Friends in high places: Meera Syal announced as patron of HOME

Susie Stubbs

The fast-being-built Manchester arts centre adds another stellar artist to its growing list of patrons.

It may still resemble a building site, but things are hotting up at HOME. The £25 million arts centre, which isn’t due to open until spring next year, has just announced the latest in its series of patrons: the actress Meera Syal. Actually, to describe Syal as an “actress” is to do her an injustice. This is a woman who, despite spending her life feeling like – in her words – an outsider, has achieved great things. She was one of the writers and stars of Goodness Gracious Me and The Kumars at Number 42, the pioneering comedies that gave British Asian communities a place on mainstream television (and were funny too; The Kumars won an Emmy).

She gave British Asian comedy a voice – and a place on mainstream TV

That’s not all. She’s a professor and a playwright. She’s a novelist whose first book, Anita and Me, a semi-autobiographical account of growing up in a mining village in the Midlands is both heartbreaking and blackly comic (there’s a moment in the book when the young Asian protagonist is asked what she wants to be when she grows up. “Blonde,” she replies). She’s also appeared on stage and on American TV, was awarded an MBE in 1997 – and has a long-standing connection to Manchester. She came to the city in the early 1980s to study, graduating a few years later with a double first in English and drama.

So it seems fitting that Syal, who is most definitely not just an actress, is one of HOME’s new patrons. This is, we are promised, an arts centre that will blur the lines between visual art and performance, film and technology. It is a place that, Syal says, will foster “diverse talent and new voices across art forms.”

Meera Syal joins film directors Danny Boyle and Asif Kapadia, the actress Suranne Jones, artists Rosa Barba and Phil Collins, poet Jackie Kay and National Theatre director Sir Nicholas Hytner as the centre’s figureheads – which, even if HOME itself is still half-built, is a stellar line-up. Here’s hoping they’ll all make themselves at home at, er, HOME next year.

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