Since having a baby and moving to the country, I’m in the car an awful lot. And I’m also in the kitchen – cleaning, washing, cooking, feeding – an awful lot too. And it’s nice to have some company while going about the (mostly) mundane day-to-day jobs. It makes you feel less lonely, it gives you something to chuckle at, it keeps you connected to the real world.
Usually we have the radio on all day in the kitchen – it’s a soothing window into another world and a way to bring adult voices into your otherwise child-centric daily life. And for a while it worked. We texted in at 6:30am as part of Chris Evans’ early risers club (we were ALWAYS up then), and chuckled at Confessions on Simon Mayo’s Drivetime Show (while refusing to eat our dinner) – but then it all got a bit samey, and I started to get bored of listening to same old people on the same old shows, the angry people ranting about the price of cabbages on Jeremy Vine, or the unending repetitiveness of its limited playlist – all the while trying to get one blessed goddamn piece of carrot into my child.
I needed a bigger distraction. Enter podcasts! And a whole world opening up before me. Once I had exhausted the wonders of Serial. (Not heard it? You are missing out). I turned to Desert Island Discs, which provides an overwhelmingly rich and diverse set of 40 minute programmes, spanning everything from film stars, comedians and musicians to scientists, lawyers and human rights activists. Running since 1940, it is an incredible back catalogue of lives and loves, of successes and failures, of hopes and dreams. You can learn such a lot about someone whose life has always seemed blessed and golden, but whose struggles have been no different from your own. In the same way, the show can be sometimes be exposing and uncomfortable – comedians especially, often seem unbuckled by the more searching tone of the show, by not being able to hide behind a joke, by having to talk about the past and the pain that has brought them to where they are. Elsewhere, beloved national favourites seem to reinforce their special qualities – articulate, charismatic, playful, generous – some of your best loved heroes are on here, and they don’t disappoint.
Each interviewee selects the eight tracks they would like to be marooned with on this island, and it is fascinating to see the range and breadth of the music (and sometimes spoken word tracks) that they choose. There are those who take it quite literally, and create a chronological walk through their lives, starting with a childhood favourite and finishing with a song that reminds them of their children; others pick more abstract tunes, darting about across, back and forth through their lives and careers, picking a diverse and complex range of music; while some see it as a run down of their eight favourite tracks, finishing with the best one.
With over 3000 interviews to choose from, the archive has enough material to get you through many a rainy afternoon stuck inside the house, but in the interests of brevity, these are the ones I would start with.
Tom Hanks – this is the shows’ most recent interviewee, but it has already slam-dunked its way into Desert Island Discs hall of fame due not only to Hanks’ articulate and thoughtful responses, but to the moment when he is reduced to tears by Kirsty Young. When asked how to put his childhood experiences into words, Hanks pauses for moment, before replying, his voice cracking with emotion, the tears in his eyes virtually audible….”What have you done to me?” he asks. Another, tear-filled pause. And then: “I was searching for the vocabulary of loneliness,” he replies. It is a quite heart-wrenching, humbling moment from such a huge star. In addition, the tracks he chooses are fantastic – as you’d expect from him, there are some seriously bold, filmic, even epic, tunes, along with some more personal offbeat selections. Listen here.
Alex Crawford – Sky TV news correspondent and journalist, Crawford has been to some of the most dangerous war zones in the world. She’s also the mother to four children and a pretty formidable force of nature. Her father was constantly reinforcing her worth with his passion for strong female role models, and hearing her talking about trying to juggle her passion for her children and her passion for her job is quite moving. “If I didn’t do the job that I did, I’d feel like I was failing…but a lot of me regrets spending a lot of time away from them when they were little…every story that takes me away from them has to be really worth it.” Her music choices – which include Shakira, Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas, Lulu, Jessie J and Arianna Grande – speak of a woman really conscious to pass on a message of female strength to her daughters. Most touchingly, she lists Beyonce’s ‘Flawless’ as one of her eight tracks, about which she says: “My three girls are the most ardent, the most fervent feminists. This bit of music encapsulates what they feel about the world, the irony that Beyonce uses and the reading in it, it is their mantra. I think…if I’m the worst mother in the world, if I might not have a maternal instinct in my body, If they think is the way to be. Woah….” Listen here.
Jamie Cullum – this is such a joyful, gorgeous interview, performed live in front of an audience with Cullum playing and singing some of his selections. He is such a natural performer, his easy manner, his openness, his humility and his humour make for a great listen. When he talks about finding his way to his amazing career, he says of his parents: “One of the greatest gifts I was given was that they allowed me to make choices that felt like they were from my heart. I am very grateful for that,” And when asked about being castaway on this island all alone, he says to Kirsty, without missing a beat: “Aren’t there another 2073 castaways there already? Sounds like we could have a rave…!” Plus, his live version of Elton John’s ‘Tiny Dancer’ is mesmerising. Enjoy it here.
Jo Malone – when you think about Jo Malone you think perfect, glamorous, luxurious, decadent, aspirational – and sure, her eponymous brand is just that. But when you delve into her life, it’s so very, very different. Severely dyslexic she left school at 14, her dad was a chronic gambler and her childhood existent was virtually hand-to-mouth. Later in life, she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer and a few years later her husband of 29 years nearly died from acute adrenal failure. Despite all this, her song choices are incredibly uplifting, they speak of chasing your dreams, of keeping going, of hope, of love. She is a genuinely inspirational woman, who has had to start from scratch on more than one occasion, and her Desert Island Discs remains one of my favourite. Find it here.
Lauren Bacall – complete and utter vintage Desert Island Discs – Bacall is every inch the Hollywood starlet, name-dropping like it’s going out of fashion, referring to her late husband Humphrey Bogart as ‘Bogey’, and recalling her career in that gorgeous New York drawl. She is at once humorous and playful, direct and serious, she pulls no punches, she talks frankly and openly about her career, and just listening to her conjures up this image of this glamorous, gorgeous screen siren, fabulous, flawed and deliciously dramatic. But overall she’s just brilliantly evocative of the golden age of Hollywood. “As long as I can remember, I wanted to be something that I wasn’t,” she says. Listen here.