The broadcaster and DJ, 80, on Billie Eilish, her fear of violins and her Desert Island Discs choices
This year you are celebrating 50 years of broadcasting and presenting at the BBC. That’s phenomenal!
It is, given I only expected to last three months or maybe a year. Does it seem like yesterday? In a way, yes.
Obviously the technology has changed but the reasons for why I wanted to do it in the first place and what I do really haven’t changed – to play music I had discovered. That’s what I’m passionate about.
You’ve written a new memoir, Hey Hi Hello.
I wrote an autobiography in 1999 so this is a different approach. This has got a lot more other people in it, interviews and stuff about other people – The Beatles, Marc Bolan, Bob Marley, among others. It’s not just me, me, me!
Writing it must have evoked many memories…
Yes. When you write things down they come back to you. Memory is amazing. Once I hear a song I can always remember it. I don’t know if that’s unusual.
It gets to the point if I’m researching something, or see or hear a song I’ve known a long time ago and I hear it today, it will stick in my mind for days on end even if I don’t like it. They call it earworm.
Were you born to play music?
The first word I ever tried to say was music! Growing up I was tremendously affected by music because in those days music on the radio was all there was.
But I can’t listen to violins, even to this day. I’m scared of them and what they do to me emotionally. They make me cry. I don’t know why.
Do you have musical ability?
I wanted a career in music but I couldn’t see how I could do it.
I had piano lessons – I was very average and couldn’t coordinate well with left hand and right hand. I had very long fingers as a child and people used to say to me, ‘You’ll make a good piano player’.
But that’s so untrue. You need short, muscular hands. I did get a guitar during the time of The Beatles but I never got to play it. Then I got given a bass guitar but they are so heavy and it wasn’t for me.
What music are you into now?
I play stuff called trap music – it’s described as hip hop meets metal. It’s very joyous music. It started in Atlanta and now LA is the centre of it.
You appeared on Desert Island Discs this year. How was that?
It’s been something we all used to ask in the pub – what eight records would you choose? For years I didn’t want to do it because I thought I’d be judged for it forever.
But the opportunity came up and I thought, ‘Don’t overthink it, just take a run at it.’ That was the only way to do it and it seemed to work.
You certainly chose an eclectic mix – Ethel Merman, Billie Eilish, John Lennon, Sid Vicious…
What I learnt from it was that no two people on this planet would ever choose the same records! I chose music that had a story attached to it and I think that’s why it worked.
If you had to pick one, which track would it be?
David Bowie’s Space Oddity. When I met him it had just come out, The Beatles were just breaking up and everyone was looking for who or what was going to replace them.
And I thought it’s this guy – this weird song about space and the fact that all the backing was electronic. It sounded different and the topic, about a man going round and round in space, was unique.
It’s quite a sad song. When I met him I told him, ‘You are the future’ and really believed it.
You are a big fan of Billie Eilish, aren’t you?
She’s amazing! So grown-up. It’s hard to believe this girl is only 18. She has a wonderful way of connecting with people.
I find that phenomenal. She’s definitely one in a generation.
Which decade would you chose to go back to if you could?
The ’90s and ’60s. I recognised as it was happening that the ’90s was a wonderful youth revolution in terms of music, film, books – everything.
I’d say to them, look, it’s not my party, I have been around the block, but they were very much ‘come in come in’. It freed up everything and DJing was revolutionised. And the ’60s was obviously magic for me.
The Beatles inspired me to feel I could follow the dream. I owe them a huge debt for what they did for that generation – they made us feel that we didn’t have to do the career that a person at school told you to.
These are troubled times for live music, aren’t they?
I absolutely despair – people are not going to go to a gig or festival and be socially distant so the only thing that is going to save it is if they find a coronavirus vaccine. I can’t see any other way.
It’s not just the musicians, it’s all the people who work in that industry. I feel desperately for these people.
Hey Hi Hello: Five Decades of Pop Culture From Britain’s First Female DJ by Annie Nightingale is out now. Her 50th anniversary at Radio 1 will be celebrated with special programmes across the BBC in November
Credit: Original article published here.