Did video kill the radio star? Not according to radio DJ and television presenter Yinka Bokinni. She’s hit the ground running in both mediums – much like her move into marathons, starting with this year’s 26.2-mile race in the capital. Between pounding the pavements to keep up with a rigorous training schedule, and 12-hour long studio days, the self-confessed radio nerd is adding more strings to her bow with TED talks, true crime shows and ground-breaking television documentaries.
For her debut Spell cover, Yinka fills in the gaps on her flourishing career, reveals how she winds down with soul-nourishing self-care, and missed the boat on Balenciaga Crocs. We spoke to Yinka before the London Marathon, which took place on 3 October 2021.
You’ve just announced that you’re running for the London Marathon - how is that fitting into your schedule?
I just run everywhere! Anywhere in London, look out the window and you might see me running past!I have a training schedule with a trainer and a group chat, but I’m really fit and work out a lot anyway. Whenever I get a second, I’m doing burpees and weight training, so the marathon - even though I had never considered doing it before - it feels like the natural step forward as running is something I’ve never tackled. When the opportunity came to work with Sports Direct and New Balance, I would have been mad to turn it down. It’s tough and will take a lot out of me, but I better finish!
What was your experience like shooting with Spell Magazine for the first time?
It was insane because I’m usually the person getting other people ready or warming up to give an interview. I felt a bit like Beyoncé! I’m quite a dishevelled person, and I either wear pyjamas or running gear to work. It made me feel empowered to get glam and have the opportunity to show a more daring side of me in bold makeup. The experience was so far away from discussing rappers’ business on radio or murder on YouTube.
Being a radio presenter does it make you less image focused?
I’m a radio nerd, so for me it’s about the job. But ultimately, radio is an anonymous medium in that people have to actively search to find how you look. It takes the pressure off a bit. However, I think that radio is a lot less forgiving than TV, in that on TV you can nod and gesture, whereas on radio that’s radio silence. So there’s pressure to fill that silence and be quippy, quick and quirky. But it’s what I live for.
What’s your relationship like with your hair?
I’m having a bad hair decade! I went natural six or seven years ago, and I still don’t know what hair type I have. Everyone tells me it’s 4C, so I go with that. I don’t have shiny curls, it’s quite kinky. It took me a while to love it because my sisters have that 4A texture - they just put conditioner on it, and Bob’s your uncle, whereas I’m getting my hair braided a lot of the time. However, the versatility with my texture is unmatched, so I like to be experimental and switch it up. It’s been a long road, but finally, in my thirties, I’m starting to love it.
Is it difficult to find the right hair products?
There are so many products available now that the natural hair movement has blown up. However, many products are still geared towards curls, like curl jellies and activators - but I don’t have any curls to activate. Gone are the days when it was simple with Blue Magic, Dax and sheen spray. Now you have to invest in your hair, in the knowledge and in the right products, because without that you could be doing yourself a disservice.
Do you think brands are doing a good job at repping different hair types today?
I think it’s better than it was before. Everything has the ability to improve. Brands like X-Pression have provided hair for braiding for ages. But there are also newer brands like Afrocenchix who offer natural products, and my hair drinks that stuff! I haven’t found something more compatible since I discovered broccoli. So I think that brands are doing better, but there’s a long way to go in terms of defying hair types and making that more available, especially for someone like me who doesn’t have curly hair.
Do you think nowadays guys are more accepting of women wearing wigs and weaves?
I couldn’t tell you - I don’t give a heck what men think. If they are more accepting, good for them, because they should be getting over themselves. I do my hair for myself. I love looking good and feeling pride. But I also want to look good for other women, because we know that when someone who identifies as being a woman, or even non-binary, walks into a room and their hair is laid or freshly braided, you appreciate the time that has gone into it. I like the fact that more men are going natural - that’s beautiful.
Have you taken any beauty tips from TikTok. If so, do share?
Yes, and I’m ashamed because there are certain things I’ve learned that I really didn’t know. For example, when you’re braiding your hair you should actually part it and put it in elastic bands and then braid on top. That cut three hours out of my styling time. TikTokkers always say ‘trust the process’, and they have me watching for hours on HairTok.
What’s your idea of self-care?
My idea of self care isn’t really on the surface. It’s nourishing your soul. I think that there are things you can do for your body that help you live at peace and in your purpose. If I were to think of a day where I’ve enacted the most self care, it would be a day when I wake up early, work out, feed myself and maybe wash my hair and take time with my hairstyle. I have a lot of nieces and we’ll have days where I’ll do their hair and watch a film with them, and I think that kind of bonding with others and yourself is much bigger than sticking a face mask on.
You love your crocs! If they made a croc heel, would you wear it?
Balenciaga did make one but it sold out, so I couldn’t get it! But I did buy a Gucci croc and now everyone thinks I’ve lost my mind.
In your opinion, what makes you good at your job?
I think I’m good at my job because of who I am. At work, we talk a lot about what we would be doing if we weren’t in our current jobs, and I say that I’ve been fired from pretty much every job that I ever had before I started in broadcasting and presenting. I don’t say that with pride because it’s obviously a little bit embarrassing, but it’s a fact. And I got fired from these jobs because I never really cared or had any passion for the work. When I found something that I could do for free, or even pay to do, you learn a certain tenacity that makes you good at your job. Even two years ago, I didn’t think that I would be in this position; it’s what I want to do. The passion that I have for this, and the fact that I know what I’m saying is the truth, means that I’m good at it. The compliments from listeners help as well - it’s a little bit like oxygen sometimes!
What keeps you motivated?
Knowing that this is the life that I wanted. On days like today where I’m tired and I’ve been working a lot, I sit back and I remember when I used to want to do this work and feel busy. I saw a tweet the other day which said, ‘Just a reminder: you’re currently living one of your prayers’. I thought it was so true. For me, I’m motivated by the present because I think it’s so easy to regret or have anxiety about what might go wrong. I’m also motivated by the people I work with, because I want to make them proud and want to work with me.
What got you into true crime?
So many people want to know this because I randomly started publishing true crime YouTube videos and no one asked me to do it! I’m fascinated and morbidly curious about the things that people do to each other. I’m not a violent person; I don’t even raise my voice much. So I can’t imagine being in the mindframe of the people in the cases I’ve researched. It’s also a different string to my bow, so it’s quite fulfilling to show a different side to myself and the light and shade of my personality, as well as bringing a different take on true crime. I’ve been watching crime documentaries for years and the people presenting are always old dudes in brown suits who were probably police officers back in the day. I think, actually, a young brown girl can do the same thing but bring a new perspective.
I’ve just announced that I’m working with Channel 4 on a documentary about online hit men, as well as a longer online series, and that's really exciting because it’s something that I dreamed up in my dining room.
Can you tell us more about your work on Channel 4?
The show I’m working on currently is called The Kill List, and it’s in two parts. It’s about online hit men. There are people who have paid money to have people killed, and they put out information about the victim on the dark web, like their name, age, address, phone number and job title. We’re investigating how real this threat is and what happens when these incidents aren’t investigated. It’s a bizarre world.
How do you feel about the dark web?
I was very scared when looking into it. Although I know it’s legal to use, I was worried that the FBI would come and break my door down! It has been a learning curve.
Did you ever think the UK music scene would get to where it is today?
Yeah, I always hoped so. I have worked in music for a while, having DJ’d at Rinse before moving to Capital Xtra, and I know that the talent is undeniable, but because Britain is so small and there aren’t as many of us as there are in other countries, it takes time for our music to travel. I also love that it’s not just the most poignant of songs that are doing well; Umbrella was number one for time, and so was Crazy Frog, so if Russ and Tion Wayne wanna say ‘body-ody-ody’ and it’s number one, I like that. I like the fact that young people can have fun and be silly and carefree with their music, and it doesn’t have to be about suffering. The versatility of UK music is there, and the longer that artists make money and experience chart success, and the bigger they become worldwide, the bigger the range of music that we start to hear. Seeing UK black boys win and black women sell out shows is wicked.
Who has been the best dressed guest on your Capital Xtra show and what were they wearing?
Young T & Bugsey. They’re drippy. I think they were wearing Gucci, Dior and Fendi - they always have nice trainers, everything is steamed and it’s a stark contrast to the way that Shayne [Marie] and I dress.
Describe your perfect Halloween fancy dress outfit!
Voldemort! I love Harry Potter! I’m going to a Halloween party hosted by a friend who always suggests a theme; in 2018 it was American Horror Story: Freak Show, 2019 was Alice In Wonderland, and this year it’s ‘villains’. So I’m going to wear a bald cap, tape my nose down, buy a Nagini and become Voldemort.
NASA landed a rover on Mars earlier this year - do you think they could discover ancient life out there?
One can dream. I’m here for it. I actually think that aliens are bugs. The most likely alien would be a cockroach. How likely is it that a little green man is going to rock up on our planet? I don’t think so. If you think about how long bugs have been here, it makes sense.
If winter was a person, who would it be?
Cersei Lannister. She’s awful.
Who’s the biggest inspiration in your life?
I’ve got four - they’re my sisters. I adore them. And around 10 of my best mates! If I had to pick my biggest inspiration though, it would be my friend Dionne because she’s just ‘herself’ and she’s always in my corner. When people ask me about inspirations, I always go close to home. In terms of more well known people, I’m inspired by Trisha Goddard. I think she’s a G and the way she shut down Piers Morgan the other day was wicked. Shayna also inspires me, because to put up with me is a feat, and she’s my best friend and that comes across to listeners which is why I think the show does so well. It’s a blessing to be able to work with her.
Career-wise, what are you most proud of this year?
Unapologetic on Channel 4. It’s never been done before. It’s amazing to have a dark skinned black woman and a mixed raced woman hosting a show together; it isn’t one or the other, no one has been put on a pedestal, there is no fetishisation of skin tone, and we're having real conversations. I adore Zeze Mills, so to be able to work with her was wonderful. Also, to be one of the faces on Channel 4’s Black To Front day was a huge honour.
Super important question… Did ‘video kill the radio star’?
Well, I’m still here!
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