“This portrait is really important to me,” says Ryan Lanji, the guerrilla club promoter, curator and surprise florist extraordinaire. “It’s the last picture that anyone took of me before I embarked on The Big Flower Fight.
“I remember talking to the Connor Brothers. They were like, ‘You’ll probably win’, and I was like, ‘OK, I will’.”
As will be known by viewers of Netflix’s The Big Flower Fight – a Vic Reeves-fronted, floral take on The Great British Bake Off – Lanji did indeed go on to triumph in 2020, alongside his then-partner Andrew Whittle. Underdogs with little knowledge of the limitations of their materials, Lanji and Whittle turned their naïveté into a strength, letting imagination run wild. A blooming great big dinosaur, a Yayoi Kusama-inflected infinity mirror of foliage, and a Tim Burton-esque take on Hansel and Gretel all featured in their lockdown-cheering run to victory.
“I was blessed to have been featured in that extreme creative competition during the pandemic,” says Lanji, who is speaking to The Big Issue on a brief break from his latest job, “filming a big Pride activation for a beauty brand”.
“I had no experience in floristry. But it’s an exercise in visibility and representation. The stamina I had, the intensity I had on that show came from a place of always having to hustle and always having to run to the finish line, just to be valid; just to be allowed.”
The Big Flower Fight introduced Lanji to millions of new fans internationally, but he’s been hustling his way to the forefront of the art and clubbing worlds since he arrived in London a decade ago.