The TV presenter and Paralympian on the food that shaped his life, from Nigerian party food to pre-basketball match carb loading.
Nigerian-born Ade Adepitan moved with his family to the UK when he was three. He began to play wheelchair basketball at the age of 12, and went on to become a Paralympian, winning bronze in Athens in 2004.
As a presenter, Ade has been all over the world with programmes such as the BBC’s Travel Show and Channel 4’s Dispatches and Unreported World. He has also hosted countless sporting events and co-presented the BAFTA award-winning coverage of the 2012 Paralympics alongside Clare Balding. This year, he published his first children’s book.
My first food memory is making beans on toast for my younger brother and sister.
When we were growing up, my parents both had two jobs and went to evening classes, so I would be in charge of cooking. When you’re six and seven and your older brother’s made you a cup of tea and beans on toast, and Danger Mouse or ThunderCats is on the TV, it’s not bad!
I can’t remember the main courses we had a school, but I remember the desserts.
These included bread and butter, semolina and jam, pink custard with chocolate cake. Sometimes we had blocks of ice cream in paper that you unwrapped and put between wafers. At school, there was a black girl and a black guy and a few Asian kids, but I was the only disabled person, so I was a novelty.
On special occasions, mum and dad made Nigerian party food: spicy fried fish with rice and plantain.
I was born in Nigeria, and contracted polio at 15 months. It became apparent to my parents that I was going to struggle in Lagos where, in the 1970s, people didn’t really know what to do with someone with a disability. They made the decision to bring me to the UK: it was heartbreaking because my older sister, Omoyile, had Down’s Syndrome and they couldn’t afford to bring us both over. They thought because I couldn’t walk, they would bring me over first. It was seven or eight years before my parents were able to afford to bring Omoyile over. By that time, we had a younger brother, sister and a cousin living with us – we were all in a two-bedroom council house in Plaistow, east London.
In the early days of my basketball career, a nutritionist told me that what you eat today gives you your energy tomorrow.
So the day before a big match, I would eat my carbs – plain pasta, rice and potato – and on the day it would be chicken or fish and lentils. I would only eat red meat once a month and, even now, I don’t eat much of it. I retired from international basketball in 2006, but I still play club-level basketball for my local team, London Titans.
I met my fiancée (singer Elle Exxe) at the National Television Awards after-party at the O2.
She is super shy and was sitting in the corner on her own. She had this amazing aura, and I was a little bit drunk so I went over and had a chat. I didn’t know she was a musician and she didn’t know anything about me. We kept in contact on Facebook for six months. I was trying to think of a cool date, and decided to invite her round my house to play DJ Hero on the Xbox. I thought as she’s a musician she’d like that, but then it seemed a bit forward. So I went to meet her for dinner in Guildford, where she was at the Academy of Contemporary Music, but, due to work, I was an hour late. It was freezing and I felt terrible. That was back in 2010; she went on to write a song about a date who was always late. We’re getting married this year.
The most unusual meal I ever had was in Nicaragua, where I did a documentary for the BBC.
We were travelling from one side of Nicaragua to the other and weren’t getting the opportunity to eat much meat. We were hungry, and we stopped in a town and the locals made us rice with meat. We were all trying to work out what meat it was and, as I speak Spanish, I asked. ‘Oh it’s a speciality we only give to special guests when we welcome them,’ they said. ‘It’s bull’s testicles.’ You know what? That meal was much tastier before we knew that.
My last supper would be....
The Nigerian food my mum and dad used to cook, and for dessert I’d have the Cadbury’s Creme Egg cheesecake that Elle makes for my birthday every year, with a really nice Hungarian dessert wine.
Your food heaven? Any dessert.
And hell? Brussels sprouts.
Favourite celebrity chef? Heston Blumenthal and Gordon Ramsay.
Describe yourself in three words: Inquisitive, determined and mischievous.
Your ideal weekend? Lake Como with Elle. We got engaged there two years ago. We stayed at the Villa d’Este – it cost me an arm and a leg – and the food was beautiful. When I was younger I found Italian food too rich – I was used to east London chips and beans, but now I love lasagne, gnocchi and risotto.
Dream dinner party guests? Nelson Mandela, James Brown, Oprah Winfrey and Albert Einstein.
What did you have for breakfast today? Scrambled eggs on toast.
Favourite tipple? A good quality glass of red, probably a pinot noir.
I am most happy when… my family are happy and I’m challenging myself.
Read more celebrity interviews...
Ade’s Amazing Ade-ventures: Battle of the Cyborg Cat by Ade Adepitan is out now (£5.99, Studio Press).