest changes was fluctuating from where we lived, my mum also growing older and like just understanding herself as a woman and then having to raise me at the same time. So, it was challenging but I mean, I wouldn't change it for anything because it made me and her the people we are today. But in terms of changes, like life was consistently changing.
Annie [00:07:37] It was change, yeah. It was constantly in flux. Yeah. Yeah. I wonder how that like manifests long term in terms of you like, how did that kind of start in life of constantly moving- Have you seen any signs of how that's kind of ran through you in terms of that experience?
Big Zuu [00:07:54] Yeah, I guess it makes me crave stability.
Annie [00:07:58] Yeah.
Big Zuu [00:07:59] But then it also makes me not feel comfortable when I'm in one place because I'm so used to moving around. So I don't feel like I could be settled. When I think about my future I don't think about, oh being here forever and settling down here, I always feel like I'll always wanna move around, always wanna be around new settings. But then I also crave that stability. So for me, it's kind of like finding that balance within what I knew growing up, and then what I know what's best for me as I get older. So it's finding that medium.
Annie [00:08:31] Yeah and doing that consistency of keeping people close. As in your best mates who you live with and you work with, but still moving around physically. But having that consistency of people around you.
Big Zuu [00:08:42] Yeah, because my friends are my family. Because alot of my family live back home, I use my friends as my family. Like I don't have bare uncles and cousins and grandma, auntie, I don't have that here. So, my friends are my stability. That's why I take my friendships so seriously and me and my friends are kind of like, close. Because it's not just me that's gone through that. All my friends that have grown up where we're from, we all kind of had like, indifference and had to battle through changes. So we kind of all use each other to lift each other up.
[00:09:13] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:09:22] I mean, your BAFTAs speech was, I mean they were both amazing. The first one was so moving and so, like, you could just see the adrenaline running through you.
Big Zuu [00:09:32] Yeah definitely.
Annie [00:09:33] You could see the passion in what you were saying, talking about Hyder and Tubsey and where they came from and where you come from, and your mum coming over. And it just felt so important in that room that you were there doing that.
Big Zuu [00:09:45] Yeah, it was weird, I guess. I guess being around the kind of people that we was around on the day, especially when we first got there and had the opening ceremony and everyone's having their drinks and stuff and me and the lads were just in the corner drinking water, not having no champagne, not really speaking to anyone. Just everyone watching eachother, because everyone knew we was nominated. But I guess when we was in the room, you got all these like famous people, big telly people, obviously people saying hi and stuff but we definitely felt really out of place. So when we sat down in the hall and they start the full ceremony, we kind of just sat there thinking like, it felt like we was kids in assembly. We just wanted to make noise and like disrupt it and not take it as seriously. So when we won, we went from like, little kids in assembly to like, big men with a purpose. And I think, I guess what surprised people the most was that, where I took it with the speech was obviously coming from where I come from, being like an ethnic brother from the hood, all that stuff, like it is important to express it but I guess like, we could have just relished in the moment and been happy to win but when I watched that speech back, especially the first one, I'm almost angry. And the anger is what fuels the adrenaline, because the anger is that I should be able to just celebrate and be like the rest of my peers who come up here and they're shocked and happy and filled with joy. Instead, we was filled with purpose and like had to get out a message. And it's like, us being that medium to expressing that kind of like, anger towards the industry. It just resonated with so many people. Yeah, but I guess why it was I was angry. Not angry, but I guess why it comes across like that to myself was that, I just spent the whole day sitting there watching people celebrate. And kind of like, be like living joy for the people behind them who make their show. Whereas my thing was like, okay, let's explain why we're here. It's kind of like I almost had to give a disclaimer for why I deserve to be here. Also, why it's important that I'm here. And yeah, I think it was an interesting moment, probably one of the most surreal moments of my life. It transcended and it touched so many people and, like people stop me in the street and their like, yo I listen to that speech every day. They talk about how it made them cry and how it motivated them and I just- I'm like yo bro, I just went on the stage and just let it out. But I'm happy that it led towards a little bit of social change, because that's what we're here for init.
Annie [00:12:27] Mm hmm. And the thing is, the way that you exist in the world of television, not that I know television that well but it feels like it's such a world of like, pretences, isn't it? Like, there's so many like, airs and graces and ways of- there's even like, a way of talking in television, about television, that's quite a niche way of talking about TV and so much of it is about performance.
Big Zuu [00:12:51] Mm hmm.
Annie [00:12:52] But you're just you! *Zuu laughs* And I think that's really, really rare. And I mean you in all of your glory, in terms of you know, talking about your heritage. Basically, it feels subversive that you exist in television just because you are not performing, you are just being you. It seems like that anyway.
Big Zuu [00:13:08] Yeah, deffo. The problem is that sometimes when you represent something, or somewhere.
Annie [00:13:15] Yeah.
Big Zuu [00:13:16] When you're in that position you get all this pressure to like, answer every question. 'So what's it like being a mixed race brother from there?' 'And what's it like being from Africa?'... And I don't represent every African. I don't represent every mixed race guy. I don't represent every ethnic brother. But when you're in these places, especially in television, sometimes you are the only ethnic minority, you are the only working class person in the room, you are the only person that's from your background. So, sometimes when I'm in these places like, I do feel a pressure to be a certain type of way. But then I also- coming from music which is so unruly, I'm very lucky. So I kind of just let go of- I don't care about the judgement that sometimes like transcends past me, just how I speak. Everyone has their telly voice, the same way everyone has their radio voice, everyone has that voice that they use when their put under pressure and their in the public eye. I always find myself like, talking a little bit more posh or enunciating myself a little bit more. Like, oh, especially when you read autocue, or when you're on radio, like having to read, sometimes you're like, 'oh, hello, welcome to' duh duh duh duh duh. And it's like, wait I don't speak like that. So I kind of was very lucky that when I got into telly, I did years of radio and music and was able to kind of establish who I was. So when I made that transition, even though the lights are on you and there's all these new people who don't know who you are, I never like came to that, that pressure.
Annie [00:14:44] Yeah, of conforming.
Big Zuu [00:14:45] Because there is a pressure. Yeah, and like you said it's that performative, pretentious, kind of like categories that we put ourselves in and we always want to like represent ourself in the best way, but don't get me wrong, sometimes I go on telly and people will be like, who is this loud over the top guy? Why does he speak like this? He can't speak English. Like, people used to say I look like Big Nartstie and I used to think, what? why do I look like Big Nartstie? Because of how I sound and where I'm from? And I remember first getting into telly and getting a lot of those tweets like, who is this Big Nartstie? Who is this Big Nartstie? But then it taught me it's because that's the only representation you've had of someone like me, recently. So, it's the easiest person to-
Annie [00:15:27] It's just lazy. Like they need to put you in a box. It's just lazy, init?
Big Zuu [00:15:32] Yeah, and cause I'm similar to Narstie in the fact that I'm a musician and we both have the word big in our name, it's easy to call us the same thing but me and Nartstie are completely different. We are completely different entities. It's like, it's like saying Phillip Schofield is Piers Morgan.
Annie [00:15:50] Yeah.
Big Zuu [00:15:50] Because they're both white and they're both presenters.
Annie [00:15:54] Yeah, yeah.
Big Zuu [00:15:55] But it's easy for people to differentiate them because their character is completely different. Whereas, I feel like people like me and Nartstie, we're considered to have one similar overall character. So coming into telly, for me the main thing was about breaking that down and I would just want to see more people like me and more people that are just different, because then it just keeps breaking down more and more doors. What was interesting is, on the day of the BAFTAs, I can't remember the guy's name, I think he's from sex education but he became the new actor of Doctor Who.
Annie [00:16:25] Okay.
Big Zuu [00:16:26] And like, I remember the conversations around it, they were like, why does it have to be a black guy? Why does it have to be someone from this community? And people just don't like change until it's in their face. Because it was the same conversation when a woman was made Doctor Who. But Doctor Who is a random alien that could be anyone, you know. So, why does an alien have to have a colour? What does an alien- because it's what- until there's the change, a change in representation, people don't know any better. So, we're at the beginning stages of the breaking down of these stereotypes, of these generalisations, and we kind of have to take in the brute force. And I remember seeing the guy who was made Doctor Who on the day and we didn't really speak but I remember this look, we walked past each other, looked at each other, and we both- there was this energy like, we're both going through something mad right now. At the same time. And we don't know each other but we both feel that, and what we're going through is mad. And I felt energy that day, which is mad.
Annie [00:17:26] Yeah. And like it's really interesting that fact of you having this whole career in music, which we'll get to of course, and that basically meaning that you have a practised expression of yourself. Like a really truthful, honest way of being like, you know, of expressing yourself and that serving you in television because you know how to be you.
Big Zuu [00:17:47] Yeah.
Annie [00:17:48] You already know how to do that.
Big Zuu [00:17:49] One million percent. I think music gives you this- like the best word for it is unruly. You kind of like, just don't care how you express yourself because that is who you are. That's what gets you to where you are. People love you for you. So, on telly you kind of have to be like, you're like a spiritual character to deliver words. I always look at Laura Whitmore, what she does for Love Island. Laura's a really bubbly, just incredible Irish lady, yeah. And she's so, she's so fun, so cool, so amazing like. But people always batter her for her character. Even though when she hosts Love Island, she's just the host. She doesn't even do anything outlandish. She doesn't like express herself, create in a crazy manner. When she does Aftersun which is like the after show, yeah, she's a bit more like herself, but when she's on the main show, she just walks in and says, you're coupling up with this guy, she has like little moments in the programme. She gets absolutely demoralised for who she is.
Annie [00:18:54] Does she? I didn't know that.
Big Zuu [00:18:54] Yeah, it's crazy. Like, it's crazy.
Annie [00:18:57] TV is so cruel, I cannot handle it.
Big Zuu [00:18:59] Yeah, she gets a lot of abuse just for being the host. And that is what you see in television. You see people who don't even get to express themselves that much, and get absolutely clattered just because we all have this idea of what we think the perfect host is and the perfect type of telly person, and the perfect type of whatever. And if it was a musician hosting Love Island, they're allowed to say whatever they want, do whatever they want, because people would be like, oh, that's how they are. Whereas Laura is not allowed to be how she is because she's a presenter. So she has to be a perfect 'presenter'.
Annie [00:19:33] She has to fit the mould.
Big Zuu [00:19:34] Yeah and what's crazy is that, God rest her soul, look at what happened with Caroline Flack, the amount of pressure that she was under and Laura being good friends with her, having to replace her.
Annie [00:19:47] Mmm.
Big Zuu [00:19:48] The amount of mental strain that there is but the public don't care. And I think for me, when I got into telly, I was very mindful of how the public can scrutinise you and treat you but luckily, music gives you that kind of like, that unruly factor where you're like, I am who I am. And I'm used to performing in front of thousands of people, going crazy on the stage screaming my heart out. So, in this room full of thirty people with two cameras on me, I can be whoever I want to be. But yeah.
Annie [00:20:20] Music Youtube comments can be so cruel. But they're mostly about- be about your flow or your lyrics or something. Whereas on television, it's just you. It's like, you know, it's you. You're more vulnerable in a way on telly because it's not like you're doing like a specific thing to critique. It's like you're just being Zuu.
Big Zuu [00:20:40] Yeah, it's- music you get to control the lens. You have artistic control over everything. Whereas when you're talent on telly, there's less. You have less control of the edit, how it's aired, the wording used. How you're represented, you rarely see the final cut of something before it comes out. It kind of just comes out.
Annie [00:21:01] That's the bit I hate the most about telly. It's the fear of what's that final edit going to be?
Big Zuu [00:21:06] Yeah. Whereas Big Eats, it's a bit different, when I work on Big Eat's it's cool. It's named after me. I narrate it. I have a lot of control over what goes into it. So with that, that's why I'm so- that's why Big Eats is what it is, because we just say fuck it and we have fun with it. Whereas when I go on these shows like, when I go on these like very typical mainstream shows, you rarely have a chance of what you're going to say. They normally tell you what you're about to say. They normally have a conversation with you about what you're going to do. They normally break everything down for you. You're just there like to just- it's very rare that you can- The reason why I have so much joy when I go on these shows is because the producer tells me Zuu we want you to do this, we want you to do that, and then I get on and it's live. So then I just do what a fuck I want to do. I say the weirdest things as long as I'm not going to cancel myself and like demoralise any community and make people feel bad, I kind of have fun with it. So when I go on like Sunday Brunch or Saturday Kitchen-
Annie [00:22:02] Or This Morning.
Big Zuu [00:22:02] Or This Morning, all these things, I make sure, yeah, yeah, the producer will give me their ear full, tell me what they want me to do. Don't be like this. Don't be like that. And then I'll just go on and have fun with it because I'm a bit more like, whatever happens, happens init. But then you see the backlash. Like, I read an article the other day, which is crazy. Someone sent it to me. The headline was Saturday Kitchen Viewers- I can't remember the word, like either disgusted or astonished, At Loud Chef. And I was like- and I read the article. And the article was like, couple tweets of just people saying, this guy's too loud, duh duh duh. And for me it's like, that's hilarious because I genuinely don't care. But, that all stems from a couple of tweets, people saying they didn't like me on the show, equals the article. So someone might have never watched that show, they'll read the article and be like, *kisses teeth* my mans too loud, I never want to see him again. But that is the power of like journalism and how people like kind of perceive you. But like I said, with music people have always got something to say. Music, people critique your art. They could critique what you spent hours making. Whereas telly is 5 minutes of a moment of you that you get critiqued on. So weighing it out it's like, alright people call my music shit. That hurts me a bit more than someone saying I was a bit loud on Saturday Kitchen. See what I mean?
Annie [00:23:21] Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah totally, yeah.
Big Zuu [00:23:23] I spent 5 hours in the booth trying to write this song. You don't like it, you don't like my melody. It's a bit different to me going on saying, put the chicken in the pan.
Annie [00:23:33] Yeah *laughs*.
[00:23:33] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:23:44] Since you've been on telly, which is what, since 2020 with the Big Eat's stuff, how has life changed for you and how have you changed, if at all, as a result of being on telly?
Big Zuu [00:23:55] My biggest change is when I'm outside. I've been getting stopped since I was 19. I'm 26, turning 27 this year, so it's been eight years. Since 2014 I've been stopped on the street about who I am. 'Oh my God, you're Big Zuu'. That has completely changed now. So before it used to be young people and music fans. People used to stop me because they loved my art. Now it's like continuous, like people just look at man all day, and they can't believe they saw me on the telly, rah ter ter. And I used to think- people used to complain about shit like that and I used to be like, why you complaining bro, those are the people that pay your bills. But it's not that I'm annoyed at it. It's that I'm very aware that when I'm outside, if I'm just walking down Oxford Street, I can't be the same outlandish, annoying person I used to be.
Annie [00:24:41] So you have to be a bit more low key?
Big Zuu [00:24:43] Bit more mindful, bit more low key.
Annie [00:24:45] A bit more self-aware.
Big Zuu [00:24:46] Yeah, and that's all it is. And it's that anonymity that's been taken away from me that I'm so mindful of. And you don't think it will play a part in your mental, but it does. It's a weird thing to explain, but that's probably the biggest change from being on telly is like, how much I get recognised and how that affects me. Because I'm such an outgoing person, but sometimes you just want to be you in your normal space. You just want to chill and not speak about telly. But then because my work is so mainstream.
Annie [00:25:18] Everywhere you go, you're reminded that people watch you. So it's kind of impossible to kind of switch off.
Big Zuu [00:25:23] Yes. And I'm sure you understand that.
Annie [00:25:25] I do.
Big Zuu [00:25:26] It's a weird one. My friends sometimes just can't be bothered.
Annie [00:25:29] Because it's too much hassle for them because you have to keep stopping and chatting.
Big Zuu [00:25:31] Yeah, it's long for them. And I find it hilarious, it's jokes because like, I got friends that are like, hella famous. People like AJ and people like Dave and Storms and like, I remember growing up and being out with them and seeing it happen to them and I used to think ahhh. Sometimes they'll be like, err not today and they'll like, not take pictures with people and I'll be like, what the fuck you doing bruv, why you doing that?! And now I'm like, ahh I get it. But nah like, I'll always stop for people, I'll always talk to people, always. Because I've realised that, that first impression you have on someone is a lasting impression. So, I kind of find myself in this mindstate when I'm outside where I have to always be on. I'm always Big Zuu, never Zuhair, who is who I am.
Annie [00:26:12] So what you have to do then is try and find- which you're doing, is like carve time and space in your life to be Zahair.
Big Zuu [00:26:20] Yes.
Big Zuu [00:26:20] So go to Colombia, go to, you know what I mean?
Big Zuu [00:26:23] For 2 months *laughs*.
Annie [00:26:23] Yeah *laughs* but that's what it takes. Like I go to Ireland for a month every year to do that, like check out. It's super important for your wellbeing, I think.
Big Zuu [00:26:33] Yeah, it's weird. It's like the older I get, the more these things become important. Whereas when I was a young musician I was like, nah fuck that! Lets go on tour every day, let's be in the studio till stupid o'clock, till 3 a.m. every day. Go to every event. Like, yeah. Music is so different to telly.
Annie [00:26:55] Let's talk about music real quick because I mean, I think in the world of television, what we're talking about is you being in your own lane. I feel like you're like that in music too, though.
Big Zuu [00:27:06] Yeah, I guess definitely.
Annie [00:27:07] There's a line in your Daily Duppy where you're like, 'I never did drip, drip. I did my own thing'. And I felt like that sums it up for you because you just- it doesn't feel like you've ever sold out or tried to go down a lane because it's popular or hype or trendy at the time. So tell me about that, like finding your voice and finding your place in grime as an MC.
Big Zuu [00:27:27] Yeah. I mean, it all stems from when I did uni. I went to uni to become a youth worker. Dropped out to pursue music. And when I dropped out, I said to myself, I'm not going to leave a career of working with young people, helping young people, to go and pursue a music career just for wealth. Because I knew as a person, that's what it felt like selling out. That's what selling out felt like for me, is dropping out of uni to be a youth worker to help young people, to go make music to become lit. So I always said my music always has to have a backbone of like youth work, young people, have a message. Whenever I was doing stuff in my career, I always just kind of like went back to like, who am I doing it for? Doing it for the young people. So, every project i've put out, a lot of my singles, a lot of my songs, always about like social change, young people, always have a conscious message. I've had fun as well. Like there's always the other side of like MC'ing where like, it's gass and hype and rave and all of that. I have that side to me, but I also have my real side and I think that line you said, 'I never did drip drip', that was what it was about like, don't get me wrong now like I got a watch, I got a chain. Like, I've got the elements of the stuff that I didn't want to become, but that's more for me. It's less about the stunt. It's more about the appreciation of the hard work. I never did, like- I've only got this stuff now, whereas I could have lot this stuff when I was at MC, when I was doing music, but I chose not to because I always knew that I can have this false image of a successful MC, and it will make people love man, and I can do the buss down and have bare girls in my video and all these things, but I'll just be selling a message that I never wanted to sell.
Annie [00:29:06] And where did that come from? That desire to give back and to have a kind of ethical purpose?
Big Zuu [00:29:14] I guess when I was young, I didn't know what I wanted to do in life. When I kind of got to the age of like 17, 18. A career advisor, she said, what are you good at? I said, i'm good at talking. And she was like okay, why don't you become like, why don't you work in social care? Why don't you like work with young people? I said, how can I work with young people if i'm young? She said, you have to start now. So, my first ever job I ever got was working in a charity called City Year, which was part of the National Citizenship Service where you work in schools. Then I worked for them. Then I started working in youth clubs. So for me, I just fell into it. I fell into working with young people, and I always felt best when I helped advise someone. Because I went through so much growing up, because I was in touch with a lot of my emotion and I kind of always stayed on the right path because my mum was so strict on me going on the right path. But I came from where I came from. I came from the hood, I came from that background, been around stuff but I never went down the wrong path because of how strict my mum was. When I got into those positions where I worked with young people, I always felt like I was best able to advise them because I'm from where you're from, but I don't do what you might be doing. So they still listen to me- like I was that perfect medium of, you're going to take me in, but you're also going to respect me. Whereas I felt like some youth workers were either too- They were too deep in it or they were too far away from it.
Annie [00:30:39] Yeah, got ya.
Big Zuu [00:30:40] But we all have a good heart. But for me, it felt like my perfect job role because, I'm from where you lot are from, but I don't do the madness that happens here.
Annie [00:30:49] How did you end up not doing it, though? Like what? You know, your mam was strict. Did you not feel like rebelling against that, as any teenager would? Like, as a mother of sons, how did your mum do it?
Big Zuu [00:31:00] I mean, you know, the area that I'm from.
Annie [00:31:02] I do.
Big Zuu [00:31:03] West London, Mozart. It's right in the middle of like, this juxtaposition of the beautiful side of Maida Vale, Padderton, Elgin Avenue, all these beaut- and then in between you have these mad rough estates, high level poverty. So growing up, life weren't easy, life was tough but I used to go to the park and my mum would be watching man from the window. There's Ashmore Park and she could see Ashmore Park. I'd see her. Like i'm playing football in the cage and I can see my mum watching me.
Annie [00:31:34] I know the cage, yeah.
Big Zuu [00:31:34] You know the cage so I could see- like my mum there in the window. I guess for my mum, cause I was the only child at the time, cause she went through so much to get me here and she comes from Sierra Leone, one of the poorest countries in the world, very, very hard upbringing, for her it's like, I ain't gonna go through all of this to bring you here and let you just go off the wrong-.
Annie [00:31:57] Throw it away.
Big Zuu [00:31:57] Do you know what I mean? So there was that extra, extra, pressure. Don't get me wrong, at the time I was like *kisses teeth*, low it mum like let me be free.
Annie [00:32:03] Yeah.
Big Zuu [00:32:03] Let me be with my friends, let me go out, let me- like when it's time to go home my mum was calling my phone a billion times. She's coming downstairs, making sure I go upstairs because my other friends, they're kind of staying out and.
Annie [00:32:13] Right, I got you.
Big Zuu [00:32:14] And it's not that they don't have that strong family background or they don't have a strict mom, because I think everyone has that kind of element. But I think my mum, it was just a bit more. Where it was her own. No one around her, refugee, left everything behind. So she put everything into me.
Annie [00:32:32] So she came over when she was four months pregnant. What was her background? And even you telling me about your perspective of that, you know, moving four or five times for your six. What must it have been like for her? The stress of keeping you safe.
Big Zuu [00:32:46] I mean, my mum's a strong lady, but it definitely has had a lot of impact on her mental well-being. I mean, back in the 90s, 2000s, we did not speak about mental health. We didn't speak about trauma, we didn't understand how these things affected people. My mum just carried a lot of that weight on her shoulders and now she's older, she's unpacking everything she went through. But she also has me as a son, kind of like enjoying the fruits of her labour. All that hard work she's done. Like when she's on stage and we're winning a BAFTA, for her it's like, ahh all that shit was worth it. We also have a lot of luck on our side. Don't get me wrong, I work hard and all them things but we are very lucky that we've got this outcome. Whereas I know there's a lot of people that have been in the same position as me, and they don't get that outcome. And I think it's more about like, the support that women get when they are refugees in this country and they don't have a family structure. And my mum is the epitome of how the government was way better back in the day. The government had way more support. How the government supported me and my mum was really important. Being a refugee in this country now is almost impossible. They're sending people to Rwanda.
Annie [00:34:02] Oh, babe, I can't.
Big Zuu [00:34:03] Do you know what I mean!
Annie [00:34:05] And what must that be like for someone like your mum watching that and seeing that? That must be, just so distressing.
Big Zuu [00:34:11] Yeah, for her. I guess for her. My mums always used to be like, Zuu, don't say bad things about England. Don't cost England. Don't cost the government. Stop saying-.
Annie [00:34:21] They gave us a home, we're here.
Big Zuu [00:34:23] Yeah, because all my music is mad political. I'll be like 'bun the government' rah ter ter. My mum used to be like, 'why are you saying that? No. God save the queen. These are good people. They may have colonised my country, but I don't care about that', do you know what I mean. And now when she sees all these things happening, I have more conversations with her, she's more like rah, like she does kind of look back and think things were way easier back in the day. Back in the day, you didn't have to have a lot of money to have an okay life. I do think we'll feel really sad for the people that are leaving their countries to seek refuge in a place like England, which is full of opportunity and full of support, and they're coming here to try get a new life and they don't even get a chance. And that is like what's heartbreaking right now. And it's sad to see and I think for my mum, it just kind of like reinforces how lucky we are. But yeah, definitely see what's going on in the world right now. People getting sent to Rwanda, people not being allowed to seek refuge here, people not being allowed to settle down, people are not given permanent housing.
Annie [00:35:27] Mm hmm.
Big Zuu [00:35:27] Yeah. I think I'm the epitome of what can come from the government if the government does the right thing. You can have people like me who can go from that to winning the highest accolade in television, which is mental, you know?
[00:35:40] Mmm, mm, mm.
[00:35:40] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:35:51] The start of your Big Zuu's Big Eats, there's a line where you talk about food as a way of showing love.
Big Zuu [00:35:58] Yeah.
Annie [00:36:00] And I wanted to ask you a bit about that, and ask you to tell me when you first made food, and was there a moment in your kind of childhood where you remember actually creating a meal and feeling like a certain way?
Big Zuu [00:36:15] Yeah. I mean, I first got into cooking when my mum was pregnant with my brother. And I just wanted to help.
Annie [00:36:19] What age were ya?
Big Zuu [00:36:19] I was 10. So, my mum was like six months pregnant with my little bro, Mr. Feroze. My mum was really tired, really drained, and she just stopped cooking dinner. So I was like okay, 'mum what's fo dinner?', she was like, heat up something. I'm like okay. We had some tortellini in the fridge, some pasta sauce, cook the tortellini, cook the pasta sauce. And my mum was like, Zuu this is undercooked. I said, no it's not, no it's not mum. She's like, yes it is, you're supposed to boil it for 10 minutes. I said no it's not, took out the packet from the bin. It says boil for 2 minutes on the front and she fought you boil dry pasta the same as fresh pasta.
Annie [00:36:59] Right.
Big Zuu [00:37:00] So I taught her, from watching all this Saturday kitchen and Sunday brunch and all this stuff growing up, watching a lot of cooking shows, I was like, no, mum, you boil fresh pasta for 2 to 3 minutes. And I remember that feeling of proving my mum wrong was like, the greatest feeling in the world *Annie laughs*. But then I also had the- helping her. Like the fact that I wasn't the best at chores init.
Annie [00:37:23] Yeah.
Big Zuu [00:37:23] And like in an African household, chores are really important when you're young, like cleaning the house, taking care of a house. That's like- you can have nothing in your fridge, but if the house is clean, it's fine. That kind of like helping mum cook was such a big part of, like, me having responsibility as a young man in the house. So, the feeling of proving my mum wrong and helping her at the same time just made me fall in love with cooking. And then, that's what made me fall in love with making pasta and tomato sauce, which is now my favourite food of all time.
Annie [00:37:52] Oh my God, me too. Put cheese on?
Big Zuu [00:37:54] A lot of parmesan. Well not all the time. Pasta and tomatoe sauce is so easy!
Annie [00:37:58] I just think if you can make a basic tomato sauce, you're grand. You're fine in life.
Big Zuu [00:38:02] Yeah, that's it!
Annie [00:38:04] I've only just learnt though. I've only just learnt. Only just.
Big Zuu [00:38:10] How do you make your tomato sauce?
Annie [00:38:11] Erm, shitloads of garlic, finely chopped onion.
Big Zuu [00:38:11] Yeah.
Annie [00:38:14] I put in salt and sugar.
Big Zuu [00:38:16] Mmm.
Annie [00:38:17] Tinned tomatoes and that's kind of the base. And then I could add- I'd add stuff to that. I might add a bit of chilli, a bit of paprika.
Big Zuu [00:38:23] And you say you haven't cooked for a long time?
Annie [00:38:25] Yeah. Yeah. Boom. It's lovely.
Big Zuu [00:38:29] And once you learn that, you never use Dolmio again.
Annie [00:38:32] Yeah, yeah, true. True, true.
Annie [00:38:34] The first time you cooked then was a situation where, A, you wanted to help your mam, but B it was like, well I just need- I wanna have some dinner. So, it's kind of function and also like, you know, trying to give back. But in terms of like being someone who cooks all the time, then is it true, like when you grew older, you used to be the guy to cooked for your friends?
Big Zuu [00:38:54] Yeah, I did catering in school which taught me how to cook more. And then by the time I was like 16, 17, I didn't have money init. So, sometimes I'll be at my friend's house and they'll be like, let's order pizza. It's going to cost everyone £10 each. I'll be like, bro we're about to spend 50 quid on pizza, give me £20, I'll cook dinner for us. So I used to take like £3 each from the mandem and go buy macaroni, flour, butter, cheese, milk, chicken wings and hella seasoning. And just make macaroni, cheese and wings. That was like my number one dish. And I used to cook it for the mandem all the time, and I used to cook it at AJs a lot because we used to spend a lot of our time at AJ Tracey's house.
Annie [00:39:33] Mmm. He's your cousin?
Big Zuu [00:39:34] He's my cousin and his mum- his mum was a youth worker as well, so she used to open up her house like a youth club. She used to say, I'm a youth worker. It makes sense that my house is a youth club. I'll finish college, go to Grove, chill at AJs. That was like my everyday thing when I was growing up. I would go Sainsbury's on Ladbrooke Grove, buy all the ingredients, cook at Tracey's all the ti- I like, perfected cooking in AJs Kitchen, which is so funny. So random.
Annie [00:40:02] Okay, so you have the functional aspect and the money saving aspect, but there must have been something that you enjoyed being you about cooking for people.
Big Zuu [00:40:09] Yeah, I just, you know what I enjoyed? For 2 hours instead of just sitting in the living room, just watching YouTube, I'll be downstairs doing stuff. I guess it was because I'm so hyperactive, I want to do stuff all the time. There was a bit of that. But then when I would take the plate upstairs and the mandem would eat, it's that appreciation that I would get.
Annie [00:40:27] Yeah, there's like a people pleasing aspect. It's like you want to make people happy.
Big Zuu [00:40:32] Yeah, because I feel like everyone in their friendship group wants to do something for their friends.
Annie [00:40:36] Yeah.
Big Zuu [00:40:37] And that was my thing. I couldn't- I wasn't like the plug. I wasn't a badman. I wasn't like, doing any of the mad things that maybe my friends were doing at the time. So I wasn't part of that life. So my thing was like, how can I make my friends appreciate me? I'll just cook them dinner.
Annie [00:40:54] Which is indisputable! Nothing beats that.
Big Zuu [00:40:58] Yeah, and I've bloody gone and made a career off it, so they always look at it like, ahh if it wasn't for us eating the chicken wings boy!
Annie [00:41:04] *Annie laughs* It's all down to us!
Big Zuu [00:41:04] All that cooking that you did for us, is what made you who you are! So, yeah.
Annie [00:41:12] Is there something else? Like you talk about being hyperactive, is there a meditative-ness? That's probably not a word, but you know what I mean, do you get in a zone and do you feel like there's a bit of escapism in doing it.
Big Zuu [00:41:23] Yeah. When you cook it's a lot of tranquility. The kind of like, vibe that you get from cooking. When I was waiting for that mac to go brown, I'd just sit there and look at the oven, just wait for the crispy top. Then, I used to always take it out and let it set. I'll never serve you a mac straight away, so I remember taking out the mac and all the mandem are just sitting round like, yo let me eat it now, and I'm like no, no, it's going to be better. *Annie laughs* I'm such an annoying person. When I cook, you can't taste it. You're not allowed. Like 'let me have a little bit of', nope. 'Let me just', no, no, you can't taste it. I guess I'm quiet a controlling person.
Annie [00:41:54] Well I was going to ask you about control. Amateur psychologist here. Like, you know, if you grew up in a situation where your, you know, your whereabouts are out your control and you're moving around, is there something about being in charge and having the beginning, middle and end under your own control that is-
Big Zuu [00:42:10] Yeah. 1 million Percent. Controlling it to the point where it's like, I don't want anyone to help me and I don't want anyone to taste it. I'm going to cook this food. You're going to have it. I'm the kind of person that if I'm gonna do something, I want to do it to the best of my ability. And if someone helps me, then it kind of takes away from the fact that I did it.
Annie [00:42:26] Yeah, okay.
Big Zuu [00:42:27] When I was cooking, that's what it was. It was like, learning how to become better. How do I make this better, working out all the steps. And it was all of that time that I did spend cooking for my friends is what made me the chef I am today. Because it gave me hours and hours of, in the kitchen, on my own, doing it. I mean, my first ever cooking video on YouTube is called Big Zuu's Kitchen. I make a Sunday dinner for Christmas and I cook macaroni cheese, I cook chicken and I make a side. And then, it's that very cooking video that gets taken by a production company and they go, oh, we should make a show. Why don't we make like a cooking show with you? And then they make Big Zuu's Big Eats. So, it all kind of just went in line.
[00:43:10] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:43:20] Last two change questions so, the adult change?
Big Zuu [00:43:23] I guess that's my biggest change as an adult is, being on my own, not with my mum. So I moved out last year. Last year May.
Annie [00:43:31] Okay.
Big Zuu [00:43:32] So I went through lockdown in my mum, I was in the house and as soon as lockdown ended, I said it's time. I'm going to I'm going to move out. My mum never wanted me to move out. My mum wanted me to stay till the end.
Annie [00:43:44] Oh my God, I want to keep my kids in my house till they're 50. *Zuu laughs* I mean, your mum did good with you, though. She did really good. She got to what, 27?
Big Zuu [00:43:52] I was 20- so I moved out when I was 25.
Annie [00:43:56] That's the dream.
Big Zuu [00:43:57] Yeah. That's like the final age of you should move out.
Annie [00:44:01] Yeah.
Big Zuu [00:44:02] I went uni but I never left London. Man didn't really have a lot of money so, living on my own was never a thing. So by the time I started doing well in music and making enough money in music is like, am I going to go move out and, you know, as a freelancer, as a musician, I'm not the most richest rapper of all time, so I can't really go get the AP and-
Annie [00:44:26] Yeah, and it's not regular. It's not regular income, is it?
Big Zuu [00:44:27] Nope. So staying home was always the best thing and I was able to save money and invest in my music, and pay my mum her bills and have a good life. But I was still at home. So then I say to my friends- I'm still trying to save money, so I go to all my friends, I go, you know what makes sense? If we all live together because we work together and let's get this house where we cook all the time and live together and think of ideas together. Ever since then, being without my mum has been weird, like having to go travel to go see her and having to be mindful of like when I'm doing my schedule, when I'm checking in, not just going to see her for 30 minutes, like spending a day with her, going out for food with her, all these things that I never used to have to be mindful of cause I would see her every day. The more time I spend apart with her, the less time I'm going to have with her. So every time I don't spend with her, is time that I'm not going to be able to get back with her. Yeah, that's the biggest part of adult life is I always, I always think about if I lose my mum and when I do, I don't want to have any regrets. I want to make sure that I gave her the best life possible and we spent as much time as we possibly could together, but also I have to go live my life and go make money and provide. So, it's a weird balance. That's the weirdest balance of adult life, I guess.
Annie [00:45:40] Yeah. Yeah. How's your mam when you bring girls home?
Big Zuu [00:45:44] Ha! Erm, do you know what, when I was- growing up, I was in a long relationship.
Annie [00:45:50] Oh were you. That doesn't surprise me with what you were talking about. The kind of, loyal,
Big Zuu [00:45:53] Yeah, I was in a long relationship, so growing up, I was never bringing gyal home. So for her, she was cool. But now I'm out of my relationship, I live on my own, err I don't think she wants to be a fly on the wall. But it's cool. It's cool. Nah, I always had that kind of like mentality like, it's not that. Keep that away from your house, whereas I got friends growing they used to bring girls to their house all the time, I used to be like, how do you do that? But my mum definitely, if I bought a random girl home my mum would destroy me. So I never had that. So, yeah.
Annie [00:46:28] Okay, last question Zuu. Change you would like to make moving forwards. I mean, you've made enough, you've made a lot. You could probably do without some but if there is some, what would you like to do?
Big Zuu [00:46:40] I mean, there's two things. Fulfilling this change within telly, social change. Making it more acceptable to have people like myself on television. But people overall, like we need more women. We need more people for working class backgrounds, we need more people and more voices on telly. And not just on screen, not just talent but all the way to the top of the hierarchy. The commissioners, the owners of channels, the editors, the directors, the camera operators. We need a big refresh and only being in telly for such a short amount of time, me being able to understand that is crazy. So I'm sure I'm not the only one that thinks that.
Annie [00:47:19] Would you start your own production company?
Big Zuu [00:47:21] I have. I've got my own. It's called Big Productions.
Annie [00:47:24] Amazing.
Big Zuu [00:47:24] We got two associated producer credits. I'll soon have my own show, hopefully. Made by us. And we will be the change. So, we'll have more representation, we'll have more ethnic diversity and we'll have more inclusion. That is the ethos of my production company. And then my second change, I guess for me is having more patience, having more understanding that like, everything that I have has come in time and it's taken building blocks. But when you're like a young creative, you just want it now. You want the success now. You want everything now. I want things to pattern now. I want to go on holiday now. I want a hit now. I want the best TV show now and it takes time. You got to be patient like, even with the BAFTAs, like we lost last year. When we lost, I was like fuck! Never going to win. Next year I win two. Being patient is the most important thing and understanding patience.
Annie [00:48:22] And seeing the blocks. Like seeing how time has worked. Like you were talking about, you know, the cooking for your friends, the YouTube. Like everything has to happen in-
Big Zuu [00:48:31] Yeah, you can't rush it. Like even telly. Telly comes from me being on radio. The only reason why I think I'm okay at telly is because I work really hard on radio. Because I did years of radio not knowing where it would take me. I just did it because I thought it was fun. And then now I'm on telly and I do autocue, and people are like to me, have you ever done autocue before? And I'm like no... 'So, how are you good at it?', I'm like ahh, it's probably radio. So it's like, everything happens in time and I feel like where we're at now, we'll see where it goes but I have a lot of fun in the food space. Hungry For It is like, the epitome of what I wanted to do. It's a cooking competition with young people from all these different backgrounds.
Annie [00:49:12] Brings it all together, yeah.
Big Zuu [00:49:14] Yeah, and it's like, just if I can do that, if I can do Hungry For It for a million years, and make Big Eats and do my little acting on the side I'll be happy.
Annie [00:49:22] Will you still do music too?
Big Zuu [00:49:23] Yeah. I'm going to the studio after this.
Annie [00:49:25] Good, good, good, good.
Big Zuu [00:49:25] I'm going to go link Kara Marni in the studio. I met her recently, she has an incredible voice. Like I've taken a hiatus. I've not released any music this year, put out my album in October and I've taken time away but I went to the studio recently, made a song and I'm like ooo! This is fun. *Annie laughs* so, going back to the studio today, hopefully going to go and make a banger.
Annie [00:49:47] Okay. Well listen, thank you so much for your time.
Big Zuu [00:49:51] My G, big Annie.
Annie [00:49:59] Thank you so much to Big Zuu. I loved talking to him and catching up with him and just having the privilege of kind of documenting this moment in his life where it feels like he's really on the precipice of big things, but also and importantly, kind of owning those big things, you know. Having the kind of sense and the wherewithal to kind of have his own production company and build things in a way that means that he and everyone else around him are winning in the most optimal way. Wishing Big Zuu all the success in the future and looking forward to seeing him way more on our television screens. Speaking of that, Hungry For It is out on BBC Three now. You can catch it on telly on Tuesday's. Big Zuu's Big Eats series three has just returned today on Mondays at 10 p.m.. Whole series is available to stream on Uktv Play and Sneakerhead is out this Wednesday 13th of July, also on Dave. Right, next week we have quite the episode for you. I will be welcoming the Irish, Double Olivier Award winning actress, Denise Gough onto Changes for what is to be a hugely revelatory, sometimes difficult and painful recollection of Denise's story so far. She's been so successful as an actress, but there's been a lot of trauma along the way, and you'll hear of this next week and hear her very bravely talk about it. Don't miss it. Thank you so much for listening. Please follow and subscribe to Changes, leave a rating where you can. It's such a buzz to know that you're listening and that you're enjoying it. Changes is produced by Louise Mason through DIN Productions. I'll see you next week. Thank you!