How Del did it
Delnaaz 'Del' Irani is an Australian-Indian journalist and an anchor based in the United States. She has hosted programs for ABC News (Australia), BBC World News, and NHK World-Japan. Irani was a host on the Australian ABC lifestyle show Escape From The City. In 2020, World Vision Australia appointed Irani a Goodwill Ambassador. She currently hosts Deeper Look from New York on NHK World-Japan and anchors EY's Real-Time Business, a Reuters Plus production. In 2015, Irani was a delegate to the Australia-India Youth Dialogue.
Del Irani with Hindi cinema star Shahrukh Khan. Del Irani is a classic example of the path that many young people of Indian origin have taken to achieve success in Australia.
Akasha Usmani (AU): Can you tell us a bit about yourself? When did you immigrate to Australia and how has your journey been?
Delnaaz Irani (DI): My family immigrated to Australia when I was eight-years-old. This was in the early 90s and I was really young. I remember those early days, my father is a banker and my mother was a secretary and we really started from scratch. My mother’s brother is in Australia which is what helped us move. I remember landing in Australia, I have never left India before and everything was just so clean and there were no people on the roads, it was just this totally different world so for an eight-year-old it was like I had landed on Mars it was so different. I grew up in Australia, I did my elementary school, primary school, high school, university so I definitely identify as Indian-Australian. I look Indian, I have Indian parents, I come back to India regularly but I was raised in Australia and I am an Australian citizen so both of them form a part of my identity.
AU : You have previously worked as an anchor, business journalist and producer. How did your career as a journalist begin?
DI : It began unconventionally. I have Indian parents so telling them that I am going to be a journalist was not exactly something that was normal, I didn’t even know what a journalist was because there was no one in my family. I studied business, I went to University New South Wales, studied business and studied psychology thinking that I am going to have a marketing career or I was going to have a psychology career. My final year, I came to the United States and I studied at University of California, Berkeley and I got a scholarship and that year was really transformative because I left Australia, I was in the United States and I realized I wanted to do more overseas so when I graduated from Berkeley, I got a job in media. It was not a media production like almost appetizing sales in Europe and I was there, I worked in that job for two years. I have worked in Bermuda, Panama and Dubai and during this time it's when I started to realize that I really like journalism because a lot of the times I would go to press conferences, I would be the only one asking questions, I got the confidence to interview business leaders and politicians and then when I finished that job, I went to India, my dad was living in India at that time and when I got to India in 2006-2007, at that time Indian news channels was just starting like 24-hour news channels - Times Now, NDTV has been around for a while but certainly channels like CNN-IBN were just brand new channels, one or two years old and I saw this as an opportunity, I thought this was perfect, I am Indian, I look Indian, I have an Indian - Australian accent, this will be so easy and it wasn’t easy. It was very hard but I persisted. I got a job at Thomson Reuters. As you mentioned, I started off as a producer, I was a researcher, I was doing what you are doing. I just worked my way up, I did overtime so my shift was over and my boss said that he needs someone to interview the finance minister and I said I’ll do it! I loved it so for me it's a privilege of doing what I love, it's not work. That's how I began. This was the beginning of my journey to eventually becoming BBC World News reporter, ABC News anchor and so on.
AU: You have worked across a wide range of media and worked in three different continents, what has your experience been like in terms of diversity?
DI : A lot! In terms of diversity, I had a very different experience working in an Indian newsroom where it was a culture shock for me because I grew up in Australia. I was made aware that I have brown skin, I look Indian, my parents are Indian and my household is Indian and when I come to India, where I belong, working in an Indian newsroom - they are like, you’re not Indian. You have an accent and you dress differently so that was really a shock for me. Fortunately, I speak Hindi so it definitely helped but in terms of diversity and learning to fit in - was hard, there were some beautiful people who were very accepting but it took me a while to prove myself because a lot of colleague were deserting saying you can’t just come here and be entitled to a job, you have to prove that you have the Indian work ethic, you are going to work hard and you’re good at what you do. Conversely, I joined BBC World News and that was the most exciting year of my life. I was 27, terrifyingly hard but the best in terms of how much I learned and very very diverse because I was reporting to a broadcaster in London so I am dealing with United Kingdom colleague but I am in India and my colleague in India are Indian and reporting on rural sometimes really remote issue so it was very different and then coming to Australia was bringing that experience. I started working on the international Australian ABC but the real transition for me was when I moved to the domestic side - working with ABC News Breakfast which is a national breakfast show and then again it was about proving myself, I am not just there because I am the diversity candidate but I am there because I worked really hard and I know what I am doing and I deserve to be there. Each experience was different in terms of diversity.
AU : You have been a part of Australia India Youth Dialogue (AIYD), how was your experience in being selected for this dialogue? How do you think your work as a journalist can play a part in this, as you know this dialogue is for young leaders to improve Australia-India ties through their work and efforts, so how do you think your work can strengthen the relationship between the two countries?
DI : I got the opportunity to be part of the dialogue at a really important point in my career. I had been with the ABC for a few years. As I mentioned I started on the international side, It was after I did Australia India Youth Dialogue, I actually got the chance to switch and be on the domestic side. The reason I said this is when you talk about the importance of the dialogue, it's about bridging the gap between India and Australia, as an Indian-Australian journalist, to be on National Australian Television, talking to all Australian not just the ones based overseas but people living in Australia and getting to represent a part of a diaspora on television was just a huge privilege and a huge opportunity. One of the great things about the dialogue is even though I finished that programme, I think it was 2014-15, it's been 6-7 years but I still have great friends. One of my colleagues is an Australian journalist, we were roommates and we are still very much in touch. She went on to work at The Age, she’s an award winning journalist and now she works for Australia-India Institute. Our connection is still very much there, the alumni connection. I am also in touch with other members of AIYD. The organization has done a lot for me in terms I would like to do for them, if there’s anything that I can do to advocate the strong relationship between our two countries - I am there. I am a huge beneficiary of it. I am proud to be Australian and I am also proud to be an Indian, if I can somehow represent both of the countries it will be my honor.
AU : What part does Australia India Youth Dialogue (AIYD) play in strengthening the people-to-people ties and what role do young leaders play in this?
DI : I think AIYD is all about relationships so there were people in my cohort that I would never have met or gotten to know that intimately but when you spend two weeks with somebody, you share a room with them, you travel to India and you have shared experiences, those relationships last the tested times. Not just that, not just people in my group but the organizers of the AIYD were brilliant people like Sanushka - she’s someone that I am very much friends with and connected with her. She’s a partner in a huge law firm in Australia so when you have these types of connections, you have peers that are these out-performing Indian Australians. It's hugely inspiring you to do better.
I would hope that similarly to what AIYD did for me, similarly to how I look up to, like I mentioned Sanushka and other people - when the next generation of young aspiring journalist, lawyers, whoever wants to be a part of this dialogue, Australians as well as Indians, having both is super important, politicians wanted to be a part of it - hopefully the alumni, people myself play a role. I have to say, a lot of politicians, they were aspiring politicians and were a part of cohort as well which is fantastic because you see these people who wants to run in their local jurisdictions and they want to learn about India because they realize Indian-Australian are important part of Australian society and that was really nice, for them to want to learn, they want to engage just the same way Indians would want to engage and learn about Australia.
AU : What was it like to work in the Australian version of “Escape From The City”? Can you tell us about how this was received by the Australians?
DI : It was unbelievable. Sometimes you have these moments in your career, which are like pinch-me moments. It was fantastic and I got to travel around Australia, I went to places I would never have, I don’t know if I would have had a chance to do it in this lifetime because they were all not touristy places, they were really remote places that people who would live in Melbourne or Sydney would go and live in, so I got to interact a lot with Australians who live more remotely. For me it was a phenomenal experience, it was a dream come true not just the location but the people that you met and the stories they told you and in terms of how it was received. It was received really really well. I was one of five hosts so each one of us brought something very different. There were people that have gone to a lot of countries. My role was to get business and finance aspects of it and talk about why it could make financial sense to move or escape from the city. It was like doing the breakfast show, when you get the chance to do, to be an anchor on ABC News Breakfast, which is a domestic program or be an anchor on Escape From The City suddenly it's like you are really accepted, you are an Australian, this is not about my Indian roots or my Indian background, I am just an Australian host doing an Australian show. It was wonderful.
AU: You’re the Goodwill Ambassador for World Vision Australia, which works globally with children, families and communities to overcome poverty and injustice. What impact does World Vision have in India and how does it help in eradicating poverty in India?
DI: I have not had a chance to visit India as a World Vision Ambassador yet, however one of the reasons I wanted to become a World Vision Ambassador was because of the impact, not just in India but Asia. when I was in the United States, I was very aware so I knew that they were doing, they have been for years and years doing amazing things. More recently, the impact that COVID had, particularly from the Delta variant, World Vision really stepped up. I helped them, I did a video to promote it, they were raising millions of dollars to send funding to India, they were really getting the money and the vaccine to the poor areas to the people that did not have the opportunity to access vaccines as you get in the main cities so when I see like, that’s an example of very recent impact, this was two years ago and World Vision is very much at the forefront. This initiative made me super proud to be a part of the World Vision Ambassador - to raise awareness and that's something I am very passionate about. Being an Ambassador means for all issues around the world but If I particularly get to shout a loud issue in India - that comes from the heart.
AU: That was my last question to you. Thank you so much, It was a pleasure talking to you. With this do you have a message for the people who will be reading this interview?
DI: Thank you! I hope what you take away from this is to believe in yourself, to believe anything is possible - that would be my ultimate message. I have always said, If I can do it, anyone can. You can really overcome the odds because I can tell you for a fact growing up in Australia as the daughter of Indian immigrants, I never imagined myself or pictured myself on television and if I did people would have laughed at me and you know now here I am, being in an interview talking about the things that I have been fortunate enough to do. Work hard, things will come in your way and that’s all I hope people can take away from that.