Windows of opportunity: Bill Gates on Desert Island Discs

Gates didn't quite comprehend the unspoken contract of Desert Island Discs: come ready to bare your heart.

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Kirsty Young’s conversation with Bill Gates (31 January, Radio 4, 11.15am) exhumed few surprises. He was mannerly, he was square, he chose Ed Sheeran. Kirsty, in unfettered warm-thrilled mode, oozed, “Oh, wow” when Gates was (briefly) uxorious about his wife. Far from being the kind of billionaire who rolls out of bed cleaning his teeth with his finger, Gates once paid Willie Nelson to wander a Hawaiian beach strumming “Blue Skies”, just for the look on Melinda’s face.

Kirsty, married to a fabulously wealthy man of her own, sounded blown away. “Tell me, please, about the first time that little Bill Gates saw a computer,” she smiled, with full corporation generosity, taking her guest under her wing. Bill recalled his teens developing Windows and being, from the off, deep into a business world of scheduling and mega-licensing and driving his Porsche 911 illegally because at 19 he was too young for the right insurance.

That’s not to say Bill was ever wild. Before Melinda, he had no life outside work and a colleague used to play Hendrix’s “Are You Experienced?” as a dig. “I was below average in talking to girls,” he confessed, describing sitting in his office data-nerdishly recognising the licence plates on each of his employees’ cars and thus, at all times, almost helplessly aware of who had come to work late and who left early. How lonely had he felt? Had he dreamed of dating some nice-smelling cheerleader? Bill didn’t say and Kirsty didn’t ask, but he did admit, “Eventually I had to loosen up.”

This was an above-average episode, though it would be hard for anybody to follow the philanthropist and publisher Sigrid Rausing, who the previous week had talked so softly and logically about her depression. She had clearly comprehended – as few guests seem to do – the subtle contract on Desert Island Discs. A contract that should insist more firmly: if you agree to take part, be prepared to open your heart. 

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She presents The Film Programme on BBC Radio 4. She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war

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