Interview: Comedian Eshaan Akbar Discusses Appearing In Pilgrimage

Interview: Comedian Eshaan Akbar Discusses Appearing In Pilgrimage

Pilgrimage is back with a ew series as seven well known personalities, of differing faiths and beliefs, tackle a modern-day pilgrimage, this time along the North Wales Pilgrim’s Way. 

Across three episodes, Pilgrimage: The Road Through North Wales will follow the celebrities, as they take a personal journey along a route that celebrates Celtic early Christian saints. Their final destination is Bardsey Island, the fabled ‘Island of 20,000 saints’, just off the western tip of the Llyn Peninsula.

Immersing themselves on this spiritual journey are: wild life presenter Michaela Strachan who places her faith in the natural world;  Spencer Matthews, a former Made in Chelsea reality star, who was christened Church of England but is still searching for answers to life’s big questions; Sonali Shah, a journalist and TV presenter who grew up in a Jain family; comedian Eshaan Akbar, a lapsed Muslim; Amanda Lovett, a practising Catholic, who catapulted into the public eye in the first series of Traitors; actor Tom Rosenthal of Friday Night Dinner fame, who is areligious; and TV personality and former model Christine McGuinness, who is spiritual but doesn’t practise one particular faith. 

Travelling on foot and by bus, the pilgrims begin their adventure from the start of the 220km Pilgrim’s Way near St Winefride’s Well. In a journey taking two weeks, they will be faced with challenging paths and climbs as they traverse North Wales, tackling the foothills of spectacular mountain ranges. Carrying their own backpacks, they’ll sleep in basic accommodation from a caravan to a climbers’ hut, as well as experiencing an eco-retreat in an ancient oak forest and a Buddhist meditation centre.

Fridays at 9pm on BBC Two & BBC iPlayer from 29 March 2024

Watch all three episodes on BBC iPlayer from Friday 29 March


Eshaan Akbar Interview


Did you find/feel/experience what you were hoping to find/feel/experience on this pilgrimage?

I went in with no real expectations.  I just wanted to throw myself into it. It ended up becoming one of the best experiences of my life!


Any revelations about yourself or your faith?

I was already quite steadfast in what I believed – the pilgrimage further confirmed that our souls/energies persist well beyond the minutiae and prescription of following an organised religion.


Did you have to prepare in advance for the pilgrimage? What did you do?

I had to buy a lot of walking equipment that is now gathering dust somewhere in my house.


What did you NOT do? In hindsight, was there anything you should have done to prepare yourself?

I should have walked up a massive hill at least once before!


What was the biggest challenge you faced during this pilgrimage?

Emotionally, allowing myself to open up to other possibilities and not carry my frustration with “God” and the people who vehemently believe in Him (in all His guises).

Physically, keeping up with everyone and not falling over frequently – I managed 1 of 2 of these.


What was your highlight?

The friends I made along the way. Seriously – we’re all still in touch and that’s great.

I’ll definitely never forget the feeling at the ponder point – it was truly overwhelming and gave me solace that my mum was with me on the journey.


What about the actual physical route – how would you describe it

The physical route was, on the whole, manageable. Coffin Path was ridiculous, and I was very upset when I got to the top of Snowdon to find that there was a train that would have taken us up there. Seemed like waste of a few hours for me to walk up there.


Did you find the experience emotional/eye-opening/enlightening?

I found it all those things at different points in the journey. I also discovered I’m more resilient than I had given myself credit for.


Were you surprised by any of your fellow pilgrims’ reactions to any situations?

As I got to know them through the course of the pilgrimage, so much of what they felt and how they behaved made sense. I was proud of every single one of them and proud to be associated with them all on this pilgrimage.


Were you surprised by any of YOUR reactions?

Most definitely. I didn’t realise I was carrying as much emotion as I was. I also didn’t realise that I had ignored myself for so long.


Are you affiliated to any religion?

I was raised a Muslim but don’t practise at all.  I’d call myself a lapsed Muslim. I used to practise, I don’t anymore.  Being from a Muslim background plays a big part in personal, professional, and social life, as well as society’s perception of me, so it’s entirely inescapable.


What helps you explain the world?

That most of us don’t extend grace to one another and that the things we think matter don’t matter at all.


Is your faith/religion something you have previously felt comfortable openly discussing with your peers, the public or within the press?



Has the experience changed or increased your faith?

It’s re-affirmed my belief that organised religion just isn’t for me.


Were there any particular instances or experiences during the pilgrimage that triggered any kind of change?

Not particularly – no change per se, just a continuation of how I felt.


Since returning home from the pilgrimage, have you felt different or engaged in activities around your faith that you would never have previously considered.

I’m trying to, at the very least, celebrate Eid for my dad – I know culturally and socially it’s important to him and it’s the least I can do – I haven’t since my mum passed away.


Has the experience changed you in any way?

It’s made me more open to new challenges. It’s given me the licence to value myself more. And to give myself a pat on the back!


You spent two weeks with a group of strangers. Did you learn anything new about yourself through the experience?

I learned that I’m more comfortable with uncomfortable surroundings than I give myself credit for; that I’m a valued person in a group.


Did it highlight any particular strengths/weaknesses.

I didn’t know I was that good at bringing people together.


Prior to this pilgrimage, had you ever found yourself discussing faith and religion with your contemporaries before?

Yes, for sure – particularly my Muslim colleagues.


Did anything about this pilgrimage surprise you?

Just how valuable the idea of the soul is and how much solace it gives us all.


What do you hope Pilgrimage viewers will take away from watching you take part in this series?

That I’m a fun guy, with a deep connection to the goodness of people, who loves his family tremendously. Feeding people is my love language, and that it’s ok to be vulnerable.


Describe your feelings/emotions when you reached the last church in Aberdaron, where you had to collect stones from the beach…. Why do you think that was that so emotional for you and your fellow pilgrims?

It was tremendous to see how much a simple stone could mean – the symbolism and power it holds.


And how then did you feel when you got to that point on the mainland which is the nearest point to Bardsey Island that you got to… was it disappointing?  Did it matter?

It was beautiful – it was almost better that we didn’t reach the intended final destination because that’s not how life – and indeed the afterlife works – what if you believe there is a heaven or hell, but it doesn’t exist when you get there. Is your whole life meaningless because of it? I don’t think so.


Any other key moments or stories you want to share?

I just hope viewers get to see how much fun we had too.


Would you do it again?



Summarise your experience on this pilgrimage.

It was one of the best things I’ve ever done, and I’d love to do it again – with these same Pilgrims.


Picture: BBC/CTVC

Interview supplied by publicists




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