The former children’s television presenter and radio host tells EDWIN GILSON about his latter-day role as intrepid documentary film-maker 

REGGIE Yates has found himself in some highly uncomfortable positions in his time filming documentaries. He was caught up in a gang fight in South Africa, verbally abused by neo-Nazis in Russia and was with the Mexican army as it battled drug cartels, to name a few threatening incidents.

Some of the strangest experiences he’s faced in recent years, though, have come courtesy of well-meaning members of the public on London streets. “People I’ve never met come over to me and say, ‘Do you remember that moment when you were crying on TV?’ Every experience, no matter how private, suddenly becomes public.”

It’s a sensation the 34 year-old has become accustomed to now. His appearance in Brighton next week is to promote his new book Unseen, which documents his story so far, from children’s television host and presenter of Radio 1’s Chart Show to his adventures in various parts of the world for his BBC documentaries.

From an outside point of view it seems as though Yates has had a rather unusual career progression but, for the man himself, every stage has felt natural. “I know that all of the different parts of my life have reflected where I am at that time. I started out as a kid, doing stuff for kids, and then I was a teenager doing stuff for teens. It’s the same now.” Yates has been credited with raising youth awareness about global social issues, but he says he doesn’t think he specifically targets a younger demographic.

“I will never put that pressure on myself to speak to anyone in that way. These films aren’t necessarily made for young people. If they are drawn to them, that’s fantastic.” Yates’ new life as a maker of documentaries doesn’t just involve embedding himself in subcultures around the world (although he’s done a lot of that). He’s done work closer to home, too, such as exploring the nature of masculinity in his “Extreme UK” series. Interestingly, Yates doesn’t see what he does as investigative in any way. “I don’t go out with a magnifying glass and a map trying to get to the truth of the crime.”

Yates was encouraged to move into documentary work by BBC Three controller Danny Cohen. At first the former DJ was unconvinced that films by a working-class man with background in entertainment would be credible to an audience. To get over his self-doubt, Yates focused on his inherently inquisitive nature. But how does he hold his nerve before embarking on a potentially dangerous new quest? How does he keep his mind from wandering to all of the things that could go wrong?

“You have to tune out everything else,” he says. “If you listen to the millions of opinions and possibilities you stop being yourself. You have to be in the moment. It’s just about being present.”

In the filming for one of Yates’ documentaries, Russian neo-Nazis yelled racist abuse at him during a march. I ask how he remained calm when his blood must have been boiling, and his answer is impressive in its cool rationality. “It wasn’t boiling at all. When you’re surrounded by backwards ideals that young people have, all you can do is feel sorry for them in that environ ment. They’re young enough to socially educate themselves, even if it’s just through their mobile phones.”

The key to all of this, says Yates, is empathy. All he wants to do is give people a platform to speak. “A lot of people are confused as to how I’m able to keep doing this without losing my mind,” he says. “But I’m not banging my head against the wall or trying to change anyone. I’m just having a conversation with them.”

Unseen: Reggie Yates in Conversation, St George’s Church, Brighton, October 28. For a £5 discount off Reggie Yates’ talk in Brighton, go to and use the code ARGUS5 when prompted.