Photo: akasped on flickr.
Show Hide image

It’s Valentine’s Day phone-in time, or rather, text-in

Increasingly, listeners tend to text instead, something that has changed the dynamic of the phone-in to no end.

As Valentine’s Day approached, Aled and Dr Radha of BBC Radio 1’s Sunday-evening call-in show The Surgery (9pm) were asking if “single” is a dirty word. “I’m feeling excited,” claimed the 37-year-old Aled. “I don’t actually feel like we’re on the radio. I just feel like we’ve got a few hundred people who are coming round for a big chat.” The GP Radha Modgil agreed. “That’s good,” she said. “That means that we’re just on air and we’re being sincere and can just chat …”

Over to the phones. Increasingly, listeners tend to text instead, something that has changed the dynamic of the phone-in to no end. A few weeks ago, during an hour-long “relationships” special, nobody called at all but the texts kept coming – tortured post-break-up texts surely sent from a roadside café while a chip was being dunked into a sad puddle of mayonnaise and one lone, bitchy tweet directed at the hosts: “You’ve just topped all of Radio 1 in the passive- aggressive department.”

“I’m thinking – what does that even mean?” said Aled, hurt. “What have I done? I was just saying that relationships are tricky. Dynamics and different times and that kind of …” He can be a little thin-skinned sometimes but at least he and Dr Radha are the only people on the station who fully comprehend that they are not broadcasting to any “massive” or “crew” but to the third year of Camden School for Girls and their cousin Josh. For a few minutes, the presenters talked among themselves. Valentine’s Day. Huge expectations, lots of pressure. Aled had a nice time once, a few months into his relationship with Emile, who presented him with a three-metre-long tube of Jaffa Cakes.

These sorts of confession from Aled are usually followed by a qualifier, something pivotal that suggests a hinterland of tough experience combined with lines and scenes gleaned directly from daytime drama (“That was then, Emile!”). Even the name Emile suggests a subject whose impact, trajectory and wind velocity might take up the whole show. Dr Radha stepped in and gently moved things along, admitting she was single once and saying it’s absolutely nothing to get in a pickle about now, is it? At which point, as though in direct contravention, the phones started ringing.
 

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 13 February 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Can we talk about climate change now?

Getty
Show Hide image

We knew we’d become proper pop stars when we got a car like George Michael’s

“That was George Michael!” we both shouted. “And he was driving the car we want!”

One of the clichés about celebrity life is that all celebrities know each other. Back in the Eighties, when we were moderately famous, Ben and I did often bump into other famous people, and because of mutual recognition, there was a sort of acquaintance, if not friendship.

There was a random element to it, as well. Some celebrities you might never catch a glimpse of, while others seemed to pop up with an unexpected regularity.

In 1987, the car we drove was a 1970s Austin Princess, all leather seats and walnut dashboard. In many ways, it symbolised what people thought of as the basic qualities of our band: unassuming, a little bit quirky, a little bit vintage. We’d had it for a year or so, but Ben was running out of patience. It had a habit of letting us down at inconvenient moments – for instance, at the top of the long, steep climbs that you encounter when driving through Italy, which we had just recklessly done for a holiday. The car was such a novelty out there that it attracted crowds whenever we parked. They would gather round, nodding appreciatively, stroking the bonnet and murmuring, “Bella macchina . . .”

Having recently banked a couple of royalty cheques, Ben was thinking of a complete change of style – a rock’n’roll, grand-gesture kind of car.

“I wanna get an old Mercedes 300 SL,” he said to me.

“What’s one of those?”

“I’ll let you know next time we pass one,” he said.

We were driving through London in the Princess, and as we swung round into Sloane Square, Ben called out, “There’s one, look, coming up on the inside now!” I looked round at this vision of gleaming steel and chrome, gliding along effortlessly beside us, and at the same moment the driver glanced over towards our funny little car. We made eye contact, then the Merc roared away. It was George Michael.

“That was George Michael!” we both shouted. “And he was driving the car we want!”

We’d always had a soft spot for George, even though we seemed to inhabit opposite ends of the pop spectrum. He’d once been on a TV review show and said nice things about our first album, and I knew he had liked my solo single “Plain Sailing”. We’d done a miners’ benefit gig where Wham! had appeared, slightly out of place in their vests, tans and blond bouffants. There had been a bit of sneering because they’d mimed. But I remember thinking, “Good on you for even being here.” Their presence showed that being politically active, or even just caring, wasn’t the sole preserve of righteous indie groups.

A couple of weeks later, we were driving along again in the Princess, when who should pull up beside us in traffic? George again. He wound down his window, and so did we. He was charming and called across to say that, yes, he had recognised us the other day in Sloane Square. He went on to complain that BBC Radio 1 wouldn’t play his new single “because it was too crude”. “What’s it called?” asked Ben. “ ‘I Want Your Sex’!” he shouted, and roared away again, leaving us laughing.

We’d made up our minds by now, and so we went down to the showroom, flashed the cash, bought the pop-star car and spent the next few weeks driving our parents up and down the motorway with the roof off. It was amazing: even I had to admit that it was a thrill to be speeding along in such a machine.

A little time passed. We were happy with our glamorous new purchase, when one day we were driving down the M1 and, yes, you’ve guessed it, in the rear-view mirror Ben saw the familiar shape coming up behind. “Bloody hell, it’s George Michael again. I think he must be stalking us.”

George pulled out into the lane alongside and slowed down as he drew level with us. We wound down the windows. He gave the car a long look, up and down, smiled that smile and said, “That’s a bit more like it.” Then he sped away from us for the last time.

Cheers, George. You were friendly, and generous, and kind, and you were good at being a pop star.

Tracey Thorn is a musician and writer, best known as one half of Everything but the Girl. She writes the fortnightly “Off the Record” column for the New Statesman. Her latest book is Naked at the Albert Hall.

This article first appeared in the 12 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's revenge