Rani was born and raised in Bradford in Yorkshire, to a mother of Sikh origin, and Hindu father. She developed an early interest in journalism, hosting her first show at the age of 14 on Sunrise Radio in Bradford.
In 2002, Rani presented The Edit, a live news and entertainment programme on Channel Five. She has also presented a number of pop shows on Five including Spring Break Live, Party in the Park and Pop City Live, as well as being afreelance journalist for Five News. In Spring 2003 she fronted The State We're In, a satirical current affairs programme on BBC Three. She also presented the first Poetry Slam on the same channel. She was nominated as Best On Screen Personality at the Royal Television Society Midlands awards in 2005.
Rani joined the BBC Asian Network radio station in March 2005, and became presenter of the weekend Hot Breakfast show. From April 2006 to March 2007 she presented the weekday morning talkback programme Anita Rani on the BBC Asian Network on the station.
Since 20 May 2006, Rani has been a co-presenter of Desi DNA, an Arts programme on BBC Two. She was also part of the launch team that presented Destination Three, a late night entertainment zone on BBC Three. In 2005 she was also a regular reporter on The Cricket Show' on Channel 4. In May 2006 she joined Sky Sports where she became co-presenter with Simon Thomas on the Cricket AM show each Saturday morning.
Rani presented My Generation Next, shown on BBC News 24 between 2 December and 9 December 2006. She covered for Anita Anand on the late evening weekday show on BBC Radio Five Live in March and September 2007 and has presented World Have Your Say on the BBC World Service and Weekend Breakfast on Five Live. She has also covered on various shows for BBC 6 Music. In August 2008, Rani was the co-presenter of Rogue Restaurants on BBC1 and joined the team of roving reporters on The One Show. From 2 March 2009 she appeared on BBC1's Watchdog as a new co-presenter, replacing Julia Bradbury, who had last appeared on the programme on 16 February 2009.
In 2011, Rani presented Four Rooms where unique objects are offered for sale to specialist dealers. Rani co-presented with Justin Rowlatt the two part documentary travelogue India on Four Wheels, a road trip around India sampling the changes and problems the growing car usage has brought to the country in the last two decades.. She collaborated with Rowlatt on a follow up two-part documentary entitled "China on Four Wheels", aired on 9 September 2012 and 16 September 2012.
In 2012, Rani took part in BBC's Great Sport Relief Bake Off, winning the competition. In 2013, Rani took part in BBC's four rooms and co-presented the unique live broadcast project Airport Live from London Heathrow Airport. Another follow up to India on Four Wheels was a two-part documentary entitled "Russia on Four Wheels", which aired on 20 January 2014 and 22 January 2014.