Culture: From Byker Grove to the Tragedy of Africa; Actor and Film-Maker Daniel Larson Sidhu Tells David Whetstone about His Personal War on Aids

Article excerpt

FANS of Byker Grove with long memories might recall a character called Rajeev in the very first series of the BBC children's drama, now sadly put to rest.

He was played by Newcastle-born Daniel Larson Sidhu who was in that initial cast with Jill Halfpenny and Declan Donnelly (now better known as one half of Ant and Dec).

All went their separate ways but Daniel, born to parents who came here from India, has resurfaced this week as a film-maker with a consuming passion to document one of the world's great tragedies - the ravages that HIV/Aids has wrought on the population of sub-Saharan Africa.

With producer Simon Constable he has set up an independent company called Blue Rain Productions.

Its first product, the pair of them fervently hope, will be a documentary that helps to put the epidemic back on the front pages of the world's newspapers and in all the TV bulletins. It's an ambitious wish. If the deaths of millions of people haven't interested news managers in recent years, why should an actor and film-maker from Newcastle be able to make a difference?

Well, meet Daniel, who is a youthful 40, and you will get an inkling of why he has been able to secure interviews with the likes of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, of South Africa, Sir Bob Geldof and the American Dr Robert C Gallo who helped to identify the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) in 1984.

Enthusiasm and determination are what he's about, along with irresistible charm and a belief that the North East's famous passion is more than just an advertising slogan.

With the backing of many North East organisations - including, he says, Business Link, One NorthEast, Northern Film & Media and Arts Council England, North East - he aims to travel to an Aids summit in Mexico later in the summer, gathering further footage for a film which is scheduled for completion next year when it will be taken on a round of film festivals.

"We are not looking to do something for us," he says.

"I want this film to show that the ordinary man in the street can make a difference, even here in the UK.

"You hear it said that Aids is an African problem but it's a global pandemic and it affects all of us."

This might sound preachy but Daniel's anything but. He smiles and laughs a lot, and occasionally wipes away a tear - particularly when recalling the first time he met Sibongi, a little girl who befriended him when he was taken to see a South African orphanage full of children left parentless by Aids.

"They opened the door and there were all these little toddlers. She just came up and looked at me. She was very ill and had lesions on her face and it was touch and go for her, but I found out a few days ago that she is now going to school. She must be about five now and I'd like to do something for her."

This film might be a start. Daniel can't understand why everyone isn't angry about the situation in sub-Saharan countries where people are dying at an incredible rate. He comes up with a startling statistic - that if London were hit by HIV/Aids in the same way, the whole population of the city would be struck down inside 18 months. …