Hello, my name is Reggie Yates and TV is my hustle. I grew up in North London in Holloway and I grew up in a council estate called Merser Estate, which was kind of weird. There was three blocks all named after different parts of that corner of the world. So I grew up in Berlin house, second floor “behind a yellow door” we used to always say, me and my big sister. And it’s changed a lot now but it was definitely a pretty grimy part of town that’s helped make me the man that I am. Both my mother and my father were born in Ghana in West Africa. And they came to London at kind of a young age. My mother came here when she was 10 and she couldn’t speak a word of English. And my dad came here as a teenager.
And yeah, to say that they’ve turned things around would be a massive understatement. My mother has a master’s degree and speaks the Queen’s English better than the Queen. And my dad definitely has shook the accent that he arrived with. I think having parents that are from somewhere like Ghana, which I only just want back to for the second time in my entire life very recently, I think you get a massive appreciation for what they’ve achieved and for how far they’ve come and also the sacrifices that they’ve made to make what I’m now achieving possible.
My family life is great. I’ve been fortunate enough to be blessed with a big family. So for quite a long time, I was the youngest in the family. An then my mom remarried and I suddenly became a big brother. So between being a younger brother and having everything given to you, I mean the youngest in the family always gets treated a certain way to suddenly having responsibilities and changing nappies and having someone looking up to you. It sort of changes the way that you are with your friends and as well as that how you are with your family and how you see your family.
I was a kid that I’m pretty sure went with an undiagnosed ADHD. Because I was the kid that couldn’t sit still. And I know a lot of people sort of say that, but I genuinely was that kid. I used to do radio shows in my bedroom with the little speakers that my mom gave me and the big one that she used to have in the kitchen. I used to sort of turn down one radio station and do a link in and turn up the other radio station. And when I wasn’t doing that, I was doing stupid karate classes in my bedroom for 20 P with all the different kids from my estate. I was always trying to find something to do that kind of challenged me and at the same time indulge my passion, which I hadn’t realized at the time, I guess my passion was to perform.
In school, I was interested in anything that involved being creative. So we had this wicked teacher in our playgroup. So sort of after school, if your mum couldn’t pick you up, there was a playgroup that went on until six, seven in the evening. It was a guy called Mark, this really cool guy who has dreadlocks. He was a young mix raced guy. And he just used to make up games. And sometimes he would turn to me, “Reg, what should we do today?” And we’d create a game from out of nowhere. And it was just that whole idea of being creative that I loved. That was the after school side of things. But in terms of in class, I always thrived in things like art and English and stuff like that. Anything where I could work a creative muscle, I went for it. Whereas things like math, I was God. For some reason, I was in the top set in math and science and everything. But I never really enjoyed it, which is why I think when it came to the exam grades, I never really excelled.
I never went to any drama schools or Sylvia Young’s or anything like that. I went to a drama club. The drama club that I went to was a place called Anna Scher in North London, which was the community group really for want of a better description. It was run by this amazing, slightly crazy old Jewish lady who essentially gave careers to the likes of Kathy Burke, and Ray Winstone, and tons of other people, you know. It was a real special place, especially for me because I was able to go there, be silly, have fun and be praised for it. And eventually it lead on to me getting myself an opportunity to go for auditions. And from the age of eight, I was working.
The first day that I went to my first ever job, which was Desmond’s when I was a kid, I was suddenly surrounded by these amazing, affluent black people who were making money. It was the first ever job I did making really good money. And they were well known and they were enjoying themselves. They were having a great time at work. And up until that point, everybody in my family went to work and hated it. My mother at that point was a medical secretary so she used to have bad cramps in her fingers. My uncles used to do all manner of jobs. My grandmother hated what she did for a living. My granddad was a math professor but he was also a security guard at night. Like a proper Ghanaian hustler with 15 jobs. Everybody hated work. And I suddenly was surrounded by all these black people of all ages, from teenagers right away through to people with gray hair who loved being at work. And I came home that night, in ever forget it until the day I day. I came home after the first day of work and I said to my mum, “I want to do this for a living.” So by the time I left primary school and went to secondary school, I knew what I was going to do for a career. And throughout every stage of my schooling life, from primary to secondary, college, right away through to art college, I was always working. So I always knew what I was going to do when I’d eventually leave.
Well I was one extra for about three years from the launch in 2002. And it was a real special time because suddenly there was a whole heap of DJ’s that had either been on the underground or pirates in the club scene, or whatever. And everyone was given a shot at the same time. It just had this amazing sort of momentum and this great mood, the first ever show that 1extra did, it was ridiculous. There were extra bags everywhere, and stickers, and everyone thought that they were part of something special, you know. I was there for thee years. And how old was I when I left? I must have been 21. I think I might have been the first DJ to ever leave as opposed to being asked to leave. And the reason why I left, and this isn’t me being conceited in any way, it’s genuinely I felt like I’d learned enough. I didn’t feel like I was challenged anyway because I’ve always been a music fan as a kid. And being on a station that only represents one part of what I’m into felt limiting. And the minute it stopped being fun and the minute it started to feel limiting, I wanted a new challenge.
So I took it upon myself to say to my management, “I think I’ve done this now. Let’s try something else.” And I genuinely remember a lot of people at the station saying I’m crazy because it’s good money. You’re walking away from good money, you’re walking away from good profile, and you’re walking away from an opportunity to make a lot of money from gigs just because you’ve got that badge next to your name. But I was like, “You know what, I’ve done it. I’ve learned everything I need to learn.” And funnily enough I walked away from one extra and went on holiday. And came back from holiday and suddenly I was offered the role as Trevor Nelson’s first dep on Radio One. And so for the next six months, whenever he was out, I did his show. And it was amazing and then I was in America filming and I was doing a travel show with Van Carten and we were in his van, driving in Arizona and we got a call from our managers, because we’ve got the same management, and they said, “They want for you two to do a show together.” And that was a real special moment because it was an opportunity to get to a national station with someone who I regard as family. So it was great.
Radio One, it’s a beast. It’s national. If Radio One doesn’t play you, you’ll definitely feel the effects of that as an artist or as somebody trying to make it in the music industry. So the power that Radio One has, I was always aware of as I’ve got so many friends that make music and that were trying to get on their playlist. And the minute I was offered a shower, where be it with a really good friend of mine, it was just a huge opportunity and as well as that, being able to do it with someone you care about and you feel like you’re progressing beside, it was huge. It was definitely a massive moment for me.
Obviously working with Van then progressed into me doing the show on my own to where it is now to hosting the national chart and also hosting a groundbreaking chart show at that because we’re now visual, it’s something that no one else has done ever. So, I don’t know, for me it’s always been a progression. And my progression in radio has almost come hand in hand my progression in television as well. And I just want to keep doing bigger and better things and continue to challenge myself and also challenge perceptions because there’s not many 28 year old guys doing what I’m doing, let alone 28 year old black guys doing what I’m doing. So I’m really, really chuffed. I’ve been given the opportunity to do what I’m doing but there’s so much more to go. People sometimes stop me in the street like, “Oh, brother, you’ve made it. You killed it.” I’m so far from where I want to end up that making it or having made it doesn’t even come into the equation for me. So there’s still a long way to go. But I’m loving every minute.
I find it a big frustrating the word “hustler” has so many negative connotations because I’m a product of immigrants, if you will, in the UK. And my family came here for want of a better life. They came here for want of bettering the potential of their children and their grandchildren. And had my grandmother and my grandfather not made the decision to bring my mother here, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today. So I think “hustle” is a spirit. It’s a way of thinking and it’s a way of life, really. And “hustlers” are people that do whatever it takes to put food on the table or progress. But in its realist terms and looking at it for what it actually means and it stands for, 100% that. Because everything I’ve achieved, I’ve achieved on my terms. And god willing, I’ll continue to achieve things on my terms and I won’t let anybody else define how far I can go. I think that’s what a hustler is.
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