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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Helene Dancer

Diversity, documentaries and driving: Ayo Akinwolere on life after Blue Peter and his new role behind the camera

Akinwolere divides his busy professional life between the coastal town of Margate and the bustle of London.
Akinwolere divides his busy professional life between the coastal town of Margate and the bustle of London. Composite: Sebastian Nevols/The Guardian

Ayo Akinwolere is a mile-a-minute man. Not only is he a Bafta award nominee who presents football shows for the Premier League and CBS, he also runs a consultancy that’s helped the likes of Spotify be more diverse, and a film production company committed to bringing more people of colour and their stories to our TV screens.

“I’ve got so much going on – it’s brilliant,” says Akinwolere, his voice buoyed with excitement. “I’m not a typical nine-to-five business guy: I enjoy the flux of working for major companies as well as working for myself and creating my own destiny,” he says.

Akinwolere is also a self-professed motorhead – and with the racing licence to prove it, a legacy of one of his on-screen challenges when presenting the children’s TV programme Blue Peter. So he was keen to take up the CUPRA Experience, an extended test drive that CUPRA Business offers on its new Born – a fully electric car that’s steeped in CUPRA’s motorsports heritage.

“CUPRA is going toe-to-toe with some of the bigger brands in the electric car market and I like that. I like outliers,” says Akinwolere. “The Born also looks nice – I really like the sporty exterior.”

Akinwolere at his podcasting desk
  • ‘I’m not a typical nine-to-five business guy,’ says Akinwolere

With matters of sustainability close to his heart, Akinwolere is keen to explore the switch to an EV, and how it could fit with his varied career and lifestyle. He currently splits his time between Margate in Kent, where he runs Milk First Productions with director Alex Thomas, and London, where he fulfils his TV presenting commitments and consultancy work.

While the issue of where to charge is often one of the first questions for prospective EV owners, Akinwolere soon realised charging infrastructure is actually quite widespread: “The Turner Contemporary [in Margate] has a charging station and that worked really well for me,” he says. “In London, it was easy too. I used lamp-posts that’d been converted into charging stations – great for an overnight charge.”

Akinwolere enjoys the perspective that Margate offers, as well as the opportunity to tap into its burgeoning creative scene. One of Milk First’s early commissions was Yorkshire Cop: Police, Racism and Me, a documentary for Channel 4 about Thomas’s father, who was the first black male police officer in South Yorkshire. “Alex and I are two black guys from outside London,” says Akinwolere, who grew up in Birmingham, “so we offer a different take on stories in Britain.”

The CUPRA Born parked in front of a Margate shop
Portrait of Ayo Akinwolere
Quote: “If we’re looking for a more diverse world, we have to do things slightly differently”
Detail of the CUPRA Born’s headlight

Akinwolere’s big career break came in 2006 when he became a Blue Peter presenter after working as a runner for the BBC. “It was a pivotal moment for me – an opportunity to try and flip the way we see ethnic minorities on TV,” he says. “It was about showing ethnic minorities in a way that was different from the classic tropes of music and entertainment. That we can jump out of planes, get our racing licences, get world records for swimming; we can be leaders and reshape the way we see ourselves as British people.”

It seems the hard work is paying off. “I met John Boyega for the first time the other week, and he was like: ‘Bro, I grew up watching you!’” says Akinwolere, before apologising for name dropping. “John’s a Hollywood star! I realised that when I was on Blue Peter, I was laying the groundwork for people like him to come through. It was a special moment.”

Just before he left the show in 2011, Akinwolere set a new world record for the deepest location for an open-water swim. A novice swimmer just 10 weeks prior, Akinwolere swam more than five miles across the Palau Trench in the Pacific Ocean. “It was about changing the narrative about an activity that’s quintessentially white British,” he says. Since then he has created and taken part in multiple swim challenges and events, to build awareness of ethnic and socioeconomic inequality and promote inclusivity.

Living in Margate means Akinwolere can swim regularly – something he loves to do. “Margate is my sanctuary,” he says. “I have ADHD, so being here means I can channel my energy better – I can walk out my front door straight to the tidal pool for a swim before starting work. Allowing myself to have that space really calms me down and offers a place of clarity.”

Side view of the CUPRA Born parked on Margate seafront

With a busy week of shuttling between his bases, Akinwolere got to know the CUPRA well. “Margate’s 60 miles from Brixton, and I could drive there and back on one charge,” he says. “With electric cars you don’t have to go through the gears, it’s just so smooth. That immediate torque is like going from nought to 60 almost instantly. And, if you need extra torque, there’s a button that gives you a cheeky little boost.”

The Born’s sharply designed interiors also served to provide a physical space for Akinwolere to mentally prepare himself for presenting his football shows. “My routine is to get to the location early to do a mental run-through of what I have to do on that day,” he says. “The car was really good for that – there was enough space for me to sit comfortably with my laptop and phone.”

Akinwolere took full advantage of the allowances made for EVs in central London, and drove to meetings. “It was a rare luxury,” he laughs. “For me, [travel] is not about being over-reliant on cars, but when I do need it, it’s charged and ready to go. It’s excellent to use as a business car because it looks good, and you present yourself better if you turn up in a decent-looking car.”

Yellow charging cable plugged into the CUPRA Born
Portrait of Ayo Akinwolere
High-rise London apartments
Akinwolere driving the CUPRA Born
  • The CUPRA Born was easily able to make the journey from Margate to London and back on one charge

Cultural Agility Sessions is the consultancy Akinwolere set up in 2020 with two of his ex-Blue Peter colleagues, Rosie Allimonos and Faraz Osman. Its remit is to work with companies to build cultural intelligence. “How do we make these spaces inclusive so everyone feels they can thrive,” he asks of the organisations he works with. “How do we rewrite company ideologies and leadership, so leaders are more empathetic and open to the people they’re serving?” The consultancy’s work with the likes of Spotify and the Jamie Oliver Group, he says, has proved fruitful.

“I got to a point in my career where I realised that life wasn’t just about being a TV presenter. I’m really interested in big thinkers like Malcolm Gladwell, Simon Sinek and James Baldwin. I want to understand why I’m on this Earth and what I want to leave behind.”

Driving into the sunset

For Akinwolere, the CUPRA Born represents this mindset of thinking differently: “It’s a car that stands slightly away from the crowd,” he says. “If we’re looking for a much more diverse world, we just have to do things slightly differently. We need to adopt different ideas for the change to come. I don’t think change should be scary. And if I’m able to be part of that process, I think I’ll be a very happy person.”

Looking for a company car that takes both business and leisure in its stride? To learn about the CUPRA Born EV, Formentor e-Hybrid and Leon e-Hybrid, visit the website

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