Ade Adepitan has an exciting summer ahead – he’s got his wedding with his songwriter-singer fiancée Elle Exxe to look forward to.
The pair were originally meant to tie the knot last year, but postponed when Exxe was offered the chance to perform at V Festival.
Adepitan says: “The church was booked, the reception venue was booked and then she got the call to appear at V Festival. She said she’d turn it down but I just said to her, ‘You’ll have it on your mind for the rest of your life that you could have done V Fest and what it might have meant for your career, so I would rather not have that’.
“If the wedding clashed with a basketball event, I would want to be able to do it. And we were always going to get married.”
They got engaged two years ago – and popping the question was the most romantic gesture of his life, he recalls.
“We went to Lake Como and I got the staff at the hotel to put the ring on a table by the lake outside the hotel and arrange candles along the path leading to the table. When Elle saw the ring, she went nuts and then she said to me, ‘I don’t care if you’re in a wheelchair, you’re going to have to get down on your knee’, which I did.”
The big day is in August, and although he’s keen to have children, Adepitan says they’re not in a huge hurry. “At the moment, we’re really busy. We’ve bought a house and we’re trying to do the house up, there’s Elle’s career as she tries to make it in one of the toughest industries, and I’m doing what I’m doing. But I would really love to have kids, it would be amazing.”
And there’s a lot to celebrate already. Adepitan has encountered polio and prejudice over the years, been trolled on Twitter, and put himself through numerous gruelling challenges which would have defeated many other individuals – but he’s in a much better place now than when his parents first brought him to the UK from Nigeria aged three. They feared he would never thrive in his homeland after contracting polio at 15 months old, after which he was unable to use his left leg.
As well as his success as a wheelchair basketball player, Adepitan’s career has seen him be a sports pundit, a presenter on Children In Need, front various documentaries and cover the Winter Paralympics on Channel 4 earlier this year.
Now he is reaching out to the younger generation with a series of children’s books, Ade’s Amazing Ade-Ventures, based on his own life, to show that you can overcome the greatest of challenges, no matter who you are.
He says: “I don’t remember any books when I was growing up where the main protagonist is black and is disabled and talks about the things that I am trying to talk about in this book.
“It’s not specifically for black and disabled people – it’s for every kid that has ever felt like an outsider, who’s ever felt different, and for them to look at it and think, ‘You know what? It’s OK to be different. You can still be successful, lead a cool life and have great friends’.”
He recalls that when his own family settled in Plaistow, East London, it was a difficult time.
“It was a different time, it was late 1970s, early 1980s London, and I wouldn’t say a lot of the people there were racist, but I would just say they weren’t used to seeing someone like me.”
Moving to the UK was a hugely difficult decision – they had to leave Adepitan’s older sister, Omoyile, who has Down’s syndrome, with relatives in Nigeria until they could afford to fly her over some years later.
Sport was his saviour, he admits, gaining him acceptance and friendship among his peers.
“The moment they saw that I could catch a ball and had great reflexes, it discombobulates, because the last thing you expect to see is a kid on calipers, who is walking awkwardly, being agile.”
He went on to win bronze with the GB basketball team at the 2004 Summer Paralympics and continues to bang the drum for disabled sport, presenting the Invictus Games and meeting Prince Harry and the Duke of Cambridge on numerous occasions.
His professional sporting days may be over but his broadcasting career is on the rise – Adepitan’s just signed up to do a four-part BBC 2 travelogue series about Africa, taking in around 15 countries – but in the meantime, wedding preparations are in full swing.
“We’re sorting out the invite list at the moment. I’ve just been having this ongoing battle with my mum who wants to invite half of Nigeria,” he says, grinning.