“And… after all that build-up! I’m ready! Here we go!” Glass-ceiling Monday thunders along, and Zoë Ball opens her inaugural Radio 2 Breakfast Show, the first presented by a woman. Sara Cox debuted on Drivetime later too. (And demonstrated better than ever what a vocal comedian she is. A master of half-sounds. Nobody segues in and out of records like Cox. She trills and pops, slides, sighs and echoes like an orchestra tuning up, especially when she’s tired of an Ed Sheeran song.)
Anyway, the identity politics drumbeating these past weeks? Simply everybody has been pub-boreishly at it (“Gloria Hunniford calls for more women on the radio!”). There’s no denying that the opening moments of Ball’s show were woozily, absurdly fast, introducing us to co-hosts and snippets of news, and messages from listeners (“Karen Kay says she’s got new batteries in the bathroom radio!”). And yet… tucked into the erratic, thrusting chaos, Ball quipped something off-the-cuff that was crucial.
Everyone in the studio was talking about how disturbingly early breakfast show presenters’ alarms go off, and what they do when it does. The guy who announces the sport described tiptoeing out of the bedroom to get dressed silently on the landing. And Ball shrugged and said, “I switch the light on and wake up anybody there these days.” She didn’t say this with any crowing, or any subtext. She wasn’t slyly underlining that she’s a “strong woman who refuses to be quietened”. She wasn’t letting it drop through a cynical understanding that as a female presenter at this most oppositional moment in broadcasting history, the more you underscore your every utterance as an “About Time” action the more coverage you will get, as half the population then breaks the internet tweeting pro or anti your inference that you’ve smashed through some terrible sexism and are thus a social pioneer. She said it because she (probably) does. And whoever is with her (probably) just puts the pillow over his head until she leaves.
Ball may be manic, but she’s inherently relaxed. Temperamentally non-divisive, natural. It made me think – so, Zoë Ball presents the Radio 2 Breakfast Show. Brilliant, fine, whatever. And on we go.
The Breakfast Show with Zoë Ball
BBC Radio 2
This article appears in the 16 Jan 2019 issue of the New Statesman, How Brexit trapped Britain