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26 February 2020

Greg James Q&A: “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will be president one day“

The radio DJ talks Alan Partridge, The Secret Life of Trees and a post-wedding Domino’s delivery. 

By New Statesman

Greg James was born in Lewisham in 1985. He first broadcast on hospital radio at age 14 and now hosts BBC Radio 1’s breakfast show, reaching more than five million listeners each week.

What’s your earliest memory?

Driving a little blue pedal tractor around the garden aged four. I helped my mum do the gardening by collecting up the leaves and transporting them in the built-in trailer. I miss that tractor.

Who are your heroes?

In childhood, Roald Dahl’s Matilda – she made me realise that it was cool to read. As an adult, Michael Palin. He quietly goes about his business and is brilliant at everything he attempts. Most of all, he’s kind and a great example that “nice” doesn’t mean boring. He’s the best Python by a mile. 

What book last changed your thinking?

The Secret Life of Trees by Colin Tudge. I bore everyone I speak to with facts from it. It makes you properly rethink the natural world around you and how we fit into it – or not, as the case may be. 

Which political figure do you look up to?

My god, that’s a tough one. Let’s just say that it’s a great time to lean on the “I’m on the BBC: I have to be impartial” thing. There is hope in the form of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The movement she’s creating is inspirational and her steeliness in the face of her critics is truly awesome. Surely she’ll be president one day. 

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What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

The life and times of Alan Partridge. 

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

The late 1960s/early 1970s, when the Beatles and Monty Python co-existed. Everything seemed exciting and newly liberated. It looks like it was a less self-conscious time – 2020 could do with a bit of that. 

What TV show could you not live without?

Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Who would paint your portrait?

Joe Lycett.

What’s your theme tune?

“The Ballad of Barry and Freda” by Victoria Wood. Bella and I walked down the aisle to it. My mum introduced me to Victoria Wood when I was way too young and her comedy was a huge part of my childhood. 

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Get a dog. And yes, I followed it. 

What’s currently bugging you?

The bloke next to me on the Tube reading my phone. I can see you, dickhead. 

What single thing would make your life better?

The Radio 1 Breakfast studio being in the spare room. 

When were you happiest?

Ordering Domino’s pizza to the very posh hotel the morning after we got married and the concierge bringing it up to us. 

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

I hate thinking about that. I’ve made all my favourite things into jobs. I guess of all the things left, I’d probably be an average cricketer.

Are we all doomed?

Absolutely. We don’t have to be, but given the poor choices our species continues to make, we probably are. 

“Kid Normal and the Loudest Library” by Greg James and Chris Smith is published by Bloomsbury for World Book Day (5 March)

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This article appears in the 26 Feb 2020 issue of the New Statesman, The death of privacy