Schmoozing With Shmoyel

Shmoyel Zia Siddiqui, everyone's favourite boy-next-door of Desi Rascals reveals all…

Posted: 03.08.15

Gurinder Chadha’s hit reality TV series Desi Rascals is not just exciting for British Asians who feel they are finally being positively represented on a mainstream platform, but it has also won over a magnanimous non-desi audience alike. In its second series, the show has been upgraded to the glory of Sky 1 following the tremendous success from just one series. So what’s the appeal? Drama and rivalry galore, bikini clad glamour pusses and topless buff totty could be some of the reasons, and one such hottie who is a favourite with the ladies and aunties is Shmoyel. Known for his awkward facial expressions, with a massive following and personalised Shmocabulary to his name, a laid back, friendly demeanour, boyish good looks and charm to match, it’s no wonder he is hardly ever on the receiving end of negative feedback from the audience. An art dealer by profession, I caught up with (and interrogated) him ahead of his next pop-up Milk and Cookies art gallery. In my review of the debut episode, my first impression led me to define him as a ‘cheeky chappy’, although this perception changed over the course of the series, as he turned out to be the Mr Nice Guy of the show. But after getting to know him a bit better, I’m left slightly baffled – is he really just the good pretty boy that we see on our screens, or is he an undercover cheeky lad? You can be the judge of that…

Casually dressed in black sweats, Shmoyel is all smiles and is as friendly and chilled out in reality as he appears on screen. He is certainly not your average British Asian 24 year old, whose role model might be 2 Pac or the like - no not this one. Shmoyel becomes wide-eyed when discussing art, his love and livelihood: ‘I studied History of Art at Manchester Uni and got inspired when I did my dissertation on Picasso’s art dealer called Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler. My passion was always art, but I grew up in a very business orientated family as my dad and brother are businessmen, so I thought let’s combine the two. So I decided to do a Masters in Modern and Contemporary Art at Christie’s, before launching my own gallery where I sell other artists’ masterpieces. I used to be a bit of an artist as a kid. When I was twelve years old, I came top in the UK in an art competition against eighteen year olds.’ 

When explaining his latest endeavour Milk and Cookies, arty Shmoyel emerges: ‘A lot of galleries tend to be named after the art gallery owner, I’m not sure if Siddiqui Gallery would have worked! The name also creates a certain image and perception when you walk into a gallery, which usually has a very serious tone to it. I wanted to make art feel more inviting, as art should be for everyone. From outside the industry, it does seem like a very closed community, elitist and pretentious. The way I’ve been brought up, the way I’ve studied and understood art is that art is for everyone and should be educational. So I wanted the brand to feel young, funky, exciting and a bit tongue in cheek – it’s a cow in a tuxedo looking very sharp, with a golden frame around it! It’s a play on the whole art world, I wanted to be cheeky with it. It catches people's attention which is the most important thing.’

Art is not a conventional career for the average Desi, but luckily for Shmoyel, his parents always supported his choices, although like most Asian parents, they wanted him to become a doctor. Even his passion for football was encouraged by his super cool folks, which led to him being accepted by Roma football team as a teenager, only to be let down by injury. But life clearly had other plans for the multi-talented youngling. For all the budding Asian art enthusiasts out there, you’re not alone, as he advises: ‘Show your passion and your parents will be understanding. Show your enthusiasm and determination.’

Compared to his co-stars, Shmoyel has received perhaps the least amount of hate and negativity, which might be due to the fact that he is not fame-driven. Whilst sipping on a caramel Frappuccino, he reveals: ‘Fame has never been important to me, but of course it’s nice when people recognise me. I just saw this as an opportunity to do something for the British Asian community. My identity is very important to me – as a British Asian in the mainstream fashion industry, I wanted to breakthrough and change a lot of stereotypes. That we’re not stuck in this colonial age, we’re actually very modern and with it. And not all of us are doctors and accountants! We’re just normal people with various interests just like anyone else. Type-casting is a real issue in mainstream media, where talented Asians are reduced to stereotypical roles, but I think that is definitely changing, and we’re also playing a part in that. I experienced some inequality in the fashion industry, but it is progressing – we have Asians at the forefront of international fashion now. Desi Rascals has come at the perfect time.’

Being part of a show that provides an insight into British-Asian lives, his parents played a significant role in making sure Shmoyel did not feel confused whilst growing up as a Pakistani in the UK: ‘They understand the culture and they have always encouraged me to incorporate the best of both Eastern and Western culture, which has led to this hybrid identity which is cool. I just fit in wherever I feel comfortable.’ As a result of his super ‘hybrid’ identity, Shmoyel divulged: ‘I hold onto traditional values but you have to adapt to the times, although that doesn’t mean you have to rebel, which is quite commonplace.’ Just as I was about to praise him on what a fine gent his parents had brought him up to be, he added: ‘I’m the trouble middle child, my parents had a hard time with me. I was always in detention in school. People might not realise, but I can actually be really cheeky. I was one of those kids who wouldn’t do their homework but would still get the grades. I’d probably hate me if I was one of the other kids!’

Ladies, hold your hearts. Shmoyel is officially a singleton. But perhaps not for long, as our hearts all sink: ‘There are some potentials on the show’, he added hesitantly. Whilst smugly sniggering he continues: ‘Maybe that person knows. I’m very ambiguous, which I’ve been told is quite annoying. Let’s just say there is a girl who has caught my attention. I don’t know if there is love on the horizon. I’m not the type of guy who approaches girls very often. I’m too chilled! A lot of girls catch my attention but not enough to make me want to pursue them. She has to be someone quite special for me to approach her. (Was that a good answer?!) I do also get a lot of girls approaching me as well.’

I had to ask why the dude in demand insists on friend-zoning every pretty girl on the show who displays interest in him, to which he replied: ‘Pretty faces don’t last! It’s such a surface thing, but attraction has to be there. Intelligence is really important, confidence, independence, smart. In other words - Queen Rania! She’s amazing. Being able to have intelligent discussions, she has to get my sense of humour. Fun, outgoing. I’m very open-minded, as it’s not just Desi girls that get my attention. Being cultured adds to the character, and by cultured I don’t mean Bollywood and saris, I mean having cultural values – respecting the elders.‘ As someone who is quite oblivious when it comes to realising a girl fancies him, Shmoyel persists about ‘Shmatalie,’ his rumoured link-up with Natalie: ‘I was surprised and wondered where it came from! I am quite bad at picking up signals but this isn’t the case with Shmatalie. But it does happen that I’m friendly with a girl and she’ll think I’m flirting (he says with that awkward face). I’m that guy who is always in awkward situations. In that sense, I’m not ambiguous!’ Yes, I think we all know that Shmoyel.

His awkward and all-revealing facial expressions have become infamous, so what better way to induce those very reactions than a quick-fire round of questions! Oh how I basked in making the uber chilled out, Mr Nice Guy squirm and ponder, whilst he desperately avoided offending anyone, despite my efforts at instigating a catty or juicy comment here and there. Only for the readers! Here goes…

If not art and Desi Rascals, what would you be doing?
I’ve just fallen into everything organically, but I was modelling until the age of about 23, perhaps I would have focussed on that more. I still drop the Zoolander pose here and there!

How Desi are you?
I’m a proper closet Desi! I can speak the lingo fluently and I know my cultural values.

We’ve gotten to know Shmoyel on our TV sets, but how would you describe yourself?
I would describe myself as light hearted, loyal, family orientated, active, eager to learn (a Scorpian characteristic), nature lover (that’s sad!), and sporty.

Tell us something we wouldn’t know about you from just watching you on Desi Rascals?
I can be really cheeky!

Who is your ultimate nemesis on the show? Or could be?
I never put myself in competition with anyone. Not because I think I’m ahead of anyone, I treat everyone equally and I’m too chilled. I know where I’m going and I’m not bothered about anything else. But maybe there will be more competition to come…

With the new kids on the block, how has that or will that change dynamics of the show?
I don’t think that has really played on anyone’s mind. But the nature of being part of a reality show, is that everyone is playing themselves, people react by either getting along with the personality or clashing. I’d be wrong to say there is no ambience of hostility, but it’s not for those reasons. You either get along with someone or you don’t. We’re all doing the same thing together, on the same level.

In the first series, you weren’t too bothered about biceps and abs. but since then, you seem to have been spending a lot more time at the gym. Is this because of peer pressure, having to compete with your co-stars?
I started hanging out with the guys more, gym became a social thing and I did get more into it. But I’ve always had other activities keeping me active like football. People are a lot more conscious about the way they look and it’s also about changing perceptions of beauty – keeping fit is in I suppose.

Do you like being labelled as the ‘nice’ guy and the ‘pretty’ boy? What would you like the audience to see you as?
I hate being called the pretty boy. I might have to get into a fight and get this face roughed up! I don’t get offended at being called nice though. I just want people to see me as I am - chilled, well-mannered and easy going.

If you can give any one of your fellow rascals some advice, who and what would it be?
Anj – stop training your arms, otherwise you won’t be able to reach your bum to wipe it. He’ll have to use those Japanese robotic toilets!
Also, I’m not directing this at any specific girl – but they just need to relax. Certain people just need to stick to their own battles and not get involved with other stuff.

Which Bollywood and Hollywood star do you fancy?
Is it wrong to say I still fancy Madhuri Dixit?! I like the way she has always carried herself, there’s an aura of class around her. Girls cheapen themselves out a bit these days. If we’re talking strictly looks, Penelope Cruz. Angelina Jolie - she’s stunning, very intelligent and all the social work she does is amazing and genuine.

If you were scouted for Bollywood would you be up for it?
Maybe. If the opportunity came about, I’d think about it. I’d like to be cast opposite Shraddha Kapoor. Also, I was John Abraham’s legs in Goal at the age of 16. I did his double acts and taught him the footy tricks which was pretty cool!

What are your thoughts on male grooming i.e waxing, manis, pedis?
I cut my own hair. I have left big gaps in my hair by accident, so I don’t really do that now since I’m on TV. I’m also not that hairy for an Asian guy, which is quite embarrassing for a Desi bloke! I wouldn’t do manicures etc. I do like rings, I want to bling out one of my hands, perhaps a knuckle duster (are you serious?!). I also like necklaces. Like this one I’m wearing (key shaped) - if I want to be cringe, I can say it’s the key to my heart, if I want to be sharp, I can say it’s the key to your heart and I’ve got it round my neck (Cheesefest).

You’re always so chilled out, what makes you tick?
My sister and brother when we were kids. I was just the troublesome middle child I suppose! Time management sometimes, I get tense if I’m not on time. People who try and put other people down. Inappropriate use of the word cute. What does cute mean?! Why would you call a Chinese bowl of sticky rice ‘cute’?! My sister does that. Also, over-politeness over the last thing in the dish - I hate offering it to be polite, when I really want it!

Any memorable fan moments?
I zone out alot, so I’ll be walking with my headphones and a girl waves at me and I’m like huh, do I know her? And then they’ll say can I have a picture and then it dawns on me! It happens a lot. I’ve also had stalkers since I was a teenager. Just the other day, I came across a girl and when she met me she said ‘oh my life is complete now!’ and I was like ‘really?!’ But it is really sweet. This little kid was once grabbing my trousers, and I don’t know if he was trying to grab my attention or pull down my trousers! He was like ‘you’re from that show!’ I was like 'yeah I am, now get off me!’

If you could only save two of your co-stars in a zombie apocalypse, who would they be?
That’s so harsh! I’d let them all go, because otherwise I’d live with the guilt that I didn’t save everyone. So I won’t save anyone. Ok fine, I’d save Manoj and Celia.

Who would you date, marry or make your sister out of these: Feryal, Natalie, Rita?
(Long hesitation, awkward faces and looks of mortification, with my cackling in the background) Date Feryal because dating means they’re disposable, marry Natalie and make Rita my sister. (Long thoughtful pained pause) Actually no, Marry Rita and sister Natalie.

Three things that are most important to you?
My family, Sky Sports News and my yo-yo, because it’s fun to play with whilst walking down the street.

What are your thoughts on online dating/apps?
It's not for me. It's a great way to meet new people and I definitely wouldn't argue against anyone using it, but I prefer to step out of my comfort zone and approach a girl in person. Might seem a bit of a 'romantic' in this day and age but I feel digital communication can never beat real life interaction. But big up Tinder and my catfishes out there.

In a few lines, how would you sell yourself on an online dating/matrimonial site?
I fed my Tamagotchi a few times - call me daddy

Do you have a future plan?
Live fast and die old.

Watch Shmoyel on Desi Rascals every Wednesday at 8pm on Sky 1
Visit Milk And Cookies next pop-up gallery exhibiting works of Yves Hayat and Magnus Gjoen, also featuring entertainment at Artspace London, 7 Milner Street, London from 7th Aug-9th Aug at 11am-9:30pm each day
Follow Shmoyel on Instagram
Follow Shmoyel on Twitter

Interview by Fariha Sabir

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