Big Zuu Goes to Mecca, review: the travelogue trumps the personal journey

The chef and rapper Big Zuu in Mecca
Pilgrim's progress: the chef and rapper Big Zuu in Mecca - Acme TV

The question that hovers over any celebrity travelogue, no matter the celebrity or the destination, is why? For Zuhair “Big Zuu” Hassan – rapper, grime MC and Bafta-winning celebrity chef – the reason given for doing the umrah, a pilgrimage to Mecca, was because he wanted to connect more deeply with his Muslim faith.

But the timing of the umrah for Big Zuu Goes to Mecca (BBC Two) – you can do it whenever you like – suggests that there was an additional reason, which was that Bafta-winning celebrity chef Big Zuu was asked if he’d like to go to Mecca. And he thought that he would: indeed, he got to take his two best friends from his show, Big Zuu’s Big Eats, with him.

If that sounds overly cynical then questions of motivation are relevant here because Zuu cast his pilgrimage as a spiritual awakening. He has, he says, not been a good Muslim to date, being partial to a drink and to smoking hash (both of which, the programme reminds us, are haram, or forbidden in Islam). It’s time for a change, which is laudable. But what’s brought it on? Zuu didn’t say.

The nagging sense that this is an idea proposed to a celebrity, rather than an idea proposed by a celebrity, didn’t spoil Big Zuu Goes to Mecca. Zuu is, as the programme makers evidently recognised, terrific value on camera. Whatever he does, he takes people with him, both literally and metaphorically.

Moreover, his introduction to the rituals of the umrah were fascinating and his observance of Ramadan and what that entails is particularly relevant at this time of year. Even a representation of Saudi Arabia that shifts the narrative from what Zuu called “Rich People in Harrods” is worthwhile.

But beneath it all there remains the question of why Zuu is making the pilgrimage now. The programme flailed about a bit in trying to offer an answer. Jokes were made about whether Zuu is now going to “get” a Muslim wife; we were assured that this has been “the most incredible experience of my life”, but when it comes to articulating exactly what being taken to Mecca to make a documentary has given him he said: “I’ve learned that faith is an incredible thing. It goes up and down. There is no right answer… my intention is what matters.” And it’s still unclear what the intention was in Big Zuu going to Mecca.