Things can only get better

Pop stars with their glory days behind them don't die - they go to Devon

On Lantern FM in Devon, the obsession with Leona Lewis has reached epic proportions. In the course of one day the station can play her single "Run" up to 12 times. It's love.

Lewis is beautiful, she is talented, her voice is the ultimate in soul. She had a hard time at the Brits, said one of the DJs the other day - let's pray it's better for her this time. He seemed oblivious to how a debut album going gold in America might make for a passable career by anyone's standards, but as far as Lantern is concerned no success for the girl could ever be enough.

When, in December, "Run" was at number two, ousted from the top slot for the fourth week running by Alexandra Burke's cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah", there was utter scorn. "I mean, who doesn't have a copy of this already?" snorted the DJ. "Who can possibly be buying it still?"

I'm especially hooked on the station's Sunday-night show (7pm), during which Jason Donovan is supposed to debate the week's hot topics, but generally just plays records in 15-minute bundles in between talking off the top of his head like someone calling through the wall at three in the morning, afraid of the dark.

"I know it's way after the fact and everything," he said the other night, "but how was your New Year's Eve? I just had a couple of glasses of red wine and an early night. I must say, when you get older it's just not what . . ." This is very Jason. Unconsciously allowing the possibility that overwhelming melancholy might be his default setting. ". . . I say older, but I'm only 40. When the candles on my birthday cake were lit it was like a furnace. Anyway, I was very chilled, very relaxed, got an early night. Did anyone out there have a party?"

Lantern generally assumes that everybody is having a party. By far its favourite ad is the one for chlamydia. But Jason's simultaneous nostalgia for and horror of his well-documented cocaine years comes though loud and clear. "At this time of year to be honest I really miss Australia . . . let me tell you, on Bondi Beach it can get very, very messy indeed. Anyway, here's Eric Carmen with 'Hungry Eyes'."

What is Jason doing in Devon? I thought he lived in Chiswick. Sometimes it hurts to listen to him, but in an exquisite way. His patent longing for something indefinable, his desire to be cool-as-a-whistle versus his fulminating mouth, his essential decency, actually pain me. ("I know Gary Barlow is heading up Kilimanjaro this year. He asked me but I couldn't do it. How depressing is that?")

This is proper freewheeling radio, electric and strange: someone speaking with no set idea of what persona they are supposed to be projecting, what marks they ought to be hitting. "Let's hope 2009 for Duffy is a bit more chilled. One of my resolutions is to be a bit more relaxed, too. I just need to take a few steps back and enjoy the kids more. Read, even. It'll be OK . . ."

It will, Jason, it will. "Don't worry about 2009, guys, we'll work our way through everything. Here's Leona."

Pick of the week

A View Through a Lens
Starts 11 January, 2.45pm, Radio 4John Aitchison, wildlife cameraman, shares some personal recordings.

The Essay: Loving the Raven
12 January, 11pm, Radio 3
The crime writer Andrew Taylor presents “The Regency Parrot”, first of five 15-minute essays celebrating the work of Edgar Allan Poe.

Black Students in Red Russia
14 January, 11am, Radio 4
Burt Caesar traces stories of students from developing countries who were given scholarships to study in the Soviet Union.

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 12 January 2009 issue of the New Statesman, The destruction of Gaza