Raza “Rake” Ali is set to be the new face of JD Sports after online pranksters hijacked its modelling competition. In this exclusive interview, Dilly Hussain speaks to the man behind the gelled icicles, who’s life went from an ordinary Welsh Pakistani to potentially the public face of one of Britain’s biggest sports-fashion company.
DH: Raza tell us a bit about your family, your background, where you were born and where you currently reside?
RA: Aged 29, I’m the eldest of three sons, I have no sisters. My dad used to own takeaways but now he’s a taxi driver and mum is a housewife. I was born and bred in Newport Gwent, South Wales. I’m of Pakistani background, and my family originate from the Khanewal district of Punjab. I last visited Pakistan in 2009.
DH: How far did you get at school? Did you go to university?
RA: I got up to year 10 and then went to Pakistan for a year so I didn’t manage to do my GCSE’s. When I came back a year later, I completed a Graphics and Multimedia course at college. To be honest, academia wasn’t for me, I’m more of a hands-on working person.
DH: At what point did you realise you were put forward for JD’s modelling competition?
RA: A fortnight ago on Thursday when I uploaded my photo on to the Splitter Scuffers Facebook page. People noticed my hair, they started attacking me and hurling abuse at me, taking the mick. I made nothing of it. I took the criticisms as jokes and that’s when they put me forward. My ranking went from 200 to 100, 100 to 50 then 50 to number one in three days! It went viral, I had nearly 10,000 people vote for me!
DH: Do you have a day job?
RA: I work night shifts at a food factory called R.F. Brookes.
DH: Are you in contact with Ryan Coutts who initially started all this?
RA: Yeah I spoke to him a few days a go when the national press were all over this story. We had jokes and Ryan is adamant that people continue voting for me so I go on to win. I told him how many people would have quit or even contemplated suicide with the amount of cyber abuse and bullying I’ve received. But I’m a soldier, I’m laughing along with the haters. I’ve been bullied online and Twitter for nearly four years because of my hairstyle, so I’m used to it now…take it as a pinch of salt.
DH: You’re nearly 4,000 votes ahead of other competitors, are you confident you’ll win?
RA: I’m confident I’ll win, unless JD Sports decides to do a dirty on me. I’m thousands of votes ahead of everyone else.
DH: Why should you win?
RA: I’m a unique person with a unique hairstyle, and whether you like it or not, it catches people’s attention.
If JD Sports choose me that means we can “rake” the money in together. The national press has splattered my face across their papers and websites, my face has gone viral on social media, so half of JD’s marketing has been done. I’m not being cocky, I’m humbly stating the reality.
DH: Has JD Sports been in contact with you and what is the next stage?
RA: Yes they rang me on Monday. The next stage is the final screening/auditions in front of judges. It will take place in East London this Sunday. After each candidate explains to the panel why they should win, the winner will be decided.
DH: How do you feel that boxer Amir Khan said he’d enter the ring with you against Floyd Mayweather if you win the competition?
RA: That made me proper happy, I’m buzzing. He’s one of us, one of the lads. He’s Muslim, he’s Pakistani and one of the greatest boxers in the world at the moment. Justin Bieber is a wasteman.
DH: What kind of hobbies/activities are you into?
RA: I like watching movies, going to the cinema, Go-Karting, spending time with family and friends. When I was younger, I was into martial arts. I did Karate and Wing Chun when I was a teenager, I’d like to get back into it.
DH: How long have you had that hairstyle?
RA: Since I was 12. I don’t move with the wind of change or fashion eras. I keep it old school.
For those of you who want to know, that’s a grade zero all round, square neck, slight fade/blend on the sides, and a minor fringe cut.
DH: What substance do you use on your hair and how much of it?
RA: I’ve used 80p Boots gel all my life. One tub lasts me around a week.
DH: How long does it take you to do your hair?
RA: Lol. It used to take me half an hour, but since I’ve had this hairstyle for 17 years, it takes me five minutes now.
DH: When was the name “Rake” given to you? Was it friends, family or yourself?
RA: “Rake” is a new nickname that began with the JD Sports hype. Now everyone knows me as “Rake Ali”. But I do remember some locals describing my hair like a rake, but it wasn’t used widely.
DH: Do you think people who don’t know you, take you seriously with that hairstyle?
RA: Look Dilly, the “rake” hairstyle is my niche. This is me, this is who I am, and it makes me comfortable. I have actually tried other hairstyles but it just didn’t feel right, I didn’t feel like ME! The “rake” hairstyle is me in original mode.
If you don’t like it, move on. No one is forcing you to like it. I’m a human, don’t judge me on my hair because I don’t judge others based on their hairstyle.
DH: Will you ever change the “rake” hairstyle?
RA: The “rake” will always remain the rake. If I have to change it for work, I’ll change it. But in my own spare time, on my days off it will ALWAYS be the rake. If I win the competition Insha’Allah, and JD Sports asked me to change it, I will.
DH: In your bio picture you’re holding your right index finger up. What does that symbolise?
RA: That’s the single finger of Tawhid symbolising that there’s only ONE almighty God, Allah (swt). And ultimately He (swt) will decide whether I win this competition or not, along with everything else in my life.
DH: When and if you become rich and famous, will you remember that 5Pillarz was the first media outlet to interview you?
RA: Of course brother! I am not dumb. I know very well that the national press along with this whole campaign was initiated by making fun out of me and my hairstyle.
BBC Asian Network and the nationals hardly gave me 5-10 minutes to say what I had to say, they rushed me. Whereas 5Pillarz gave me time, asked me questions that no other media outlet did.
Enough love for 5Pillarz for giving me this opportunity so people, especially Muslims know that there’s more to me than just the “rake”.