African Spirit, Northern Grit – The Rise Of AJ Odudu
by Chloe McLaughlin
AJ ODUDU HAS COME A LONG WAY FROM HER NORTHERN ROOTS. BROUGHT UP IN OUR VERY OWN BLACKBURN, AJ IS ONE OF THE UK’S MOST UPCOMING PRESENTERS WITH GIGS INCLUDING BEING THE DIGITAL PRESENTER OF THE VOICEAS WELL AS BIG BROTHER’S BIT ON THE SIDEAND MTV’S TRENDING LIVE! FROM HER HUMBLE BEGINNINGS, AJ IS QUICKLY BECOMING A FAMILIAR FACE ON OUR SCREENS AND COULD MOST RECENTLY BE SEEN ON SAS: WHO DARES WINS WHERE SHE MADE THE FINAL FOUR AFTER PLUNGING INTO ICY WATER, CLIMBING MOUNTAINS AND HANGING OFF A LADDER PLACED PRECARIOUSLY OVER A RAVINE.
Speaking to AJ is easy – her easy-going northern charm is evident – and we’re quickly onto the subject of her home town. It’s at this point we discover we’re rivals with me growing up in Burnley and her in Blackburn but we’re quick to find common ground – the ice rink and going for a ‘Maccies’ or a Burger King afterwards!
“It’s an Olympic size ice rink that is! It’s so popular!” AJ laughs, “It was amazing growing up in Blackburn.”
After attending St. Bede’s, she then went on to pass her A levels with flying colours at St Mary’s College before completing her degree at Keele University.
“We had a small house, a big family, my mum is a cleaner and my dad is a joiner. Mum used to clean Queen Elizabeth Grammar School and growing up I thought it looked like Harry Potter.”
But AJ always knew she wanted to be a TV presenter and admits her family always encouraged her but does she feel growing up in Blackburn has shaped her career?
“Absolutely – at the end of the day, who’s to say what I would have turned out like elsewhere but I feel I’ve always had this northern grit about me. My parents are Nigerian so I’ve always had African spirit but you can’t beat a bit of northern grit! You just get on with it, working class town, bit of graft – I was never shy of hard work and it’s finally starting to pay off.”
And while all that hard work is paying off and AJ now lives in London to be nearer to her work, she still loves coming home.
“It’s just a different energy – it’s amazing. You can’t beat where you are from. Honestly, I just feel really relaxed, it’s like a holiday whenever I go home to Blackburn! I always get really excited when I see Blackburn Ice Rink and Ewood Park – they always make me smile.”
AJ’s career started with working at Radio Lancashire but has seen her move south to continue her career as a presenter. She’s the backstage presenter for The Voice which she describes as ‘amazing’.
“It’s basically me grabbing the coaches, Will.i.am or Tom Jones and having some conversations with them on stage and off stage and getting back stage gossip from Emma Willis. It’s also speaking to the contestants that have just qualified for the next round so it’s really exciting and high energy.”
AJ is probably best described as a digital presenter for The Voice – her work mainly being broadcast on online TV, streaming sites such as YouTube and social networks such as Instagram and also on The Voice App.
“It’s exciting, the world is changing but there’s still going to be a place for TV.” AJ smiles when I ask her whether she thinks social media will eventually take over. “We’re still going to watch TV but it might just be we watch it on catch-up, record it or through YouTube. We’re consuming lots of different sources of media on different platforms and you can now watch a show when you’re ready to watch it.”
But AJ has more strings to her bow than just The Voice, she also presented her very own documentary Manhunting with my Mum which saw her take her Mum on a two week road trip around her native Nigeria to try and find the perfect man.
“It’s was really fun. I came back with a whole plethora [of knowledge] about my culture, my heritage and it’s a really incredible experience.”
On her travels, AJ met actors, musicians and she’s still in touch with one of the actors but romance didn’t blossom so there’s only one question to ask – does she fancy herself a good northern lad instead?
“Always!” AJ chuckles, “I always wonder why I haven’t met a northerner in London – they’re the best, but they’re all up north!”
AJ’s documentary saw her asked to take part in SAS: Who Dares Wins where she got all the way to the final stages but is it really as hard as it seems?
“It’s brutal and ten times harder than it looks on TV! There’s no hotels or luxuries! It’s a challenge like no other I’ve ever faced before! I did the London Marathon a few years ago and I thought gosh, how did I pass the finish line? It’s a similar thing with SAS. You’re body is in agony, you’re dehydrated, you’re suffering altitude sickness, you’re freezing cold, you’re with people you’ve never met before and suddenly you’re forced to climb a mountain, climb a cliff then abseil down it, throw yourself out of a helicopter backwards. It’s really hard but I’m so glad I did it because I think off the back of that I came back and I felt more confident than ever. When you get back everything is so much calmer and seems much easier.”
“Even when there’s no indication of success,
you just have to crack on”
AJ took part in her fair share of challenges and I can’t help but joke that some of them are like the ‘most extreme game of the floor is lava’ ever.
“Exactly!” AJ chuckles, “But it taught me you can turn fear and pain into power. I’m petrified of heights and there was no way I was going to let go. People say ‘the harness will save you’ but I don’t trust it and I’m not testing it 200 metres in the sky!” It’s maybe that doggedness to keep going and her determination that has seen AJ do so well in her career…
“It’s constant resilience, always bouncing back, plodding on and ploughing through. Even when there’s no indication of success, you just have to crack on.” AJ smiles. “It’s a journey, it takes a while, so hang on in there and if you have a passion for it, stay focussed and it will materialise into something.”
And AJ is the first to admit she’s had to take other jobs including in a call centre and as a personal trainer to pay her bills on her road to success.
Fitness is a huge part of AJ’s life and so I wondered how important she felt it was to keep fit?
“It’s your health. Naturally, we take it for granted but it’s really good for your headspace as well. Sometimes you get caught up about the physical benefits of fitness, of which there are many, but I think let’s not shy away from the confidence that it gives you. It’s given me the energy to carry on and power through, so I think it’s important for everyone and a way to maximise your enjoyment of the things you’re already doing. You can control how you use your body and how you make it feel. That’s really empowering.”
But staying motivated to exercise isn’t always easy, does AJ have any advice?
“Kick start anything with a seven day challenge, go ‘right, every day this week I’m going to do something’ it can be anything from skipping to jumping on the spot. Something is better than nothing. But don’t pressure yourself and fall off the wagon. If you miss a day, don’t beat yourself up, just pick up where you left off the next day.”
And of course treat yourself if you’re doing well…
“If there’s a new pair of shoes I want, or a film I want to see I incentivise my workouts. It’s looking after yourself!”
AJ is now working on new ideas for Channel 4 and is currently filming The Voice: Kids. She’s also launched her own lipstick with Loreal which is available on Amazon where 50p from every sale goes towards funding The Prince’s Trust. And while AJ believes every job is as important as the last, one thing is for sure, whatever she gets up to next, she’s definitely one to watch.