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Anita Rani on 'Saved by A Stranger' — 'There’s a lot of crying for me in this show!'

Anita Rani presents Saved By A Stranger.
Anita Rani presents Saved By A Stranger. (Image credit: BBC)

Anita Rani is one of the busiest people on the telly at the moment, and admits that BBC2’s Saved by A Stranger has been a passion project for her. 

The four-part series, starting on BBC2 on Thursday April 29 (9pm), tells several stories of ordinary people caught up in big recent historical events, from the 7/7 London terrorist attacks to the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and the Bosnian and Falklands' Wars (see below and read on for some incredible stories). 

Each survivor is looking for someone special whose kindness changed their lives forever, and the emotional reunions are on the Long Lost Family scale of tear-jerking. 

"There’s a lot of crying for me when the reunions happen," reveals Anita. "My favourite programmes are when I’m meeting real people and telling stories that have changed their lives… and some of these stories send shivers down my spine just thinking about them. It’s an incredible series and I can’t wait for people to see it."

Here, we let you know details on when and where you can watch Saved By A Stranger, while Anita Rani reveals some of the remarkable people she meets and the historical events that changed them, and how she’s planning on a few simple pleasures post lockdown…

Saved By A Stranger start date...

Saved By A Stranger starts Thursday April 29 at 9pm on BBC2 and runs weekly for four episodes. Each will become available on BBCiPlayer after broadcast on BBC2.

What Anita Rani told us about the premise behind Saved By A Stranger…

Saved By A Stranger presenter Anita Rani says: "Essentially it’s a history series where we take big events that have happened in living memory and we meet ordinary people who have lived through them. We tell the story of what happened to them, how these moments in history impacted on them and then we help them find a particular person who had a huge impact on them in that moment in time, and saved their lives I suppose."

Anita Rani on why presenting Saved By A Stranger appealed to her…

"It’s definitely right up my street. I’ve been on a similar journey myself on Who Do You Think You Are? and the two-part BBC1 series I did on the partition of India. It’s essentially telling history through the experience of real people, but it’s also about basic humanity and kindness. I’m passionate about it. Every single story is remarkable."

Anita Rani on how the pandemic has made us think more about our past lives...

"I think it’s made us consider what’s important and what we value in life. We want to be reminded that ultimately human beings are kind and that even in the darkest moments in history humanity prevails. We’re missing real physical touch and the real goodness of humanity at the moment and this is a programme that taps into all that. Plus we love a bit of history, don’t we?!"

Is there anyone Anita Rani would like to find from her past who helped her..?

"I think we’ve all got a teacher who has meant something to us. But for me it’s more about the little encounters I’ve had with strangers when I’ve been travelling — people who’ve come out of nowhere and helped me out when I’ve broken down or needed a helping hand with something. It’s those seemingly small moments that when you look back you think, that person really helped me out that day."

What’s next for Anita Rani…

"I’m currently filming a brand new quiz for C4 called The Answer Trap, which is a career highlight for me. I’m obsessed with quizzes, I just love watching them. I’m the person who’s always desperate to play Trivial Pursuit at home and I watch Only Connect religiously. So I’ve been putting it out to the universe for a long time that I’d like to host a quiz and finally I’ve got one, so I’m very happy!"

Anita Rani on her post-lockdown dreams…

"I was literally off to do a four-part series about the Ganges for Channel 5 the day we went into lockdown last year — my bag was packed! So like everybody else I’d love to jump on a plane and go somewhere at some point. But what I’m really looking forward to most is spending a summer seeing my mum and dad, being in the park with friends, having picnics and taking my dog for walks… just life’s simple pleasures!"

Saved By a Stranger story No1 in episode one — Karl on the 7/7 London Bombings in 2005…

Karl was on a Piccadilly Line tube train when a bomb exploded in his carriage. He’s been looking for the mystery woman who held his hand in that smoke-filled carriage ever since. "Karl survived, but the trauma of the bombing has impacted his life," says Anita. "He was literally in darkness in his darkest hour and somebody held his hand and told him everything was going to be okay. It was so touching in so many ways. Now he’s desperate to find that amazing woman."

Karl tells his 7/7 story in Saved By A Stranger.

Karl tells his amazing 7/7 story in Saved By A Stranger. (Image credit: BBC)

Saved By a Stranger story No2 in episode one — sisters Edina and Emina and the Bosnian War…

Emina and her younger sister Edina, who has Down Syndrome, were living in Sarajevo when civil war broke out across Bosnia and Herzegovina. In desperate need of medical care, Edina’s doctor fought to get them on a list for immediate evacuation, where they made a new life in the UK. Since then Emina has been searching for him to say thank you.

"This story moves me every time I think about it," says Anita. "Emina was a toddler when war broke out and the only way you could escape Sarajevo was on one of these special buses, but you needed a doctor’s note. The family doctor managed to get Emina’s mum, gran and sister, Edina, on the very last bus out of Sarajevo before the bridge was bombed. We end up finding the doctor who saved their lives and it moves me to tears every time I think about that reunion."

Edina, Emina and their family meet the Bosnian doctor who helped them in Saved By A Stranger

Edina, Emina and their family meet the Bosnian doctor who helped them in Saved By A Stranger. (Image credit: BBC)

Saved By a Stranger story No3 in episode two — Marc on the AIDS crisis…

Marc was just 17 when he was diagnosed with HIV in the late 1980s, at a time when it was considered a death sentence. Struggling to cope, Marc ended up having regular counselling sessions with a volunteer called John. Now, nearly 30 years later, he’s desperate to thank John for helping him through his darkest hour. "I think this is a really important story to tell," says Anita. "Marc is black, living in Brixton, he’s 16 and he comes out as gay. Then a year later he’s diagnosed with HIV and the fear surrounding HIV and AIDS at that time was huge. Marc’s counsellor John effectively saved his life and it’s one of the most moving bits of TV you’ll see when we finally find him."

Marc tells his story in Saved By A Stranger.

Marc tells his story in Saved By A Stranger. (Image credit: BBC)

Saved By A Stranger episode three meets Navy veteran David who was just 20 years old when he found himself heading towards The Falkland Islands which up until war with Argentina broke out most people had never heard of. He was aboard the SS Atlantic Conveyor, a hastily refitted container ship carrying munitions and aircraft, with no defence capabilities. On 25 May 1982 the Conveyor was struck by two deadly Exocet missiles, setting the ship ablaze and forcing David and his fellow crew into the freezing South Atlantic Ocean. Tragically twelve men lost their lives in the attack, two from David’s unit. In the nearly 40 years since, David has struggled to come to terms with what happened and is desperate to reconnect with his fellow crewmen who survived alongside him, to find out how they have coped with the trauma of that tragic event.

Episode three of Saved By A Stranger also tells the story of Darryl, an author whose family came to the UK as part of the post-war wave of migration from former British colonies. Darryl was born in Kenya to Goan parents, who had moved from India to East Africa as citizens of the British Empire. But when Kenya declared independence from Britain in 1963, families like Darryl’s came under increased discrimination from the government. His parents made the difficult decision to move yet again, this time to Britain, but the welcome wasn't exactly warm. Arriving in the UK aged just four in 1968, Darryl experienced overt racism for the first time and his family struggled to cope. When life at home was extremely difficult, Darryl found a safe haven at his East Finchley primary school, where teachers Mrs Shurmer, Mrs Snodgrass and Miss Tyrrell instilled in him a love of education and the confidence to succeed. Today Darryl wants to thank those teachers for their kindness and inspiration, that made a huge impact at a critical time in his life.

The final episode of Saved By A Stranger tells the story of twins Peter and George were just six years old when their lives were saved by a small act of kindness. The brothers were born in Berlin in 1933 to a Jewish family and became good friends with the sons of their building’s caretaker, Mr Schädler. Then in 1939, with just days to spare before the outbreak of war, Mr Schädler generously lent the family money to escape Berlin by train and come to London. Now, 87-year-olds Peter and George would love to reunite with their childhood friends and thank them for the sacrifice their father made to ensure their family’s safety.

Also featured in the final week of Saved By A Stranger is the story of Clare, who took in 21 orphaned refugee children from war-torn Bosnia. But it was only when international schoolgirl Petra arrived as a translator that the children were able to share what horrors they’d suffered and also reveal that none of them were actually orphans. Clare then embarked on a mission to reunite the children with their families and now wants to find Petra to thank her for discovering the truth.

Nicholas Cannon
Nicholas Cannon

I'm a huge fan of television so I really have found the perfect job, as I've been writing about TV shows, films and interviewing major television, film and sports stars for over 25 years. I'm currently TV Content Director on What's On TV, TV Times, TV and Satellite Week magazines plus I previously worked on Woman and Woman's Own in the 1990s. Outside of work I swim every morning, support Charlton Athletic football club and get nostalgic about TV shows Cagney & Lacey, I Claudius, Dallas and Tenko. I'm totally on top of everything good coming up too.