You can’t meet TV presenter AJ and not love her. There, we said it. Her energy, enthusiasm and general awesomeness are perfectly mirrored by her home, which she recently renovated to greatness. All pristine white and bolts of bright, she’s spent time figuring out her tastes, shopping for carpets and working out what her space needs to do for her. We caught up just after Christmas for a chat about all thing interiors, The Voice and being a woman who works in telly. Follow AJ’s home journeys on her interiors Instagram account @homewithaj and prepare to be delighted.
Emma: we brought you a load of pastries but we weren’t sure you were into pastries, being a health and fitness expert
AJ: oh, I am the worst fitness blogger. I’m all or nothing so there’s no diet food in my house. If I’m going to have a cake, I’m going to enjoy that cake. Good for the soul
Robyn: do you think that’s why you chose the career you did? because it’s an industry when you’re working like mad or just quiet?
AJ: actually, you’re so right – right now I have nothing to do until next month. It’s not like, ‘Oh, I’m on holiday’ it’s like, ‘Ahh, I’m currently unemployed’. It used to be terrifying, but I’m used to it now. If I go into a school to talk to the students I tell them TV presenting isn’t the get-rich-quick job. TV presenting is the job you do if you want to challenge and question yourself every single day. But that’s my career. Like, am I doing the right thing? Should I be more like this or more like that? A lot of the time, if you don’t get a job, it might not only be an attack on your skillset, but it’s about your personality. And then you doubt yourself and think, ‘What’s wrong with me?’. That can be hard but ultimately, those people only see one side of you. My friends know all the sides of me – I’m just a person of extremes, when I’m happy, I’m happy but when I’m down I’m like, ‘Whhhhhyyy???’
Emma: I feel like that would be quite common with anyone doing a job that involves getting validation from other people. Even us with the blog, it just tends to be people of extremes…
AJ: yeah, that’s true. And I’m really lucky – I’m finally at a point in my career where I can properly switch off and it’s taken thirteen years to get do that without panicking about the next job
Emma: I hear you!
AJ: and that’s weird in itself! I was presenting my dream show and then that ended abruptly. Then I broke up with my boyfriend and moved in with my Dad, started doing a PT course and fitness blogging. That surprisingly went really well, but I always wanted to get back into presenting, which I did. But then, when people would meet me they’d say, ‘I met this blogger getting into presenting’ and I used to be like, ‘Noooo, I’ve been presenting for years!’ but now I feel like it’s cool that there are those different sides to me and that people have followed my journey from different stages
Robyn: I work in the arts and in that industry there can be quite lazy thinking where the same handful of people get hired for everything, asked to judge all the prizes, etc. Is it the same in TV?
AJ: It’s a really small pool and yes, if I’m honest you do sometimes feel like you don’t see a diverse range of people. That can be frustrating but all I can do is try be that point of difference
Robyn: is there a pressure to look young and slim and amazing?
it’s more of an unspoken thing where you look around and no one is having a bad day. In the past where I’ve not got a job, my feedback has been something along the lines of, ‘We just wanted someone younger and fresher’. That’s enough to give you a complex about your appearance, although saying that, when I hit 30 I definitely became more secure and confident in my own skin and it’s been boosted further with my role at The Voice. It’s the first time in many years I’ve worked with a predominantly female team. The execs are female, the people in power are female and I feel like I can just be myself more and it won’t just be labelled as me being emotional or a drama queen or any of the other words used to describe passionate women – they just get it. It’s amazing to be around that energy
Emma: do you think this move towards representing emotions, in advertising, on the TV – everything seems more real somehow. Do you feel it doing what you’re doing?
AJ: maybe. And maybe that’s why I’m coming into my own, because I’ve always struggled to put myself in a box or quieten myself down. As a result, ten years ago, getting jobs with my accent, with my personality was much harder and people would want me to soften it, whereas now people want you to be yourself and your accent is part of that. So I see a shift in attitude for sure
Robyn: do you find it really hard to be objective being on a show that’s competitive like The Voice?
AJ: I used to present Big Brother’s Bit on the Side and I remember sometimes I’d get complaints from the public that I obviously didn’t like a particular contestant and blatantly had favourites
Robyn: there have to be characters people don’t like on Big Brother – that’s the whole point!
Emma: so, let’s chat homes! What does home mean to you?
AJ: Home means a place for me to be myself without judgement. Neither of my parents owned their homes, so growing up I didn’t really feel a pressure to buy, but I have always grown up in a homely environment where you invite people round and you’re never in it by yourself. You play your music loud and you put the world to rights, you eat, you laugh, you relax so when I get home, it’s always me texting my local friends to come round and cook dinner. Actually, they cook more than I cook in my own kitchen! I’ve also got an amazing neighbour – in London that can make such a difference. Being from a big, loud Nigerian family, I’ve always had a lot of people around, so when I was looking I was like, ‘It needs to be spacious, for guests’ and the estate agents would say, ‘Errrr, how many guests are you going to have???’. A lot! I also feel so proud as it took me so long to save for it
Robyn: how long do you think?
AJ: I think it was about 10 years saving, and then finding the house was a turmoil. You feel like it should be amazing when you get on the property ladder, and for me it just didn’t feel like that. It was an anticlimax at first. Even the looking was hard because you’re seeing all these people doing it in couples or wanting to make it into a family home. You know, six years ago I was doing viewings with my ex. I thought my first home would be with him, and then I ended up just doing it on my own and it just felt a bit tragic. Before I moved in I started to have recurring dreams about being mauled by a dog – I was that stressed out – so my Dad and I knocked around all the neighbours so I could meet them and make sure they had no vicious dogs. Haha! So dramatic but it did make it feel more like home
Robyn: your Dad is the best! Does he live around here?
AJ: yeah, he lives around here but my hilarious dysfunctional family means my Mum and Dad are together, but live apart. So my mum is in Blackburn and he goes to see her once a month. You can tell when my Mum’s getting sick of my Dad she’ll be like, ‘You need to get your Dad out of my house’. They’re so funny. Can’t live with each other but can’t live without!
Emma: do you think being raised by those kind of fiery people have made you into the open person you are?
AJ: I think so. Everyone’s from dysfunctional families I reckon. With my family, when there’s tension, it’s war and you’ll know you’ve really pissed somebody off. Everybody gets involved and then we’re all fine twenty minutes later
Emma: I think that might be the full opposite of my family
Robyn: can we talk about how big this house is!
AJ: but not so big you feel lonely, right? It is bananas isn’t it? I remember when I was looking around – stairs felt such a luxury
Robyn: yeah it makes it feel like a real house, doesn’t it, like a proper home? Do you think it’s good for your mental health to have somewhere that is just yours?
AJ: It is, I travel a lot and that’s fun but it’s so nice to come back to somewhere where you’re rooted and is exactly the same as when you left it. I bloody love it. It’s also nice to have something to show for all your hard work and all the times you’ve doubted yourself. It makes it all feel like it’s worth it. And when I think of where I was seven years ago when I’d not had my contract renewed on Big Brother and then found my boyfriend cheating and everything had just gone to pot. This home feels like a representation of me rebuilding myself
Emma: that is so heavy but amazing that you’ve turned it all round and you’re so positive and confident and strong. Did you have therapy for it?
AJ: I didn’t and that’s a regret. I feel like it might have helped me out of that dark place quicker but I had amazing friends and a sofa at my dad’s so I was supported. I really feel like confidence is something you can work on. There are moments when you have a wobble but you need to be prepared to work at it. Never be afraid to start again. Don’t get me wrong, there was a time where I was scared of starting again but work did help me through it in the end. I’m always around new people there and the glamour and the variety of what I do meant I was really able to throw myself into it. Talking of glamour, let’s go to my dressing room!
*We all scamper off to the dressing room*
AJ: so this is my dressing room, I’m going to make it really retro and get a lava lamp and one of those little fridges like you had at uni, because this is where me and the girls get ready and we’re chatting and we take AGES
Robyn: that’s the best bit about going out though isn’t it – when I go home we usually can’t be bothered going into town
AJ: the wardrobe is great right? It was already here where I moved in, but with no shelves and no rails
Emma: that seems very strange…
Robyn: do you struggle to not have a million clothes with such a lot of wardrobe space?
AJ: yes – this is downsized!
Robyn: I feel that so hard. What’s your biggest splurge for yourself?
AJ: my Balenciaga trainers were £600… ! I did feel sick handing over my card at the till but they’re a real treat
Emma: you just gotta think of that cost-per-wear though…
AJ: I’m little miss cheap and cheerful – it’s the Blackburn in me
Robyn: do you tell everyone how much things cost? And if it was on sale? That’s a very Northern thing
AJ: yeah, I’m so that person
Emma: do you do your DIY yourself?
AJ: I do bits and bobs – think filling and painting. But really I’m more of a creative director
Emma: as someone who loves colour so much, how come you went for all-white walls?
AJ: you know what? It pained me to do it white. But I thought. I’ve never had my own place, I don’t know what my colour scheme is and I don’t want to spend ages figuring it out. So I thought, I’ll paint it white and inject the personality through the furniture. That was an executive decision but my dream room is leopard print and orange, and it’s going to be fucking fab when it happens. I might do it in my little office. It’s my least favourite room because it’s dark and dingy. It’s just not very me and it’s the first thing you see at the top of the stairs, so I need it to be ‘pow’!
Robyn: what do you actually do in the office? Like, what does a TV presenter do in their office?
AJ: a LOT of invoices, researching people I’m going to interview and then coming up with ideas for TV shows and podcasts and things – so here is where I brainstorm
Emma: do you have a dream TV show to present?
AJ: hmmm, not currently but it would be a chat show or a game show
Robyn: bring Saturday night back
AJ: like the Generation Game. Just a conveyor belt of stuff. Genius!
Emma: who are the spoon people..?
AJ: ha ha, so this is from Anthea Turner as we did Celebrity Come Dine With Me and we did a Blue Peter making challenge. It was so fun! Dave Benson Phillips was on it too
Robyn: NO WAY – what is DBP doing now?
AJ: he djs private parties and he brings a gunge machine
Emma: that’s our birthday sorted
AJ: he’s got a gunge machine in his house
Emma: this is the best thing I’ve ever heard
* we all career over to the bedroom*
AJ: so this is my bedroom/hospital for plants. I remember reading about how important it was to have a great space to wake up in – now I wake up and it’s so bright! I’ve got this diffusion paper on the windows which diffuses the light evenly through the room so if any one of my plants are suffering they come up here and they just come back to life. I also have my self-help books here. I like to read things that teach me something and I always read in this chair because I fall asleep if I read in bed
Emma: where do you get all your ceramics from?
AJ: either the Nunhead Gardener, or if I’m pottering I’ll usually pick up a pot. Plus I know a really talented, potter so I get my pots from him. He made me a load of plates for Come Dine With Me
Robyn: he sounds like the perfect man… Do you date people in the business?
AJ: I don’t, you know. I’m pretty good at not mixing business and pleasure.. I just think two people like me would be carnage
Robyn: I’ve dated someone just like me and it was horrendous. Emotionally exhausting
Emma: yeah, opposites is best. Me and Mr Crap Flat, you and Jamie, me and you…
*AJ opens the door to her shoe closet WITH SENSOR LIGHTS. Everyone gasps*
Emma: ahh a shoe closet
AJ: yes! Those tiny ones belong to my nephew. This place is for visitors, so there are toys, games, guests beds even potties – there’s everything you need. My family are all over, some in Manchester, my younger sister lives in Dubai and one of my older brother lives in Cambridge so when you invite someone round you’re always prepared for people to sleep over
Robyn: do you think that’s influenced by your childhood home?
AJ: yeah, from being a big family in a small space. There were 10 of us growing up together and we lived in a house smaller than this place. So me and my two sisters shared a room and then the boys shared too. There were four bunk beds and a foldaway bed. I think that’s why I love having people around
Robyn: what’s the most you’ve had in this house at one time?
AJ: my Dad’s 80th when we had 70 people round, just filled with kids. So much fun
Emma: oh, I love that! And I also love your carpet
AJ: that was a saga. This carpet was imported from Italy – I felt so fancy. It was such hard work to find it in orange. I got it from somewhere in Blackheath, of course. I saw my dream one with stripes and orange and I asked how much it was and they said £15,000 per flight of stairs. Mental
Emma: are you quite good with budget?
AJ: well I went over, but that’s because I didn’t realise the living room and kitchen windows where basically hanging out so I had to replace them. You get desensitised to cost when renovating. Money seems to just evaporate! Everything is so expensive that you start saying ridiculous things like, “it’s only an extra grand”. Isn’t that madness? I really would have come in under budget if I hadn’t had to replace the windows
*we all potter through to the lounge*
AJ: I love my lounge. It’s not too big, but not too small, and I can get two settees in it. I wanted a sofabed but they didn’t look very good so I’ve got these stools instead
Robyn: you need to advertise stowaway beds – you could be the UK ambassador. Have you always lived in SE London?
AJ: no, weirdly, I’ve lived in Hyde Park and Regents Park and Camden and Brick Lane and then Clapton and all around East London. Then I moved to Brixton and everything bad happened: we got robbed, got mice then we moved to Camberwell, I broke up with my boyfriend and moved in with my Dad in South East London and now I’ve got my place on a leafier part of South East London and I love it!
Robyn: will you be here forever?
AJ: no but I’ll be here for five years at least. The first year has flown and I’d be so sad leave. I want to end up right on Blackheath Common. It’s so dreamy there. And I want a family. A big family. Like five children would be amazing but I don’t know how realistic that is with what I do
Robyn: that’s great that this feels like home now for you. I think being a Northern woman with a home in the south, when you head North to see family the political situation up there feels mad
AJ: so in Blackburn it’s very white with a pocket of Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi communities, where I’m from. And people always said, ‘Oh they’re taking over’ even though those people were very much in the minority, so I wasn’t surprised how things went when it came to the elections but it was sad
*we all distract ourselves from politics with some celebrity chat*
Emma: who’s the best person you’ve ever met through work?
AJ: Denzel Washington, for sure! He was a true gent and fascinated with the pronunciation of my full name (Onatejiro). But I’ve had some bad ones. One actor I was interviewing refused to answer any of my questions then afterwards his publicist came out and told me we couldn’t use the interview because the actor hated me. Charming! I was only 23. I’ve not been able to watch any of his films since. Stuff like that used to really affect me, but now I’m like, if you can’t handle this energy that’s on you. If someone isn’t as personable in real life than they are on screen, I can deal with that. Life’s too short
Robyn: what’s Tom Jones like?
AJ: the absolute best. He’s got these amazing blue eyes and this incredible aura and he can belt out a tune! He’s amazing. And there’s Will’I’am who is so much fun and Paloma Faith on the kids one is lovely too and absolutely off her rocker and then there’s Meghan Trainor and her family are all with her and they are so nice! There’s so many amazing people on the show
Emma: forgive me for lowering the tone, but as a beautiful woman on the telly and social media do you get weird fans or people sliding into your DMs with appendages on display?
AJ: I was actually in a meeting with some execs once talking about Instagram. They were asking about the dick pics situation and I was like, ‘I don’t really get that, I’m more athletic, so I get a different kind of attention. Like look at this DM…’ and I opened up an unread message and it was a video of a man ejaculating onto the screen. The worst
AJ: somebody also once turned up at the end of my park run. That made me think, because they were like, Hey AJ, I saw your Instagram and I knew you’d be here!’ so I now try and keep it really vague as to where I am
Emma: what’s your favourite thing in the house?
AJ: ohhh, there’s something in every room. So in the kitchen there’s my kettle and toaster because my family got them for me as a housewarming gift. I wanted them for ages and I was adamant that nothing in this flat is going to be a temporary thing, it’s going to be something I keep so I refused to get a kettle. I’d be boiling the water in a pan until I got my Dualit kettle and toaster and finally my family got them for me after lots of hinting and I love them
Emma: I’m all about that – only having things you really love in your home
AJ: exactly! Or in the hallway there’s this piece of art. that I got from Sophie T. She got me to come to the studio to be around the art, and basically three bottles of prosecco later I chose this. I think it’s perfect – it works with the carpet and the radiator. And I’ve got heated floors that are a point of luxury for me. And in the bathroom I have this vanity unit that I made out of a kitchen unit so it’s big and doesn’t cost a million pounds (that’s my hack). I’m proud of that one. It’s pretty tidy in here as well, very unlike me
Robyn: Are your family tidy?
AJ: no we’re hoarders, there’s stuff everywhere and nothing matches. Maybe that’s why I’ve gone the opposite way
Robyn: yeah, my dad won’t get a new sofa and it’s almost older than me
AJ: exactly. We’re getting my dad a sofa and I am making sure those delivery men take the old one away
Robyn: you clearly love your interiors account? Where do you see if going next?
AJ: So I need to make Home with AJ a thing obviously but I don’t know what that would look like. I’m not a DIYer or a designer but one thing I would like to do is to help people work out how to get onto the property ladder. Like if I had the information I have now things would have been different. Most people don’t know how to save, where to save, how much the bank will lend you. Like the bank gave me money for saving with one of those help to buy ISAs and people just don’t have that information
Emma: yeah, I’m in that position that I can’t buy yet and I feel like I don’t have a clue. Lots of people don’t know how to make that step
AJ: and as a freelancer it was really complicated to borrow for a mortgage and if I’d have known what I needed to do sooner I think I would have saved a lot of money.But I’m also interested in the psychology of why we want to buy. Like, I think I did it for the right reasons. I was living in London and my experience with landlords had been really negative and you keep having to move and I never really felt secure. I’m lucky that I’ve always been good at saving so I could really get my head down and get the money together
Emma: you seem really sorted in your career and now with your home, it’s really impressive
AJ: yeah, I feel like I’m a lot more savvy in the last few years. TV presenting was always an ambition and I felt so lucky to do it but now I’m trying to be more business minded. At the beginning of every year for example I’ll look at my sources of income: the ones I really enjoyed, the ones I hated but paid well and the ones I did for free. Then I jumble them all up so job offers fall into ‘passion project’ or ‘money maker’ and I feel like I’ve got a really good balance
Emma: that is such a good way of thinking of it
AJ: what would be the dream this year though, would be to do Strictly Come Dancing
Robyn: how does that even work? How do you get on Strictly?
AJ: you get your agent to get a meeting. TV work is just a lot of meetings
Robyn: aren’t you scared you’ll fall in love with your partner
AJ: no, I’ve worked so hard to get where I am that I’m not going to throw it away for some fling. But it feels great that I’m at a point in my career where I don’t feel like I just have to just be a entertainment presenter. I could do supper clubs, I could design a range of homeware for John Lewis. I could do anything
And you know what, she really could. AJ Odudu, presenter, supper club hostess, cushion designer and who knows, perhaps our next Prime Minister. The country would be a much better place with AJ for PM