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British Asian journalist Shekhar Bhatia reveals racism in football and Fleet Street

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Shekhar Bhatia speaking to Geo News in London. — Reporter

LONDON: One of Britain’s longest serving national newspaper journalists has released a memoir which reveals the joy-and pain he has experienced in 47 years as a reporter – and the worst form of racism he suffered owing to his British Asian heritage.

Shekhar Bhatia, who was born in London and is of Asian heritage, has disclosed the racism he endured while trying to make it on Fleet Street. His parents moved to the UK from Pakistan pre-partition. He spoke to this correspondent at the national launch of his book ‘Namaste, Geezer’. The event was attended by a large number of British Asians working for the mainstream.

On one newspaper, The London Evening Standard, he was denied a desk and for five years and had to ‘hot desk’ and one of his editors used the cruel ‘Wog’ word in his presence at a Christmas party while reading ‘Jerusalem’ from The Bible to remind colleagues of how Great Britain once was.

Others on the Daily Mirror called him a ‘monkey’ and asked him who had cut his tree down while another labelled him their ‘sepoy runner.’

But Bhatia’s memoir does not reveal him to be a victim, and the tome is rather more a celebration of a life in journalism which brought him to Pakistan five times with Princess Diana and to interview former prime minister Imran Khan.

He told Geo and The News: “My father was from Lahore which he loved and looked fondly back on after partition. I fell in love with Lahore too. Although I was of Indian descent, the Pakistani people welcomed me and told me I had come home. In Britain my father’s friends were mainly from Pakistan and India and they loved getting together, smoking a few woodbines and reminiscing.”

Bhatia, who in 2014 was voted Journalist of the Year at Britain’s Asian Media Awards, writes about his love for West Ham United and the racism he endured from skinheads who called him ‘Paki’ and shouted that he should go back to where he came from.

“I was born in Kensington and had grown up in London and did not know then what they meant!” he added.

In his career covering news and sport, he has reported from seven Olympics, seven World Cups, umpteen Wimbledon finals as well as cricket and basketball in the US and travelled to more than 40 states and lived in New York City.

Bhatia has helped produce documentaries for the BBC, Channel Four and NBC and has been involved in making several films on the murder by Blade Runner Oscar Pistorius of model Reeva Steenkamp and carried out the first full interview with her parents for NBC which was shown across the world.

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