Interview: Josh Navidi

Josh Navidi (Image: The Rugby Paper/Getty Images)

Josh Navidi is one of the most recognisable Cymranians today. You'll find him on a rugby union pitch, playing for club - Cardiff Blues - and country, as a Back Row and captain. I had the pleasure of speaking to him, exclusively for Cymranian.

From the very beginning, Josh knew he was both Welsh and Iranian. Raised in a Welsh speaking environment, and with plenty of traditional Iranian cuisine to whet his appetite (abgoosht being his personal favourite), he was never far away from understanding and appreciating his roots. But he's determined to learn more. While growing up, there wasn't much Iranian influences around him; in fact, he only knew of one other Cymranian family in Bridgend, the town where he was raised by his Iranian father, from Tabriz, and his Welsh mother, from Anglesey. They met in North Wales at her hairdressers - he was a student at Bangor at the time. Having then bumped into each other during a night out shortly afterwards, their relationship blossomed and him moving to South Wales didn't deter this either. She moved down and never looked back.

Family is everything to Josh, and uses this to talk about the similarities between Welsh and Iranian cultures. His father moved to Wales at a young age - more specifically, to Ynysybwl, a close-knit community at the heart of the Rhondda Valleys. It was a big move but it didn't stop the villagers from making him incredibly welcome - his host family, devout Christians, never thought of him as a Muslim or foreign, but as one of them. "They properly looked after him," Josh said. "They did everything for him - they even bought him a TV. They didn't care if he wasn't Christian, and he was able to play a big part in the local community."

Josh knows Iranians can be like this accommodating too, and is determined to visit Iran and experience the famously warm hospitality first hand. He planned to travel there as recent as last year, but Covid-19 got in the way. It won't stop him from planning a visit, once the pandemic is no more. "My father didn't force too much Iranian culture on me when growing up," Josh said. "But of course, we'd celebrate the Iranian New Year every year with a feast and my father would every Sunday cook sausage and eggs with Iranian bread. I've been lucky to have tasted all types of food from a young age - I've lived more on rice than chips and beans."

"I want to learn more Farsi and even Old Azeri (widely spoken in Tabriz). I'll pick up little phrases, following my father's conversations with family but I want to explore Iran in order to fully embrace my Iranian side."

Josh isn't the only Cymranian he knows. He has an older brother, but makes it clear the genes are split. "My brother is quite artistic, I'm absolutely not," Josh admits. "He never liked sport, though was good at basketball and running. He's always coming up with ideas and is creative. We worked together at my father's gym but as we grew up, I stayed in fitness while he followed our mother and went into the hairdressing business." But it was their decisions to move to the industries they're currently excelling in. 

"I was never forced to do rugby," Josh recalls. "There were days I simply didn't want to train and my mother would say to me, 'If you don't want to go, I won't take you, it's okay'." And it was with that relaxed attitude that enabled Josh to grow into a sport he soon made a name for himself in. Certainly, the quality and popularity of rugby in Iran is a stark contrast to rugby in Wales, but that doesn't mean he hasn't noticed Iran's potential. "I got a little excited when I noticed an Iranian rugby player followed me on Instagram. Rugby won't be as big as football, wrestling or weightlifting in Iran, but it's great to see a national team there and hope they soon can play on the big stage."

Who knows, there could be a future where the Iranian side are able to use Welsh rugby as a benchmark of what can be possible for their rugby team - a partnership could help bring the Cymranian community that much closer together. My idealistic imagination is running wild by the thought. But talking of a 'coming together', Josh suggested that a social gathering could be the way of celebrating Welsh and Iranian communities. He isn't wrong - and it's something that hasn't escaped my mind either. Like his impending trip to Iran, let Covid-19 restrictions be far behind us and then I'll head to the drawing board...


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