Ayo Akinwolere: Nigerian-born British broadcaster and world record swimmer

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Throughout his career as a British television presenter, he has gone by the name Andy but last year, he made news and shocked fans when he went on the BBC using his Nigerian birth name, Ayo Akinwolere.

It was a proud moment for Nigerians everywhere, not that we didn’t already know he was a son of the soil, but with an impressive career like his, it made his switch to the real moniker the sweeter to witness.

The 33-year-old most recently presented the BBC red button coverage of the London Mini-Marathon. Akinwolere also hosted Queen Elizabeth II to celebrate 50 years of Blue Peter, the most established children’s programme in the country. He also presented a ceremony in the presence of Pope Benedict XVI during his tour of the United Kingdom in September 2010. He is currently working on programme ideas with BBC Switch and BBC 2.

Speaking on why he made the switch, he revealed he and his parents came up with the name when he was aged eight.”From there, through school and into adulthood – where I got my first big telly break as a Blue Peter presenter – I was ‘Andy’ and fine with it,” he wrote in the Huffington Post. “Recently though I started to rethink that decision. Whenever I travelled abroad colleagues or friends would spot my travel documents and comment on my name saying: ‘That’s a sick name! Why don’t you use that?’

“They meant it was a great name of course and they were right. Andy is too and it means a lot to me – my parents are Catholic and named me after St Andrew, so there’s a significance to it – but Odunayo is my first name and means ‘Year of joy’ in my first language, Yoruba.

“It sounds much more interesting, it’s different and that’s something to be celebrated.”

“Why should we ‘anglicise’ ourselves to blend in? Growing up in Birmingham which is home to 187 different nationalities, the diversity is incredible – it wouldn’t be the same if everyone was called John and Bob!”

In 2011, Akinwolere has set two world records for swimming in one of the deepest stretches of water on the planet. He swam five miles across the Palau Trench, an 8,000-metre deep abyss in the Pacific Ocean. He is the first person to swim across the deepest part of the trench, and now holds the record for the deepest location for an open water swim. He took three and a half hours to complete his swim. His records were verified by the World Open Water Swimming Association. “It’s an absolute triumph to have completed this swim, after having had just over 10 weeks of swimming training, I still cannot believe how far I’ve come. I could not swim a length before this and now I have swum over one of the deepest parts of the world. “All the hours of gruelling training will be worth it if my challenge inspires more children from ethnic minorities to learn to swim,” he said.

In 2008 and 2010 Ayo Akinwolere was nominated for Presenter of the year at BAFTA Children’s Award.

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