AJ Odudu is one of TV’s rising stars and has presented numerous television shows, is a qualified personal trainer and sports nutritionist and a well-established event host and DJ. Having recently bought her first home after years of saving, AJ is Ambassador for Shared Ownership week. She talks to Lynda Clark about her fascinating career, her new home and gives some excellent advice to ftbs as they embark on their journey on to the property ladder
AJ is one of the most enthusiastic, bubbly and down-to-earth people I have ever interviewed. She embraces life to the full and her exuberant personality certainly shines through. She grew up in Blackburn, Lancashire with her Nigerian parents, five brothers and two sisters who all lived together in a small three bedroom terraced house. It must have been tight on space but as AJ says, “Even with 10 of us living together, home life and growing up couldn’t have been better. Our house was tiny. We had a small front room which was the “tidy room” and was always locked and we could only go in there for special occasions like Christmas, or when we had visitors. We then had a back room which was another living room where we all used to congregate, which led on to a tiny kitchen. You had to go through the kitchen to get to the bathroom.
“The back room had a massive table in it and only a very small window, so it was very cramped. The boys had bunk beds and shared and there was also a foldaway bed in there as well. Then me and my sisters slept in another bedroom – I top-and-tailed on the top bunk with my youngest sister, and my older sister was on the bottom. There was absolutely no privacy, but it was a very happy home. Nigerian families love having friends and family over and operate on an open house policy, so we constantly had visitors. My mum still lives in Blackburn and my dad lives in London. It was recently his 80th birthday and I put on a big party for him at my new apartment and all the family came along. It was crazy, and even though my place is bigger than my childhood home it was a squash – but we are used to all mucking in. All my family were there, including nieces and nephews and we had a wonderful time.”
Even when AJ was at school she always wanted to be a TV presenter.
“The TV was a fun and exciting thing at home. We all came home from school and then would play outside until it was getting dark and then come in and watch programmes like Newsround and Neighbours. Television was an event in our house and I used to say to my mum that I wanted to be ‘inside the TV’! I wasn’t that great at reading and was a slow developer, but my mum always supported me and told me that if I worked hard everything would be all right. I went to Keele University and studied English and Politics. I had a tiny room in the hall of residence but I loved it. I really made it my own space and bought a rug from IKEA and some cushions and even pinned some new fabric up over the curtains as the rules said you couldn’t actually replace the curtains. It worked really well and was my little home for three years.
“When I left, I went to Nigeria for the first time for a few weeks with my mum and when we got back I decided that it was time to move to London. I came down and stayed with various friends, sleeping on the floor a lot of the time, and worked in a bar. I finally got some work experience at the BBC, which led on to me getting a proper job there, which was amazing. I eventually lived in Brick Lane in east London with five people I didn’t know and it was grim. There was mould everywhere and we didn’t have any heating or hot water for about two months, but I was following my dream of living and working in London so I didn’t care. It’s a really fascinating area and I had great fun. I always paid my rent on time but I had absolutely no money left over for food. We always had bread, but on a Sunday we went to the market and made friends with the stallholders who used to give us sushi and curries which we put in freezer bags and would eat during the week, so we never went hungry!”
During this time AJ was a runner at the BBC doing everything from making the tea to sorting out the call sheets. One day, one of the experienced journalists was free and suggested they went along to the Wireless Festival together. “I did lots of random interviews with people like Pixie Lott and Tinie Tempah and when we got back to the office and my boss saw what I had done he was really impressed and suggested I went to audition to be co-presenter on the BBC Two’s flagship Saturday morning music chat show, The 5:19 Show. It was the best job, and I worked on it for two years and interviewed so many different celebrities. Eventually, there were lots of cutbacks at the BBC and they closed down the department, but as luck would have it, I interviewed Russell Brand on the very last show. Afterwards, he spoke to me and said he had really enjoyed talking to me and asked who was my agent. I said I didn’t have one and he called his own agent and told them about me and I ended up signing with them and I am still with them today.
“After that, I worked as a freelance for lots of different shows but I found the uncertainty of not knowing when the next job was going to come in very stressful. I decided to take some time out and worked in retail and a call centre and worked sensible hours for a change. I could still fit in the time to go to auditions. I have always been a regular saver, and paid my rent and bills on time, as I always like to have financial stability in my life.
“I moved to Brixton and suddenly got a call to do Big Brother’s Bit on the Side with Rylan Clark which was really amazing. After that, there was a very quiet spell and I decided to do a personal training course as I felt my life was getting a little out of control and I wanted to get back into being in charge of my own destiny.
“I documented my fitness regime which I put on YouTube and wrote a blog, which was just for fun but became really popular and I was asked to do campaigns for Nike and Adidas, which were great and very different from what I was doing before, as I travelled and was living a great lifestyle. I then got into music and I am a DJ and have spun at loads of different festivals – in fact, I have just come back from Ibiza.”
AJ had always wanted to buy her own home, and throughout the years she had always saved for a rainy day. “When I was working on Big Brother my boyfriend at the time and I were planning on buying a place together but that didn’t work out. I thought about buying on my own, but realised I couldn’t afford it. So, I asked my dad, who lives in Lewisham, if I could move in with him so I could save and he agreed which was perfect.
“I managed to focus on saving hard and I still was able to have a social life so it was ideal. Eventually, I decided to take the plunge and start searching for my own home. I had no experience and no clue about where to really start. Finally, I found a Victorian conversion which I loved and although it needed to be renovated, I knew it was the place for me. I wanted a garden and a parking space which it has, and I’ve had a lot of work done and even got the paintbrush out and had a go myself!
“I have three bedrooms; one that I have transformed into my dressing room and the other is my guest room/office. I love my kitchen; it’s a huge kitchen/diner and I can’t wait to start entertaining! Also, having lived in a single level flat for more than 10 years in London, I have to say my favourite feature is my three flights of stairs! All restored back to their Victorian beauty. It also has lovely big sash windows and eventually I might transform the attic and create more space there. I have made friends with all the neighbours and I just love the strong community feel around here. South east London is great and I have found my dream home.”
So, what advice does AJ have for first time buyers? “Do lots and lots of research and explore every option. Shop around, especially when it comes to getting a mortgage. All banks will have different policies, so if one turns you down don’t give up, as there is probably another bank that will take a very different approach.
“I took out a Help to Buy: ISA which gave me an extra £3,000 that the Government gives you which really helped, so think about where to invest your savings. I think shared ownership is definitely the way for many people to get on the property ladder. If you haven’t got a big deposit and are finding it hard to save up, then this is the answer, as even though you are buying a share in the home you can staircase and eventually own 100% if you want to. You are on the first rung of the ladder, and believe me, putting your key into your own front door is so special – there is quite nothing like it.”
AJ Odudu was Ambassador for Shared Ownership Week 2019 which ran from 19-25 September 2019. Find out more here sharedownershipweek.co.uk