'I'm peerless. If you're black and want it all, there's no blueprint'

Reggie Yates talks to Rachel Shields about success, celebrity, and working it out as you go
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The Independent Online

Reggie Yates presents a hit radio show, will co-host the Christmas Top of the Pops (TOTP), has acted in popular soaps, fronted the Mobo awards this year, is best friends with tabloid favourite Fearne Cotton – and yet is a virtual unknown.

For someone who spends much of his time interviewing stars such as David Beckham and X Factor popstrels, Yates takes a perversely antagonistic attitude to the entertainment industry's "fame culture".

"Radio and TV presenting, even newsreading, is all about how much you get your photo taken. Regardless of whether you are any good, you'll get more work if you get your photo taken," he says, his voice rising. "I'm not somebody who subscribes to the current idea of celebrity."

While Yates clearly dislikes celebs with no talent, he knows his career depends on them. Many of the guests on his Sunday afternoon Radio 1 chart show – and on the Christmas TOTP, which he has just returned from filming – are products of the Simon Cowell school of instant fame.

"Interviewing an X Factor artist is work for me. I don't listen to their music in my free time, but it is great entertainment," he says diplomatically. "That's the way it has gone, the business and the world we live in."

At times, the presenter seems much older than his 27 years, a maturity that surely stems from having been in the entertainment industry for almost 20 years. He made his screen debut in Desmond's, a sitcom that was seen as groundbreaking for its portrayal of a West Indian family, and then landed roles in Grange Hill and Family Affairs.

"The minute your private life becomes more important than your job the chances of longevity get less. I don't want to be a flash in the pan," he says.

There doesn't seem to be much danger of that. As he lists his achievements – writing his first film script, landing a role in a new film by The Wire actor Idris Elba, bagging a voice-over of an animated BBC series, a sideline in photography – it's clear this man's vaulting ambition puts Macbeth to shame. Yates doesn't suffer from a lack of confidence, but admits that he finds the absence of black role models difficult.

"I'm peerless. I'm in a position that didn't exist until now. There are no other young black guys who can do a prime-time BBC show and a specialist show, say an interview with 50 Cent for MTV. It's a weird position," he muses. "There is Trevor Nelson, who is 100 per cent a specialist, and Lenny Henry, who is 100 per cent mainstream, but there is no blueprint for what I'm doing."

While he laments the lack of black faces on television, the presenter doesn't put this down to racism, but – controversially – to a lack of ability within the black community.

"I just don't know if there is enough talent out there. Nobody should get a role because of their descent or the way that they look," he says. "I made my own opportunities."

The child of Ghanaian parents who moved to London in their teens, Yates grew up in north London's Holloway. "My upbringing was traditional; respecting my elders and helping out around the house," he says. His parents are now divorced, but he remains close to both, and connected to his Ghanaian heritage. Yates is currently recording the voice of Rastamouse, an animated children's TV show about a mouse detective with dreadlocks, a medallion and a Jamaican accent.

"It's good because my nieces and nephews can watch it and hear someone on TV who sounds like them," he says.

While he is happy to talk about his family, his desire to keep his private life just that has even led to speculation that he is gay; a rumour he is happy to quash.

"I have a lovely girlfriend who is amazing," he says. "People say, 'We don't know who you are dating', but I find it weird that they think they should know."

Although Yates claims to be resolutely anti-celebrity, he counts some famous people in his "circle of trust", such as fellow TOTP presenter Cotton. "Me and Fearne have been friends for a long time, but we are real friends, not 'media friends'," he insists. "Those people who are photographed together, who don't really like each other but know it is beneficial to them to be pictured together, it's weird and twisted."

While he admits to being in awe of the bigger projects (and pay packets) a high public profile can command, he isn't prepared to put up with the attention that comes with it.

"People are fascinated by her. It's not nice to see your friend picked apart like that," he says. "Fearne and I are different. I'm just a normal bloke who has a job some people think is exciting."