Tag Archives: Like

The disability system is blocking people like Jaki from their benefits – literally | Frances Ryan

If you want a symbol of Britain’s benefit system, Jaki would be it. The 36-year-old spent her 20s in Essex grafting – taking on any job to provide for her four children, even shelf-stacking for 60 hours a week. By 25, she started to get sick – the joint condition Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and the constant pain of fibromyalgia, on top of epilepsy – until she could barely walk.

Watching her life change was hard. “It’s like a grieving process for the person you could have been,” she says. But it was the welfare state that helped her get by: when she started to need a mobility scooter, the council adapted her two-bed bungalow – a wet room so she could wash, with lowered kitchen surfaces to help her cook – while disability benefits meant she could pay the bills for her and the kids when she had to give up work.

Then, exactly a year ago this month, Jaki was summoned to Colchester for “reassessment” – a two-hour round trip from her home in her scooter, to prove she was still disabled enough to keep her benefits. When she got there, she found herself staring up at the building: the entrance had a 5in step and no ramp. The slightest jolt in her scooter means pain for Jaki; each bump of the road shoots a spike up her spine. Besides, her scooter engine won’t lift her up the step – even if she holds her breath and rams it, the wheels just spin futilely.

A film-maker looking to document this decade’s punitive “welfare reform” might reject such an image as lacking subtly: a person with disabilities literally blocked from her benefits because the test centre isn’t accessible for wheelchairs.

And yet, for Jaki, it’s all too real. Forced to go home, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) told her she’d have to go to another assessment centre, this time miles away in Chelmsford – easy to get to if you’re healthy but if you can’t walk or drive, an ordeal. It’s an hour in a scooter to the train station, one change, and then another trek across town to the benefit centre, Jaki explains. “My scooter battery would run out by the time I got there.”

Unable to physically get to either assessment building, Jaki was promptly found fit for work “in her absence”. “Logic that Kafka would be proud of,” she sighs. That was August 2017. She hasn’t had a penny of her disability benefits since.

Look through piles of Jaki’s paperwork as she begs for help and it’s like reading a cruel game: the DWP ask her why she’s failed to attend her assessment, and in ink she writes, in block capitals: “I keep telling you … because I can’t get in the building.”


A deaf man in Southend-on-Sea told me he was sent to an assessment building where the only entry was through an intercom

That our disability benefit system is broken is now beyond doubt. A government committee finds assessors so incompetent they ask a claimant with Down’s syndrome when they “caught” it. Whistleblowers leak that private companies are offering £50 “incentives” to assessors to squeeze extra tests into their day, while local papers run yet more stories of people being found “fit for work” just before they die.

But what’s happening to Jaki is perhaps the ultimate sign of a warped social security system: disabled people refused benefits because their disability means they can’t physically get to their assessment.

Jaki’s is not an isolated incident. In 2016, research by the charity Muscular Dystrophy UK into personal independence payments (PIP) found that two in five people with disabilities were being sent to an assessment centre that wasn’t accessible. I’ve since become aware of evidence that this has continued over the last two years for both of the government’s flagship disability benefits.

A wheelchair user in East Sussex who contacted me was sent to a centre that had only one assessment room on the ground floor; because there were “too many wheelchairs”, all but one person was sent home. A deaf man in Southend-on-Sea told me he had been sent to an assessment building where the only entry was through an intercom. When he eventually got inside, a booking error meant the interpreter left before the assessment was over.

A friend of Jaki’s, Ali, who uses a wheelchair, was also told to attend her assessment at either Colchester or Chelmsford benefit centre this year – and promptly found “fit for work” when she couldn’t get into the building. The 48-year had her benefits reinstated only when she repeatedly asked her local MP to intervene. Ali’s petitioning the minister for disabled people to make the test centre accessible, and is unflinching about what’s going on: “This is deliberate. They know they’re inaccessible appointments. They know we can’t access the building.”

I asked the DWP if it knew how many centres being used by them for disability benefit assessments aren’t fully accessible for disabled people, and the department had no comment. I asked if the DWP whether there had at least been any improvement since the 2016 research and it had no comment.

Instead, the department said it is committed to ensuring “everyone gets a fair assessment”, adding that all their centres meet “legal accessibility requirements” and that disabled people can arrange to meet at more accessible sites nearby or ask for a home visit. But ask Jaki and the reality may as well be a parallel universe. A home assessment is like gold dust, and isn’t considered without a GP letter; at £25, without her benefits, Jaki couldn’t afford one. As she got more desperate, she asked the DWP to agree to do her assessment in multiple locations; a different test centre, the local jobcentre, and even the Colchester centre’s car park. She was refused each time.

For almost a year, she has had only her Personal Independence Payments to live off – barely £300 a month – and the bills are lining up. Debt collection letters flood through the door; Jaki owes £800 to the water company alone. She’s lost five stone since her benefits were stopped. The three vouchers she’s eligible for from her local food bank were used up “long ago”, she says. She is so malnourished that she has developed mild scurvy. Parts of her teeth have broken off because her gums are so weak.

Six weeks ago, Jaki attempted suicide. It was her son’s 16th birthday and she couldn’t afford to buy him a present. “When they stop your money for a year …” she pauses, quietly. “You start to feel like you’re not really worth anything.”

When a government is using inaccessible test centres for disability benefits, this isn’t merely about a few steps – it’s something bigger. It embodies a system that routinely withholds money from disabled people who are entitled to it, and an attitude of contempt towards benefit claimants that says someone like Jaki can be left to rot with barely any fuss.

Jaki tells me bailiffs recently came to the bungalow to collect on her debts. They left because there weren’t enough possessions to take. “At that point, you don’t know whether to laugh or cry,” she says. The simplest, commonsense intervention from the government could stop all this in a heartbeat: a pledge to ensure no disability benefit is assessed in a building that disabled people can’t access easily. In the meantime, Jaki and others don’t stand a chance.

In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org. You can contact the mental health charity Mind by calling 0300 123 3393 or visiting mind.org.uk. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.

Frances Ryan is a Guardian columnist

Like Tessa Jowell, I have a brain tumour. I hope her death inspires new research | Jessica Morris

Many people are grieving the untimely death of Tessa Jowell. She was an exceptional person. Tony Blair confirmed the impression she gave to those of us who only knew her from afar: “Tessa had passion, determination and simple human decency in greater measure than any person I have ever known.”

For me, her death is personal for another reason. We found ourselves in the same elite club.

Like Tessa Jowell, I was blindsided by a diagnosis of glioblastoma (GBM) in January 2016. I was walking in the hills in upstate New York (we live in the city) when a strange sensation made me stop. I opened my mouth to explain to my friends and found I couldn’t form any words. I slumped into unconsciousness, having a full-blown seizure.

Two days later I had brain surgery, and the terrible diagnosis came two weeks after that. Now, more than two years later, I am determined to do what I can to improve the outcomes for everyone like me living with this brutal disease. Jowell’s death gives me added impetus in the struggle to turn this monstrous disease around.

After I was diagnosed, I asked my neuro-oncologist why glioblastoma is so deadly; why the terrifying statistics suggested that I had a mere 5% chance of surviving five years. He explained to me that the dreaded figure five also relates to another key statistic: the percentage of successful applications for research funding into GBM. This disease is so complex, so aggressive and so rare, that it is hard to attract substantial research funding.

It is especially gratifying that Jowell’s powerful legacy has already begun to be felt in the form of increased government funding. But she would be the first to agree this is not enough. There is another currency to tap: a goldmine of patient-generated data that is massively under-collected and undervalued. At the heart of every GBM drama, as with any life-threatening disease, is a human being enduring symptoms – some good, many bad – resulting from the cancer and the treatments we take. Yet our relationship as patients with our disease is not consistently recorded or analysed. It can feel as if, from the perspective of the medical system, our experience is not worth understanding.

Tessa Jowell dies aged 70 – video obituary

As an example, I’ve been fortunate enough to be treated in New York with ground-breaking treatments that can be hard to come by in the UK, including electrotherapy and immunotherapy. These cost more than $ 30,000 a month, covered by insurance and the drug company’s compassionate use programme. But how the interaction between these therapies is actually affecting me is not recorded. This reflects a long-standing approach in medicine. The “objective” measures of disease progression, as evidenced by things like the size of my tumour, the results of my MRIs, are prized. The “subjective” measures of my experience – how I feel each day, my personal responses in terms of X or Y – are largely ignored.

Patients are active, wanting to share and swap notes. Desperate to know whether a change in diet, or a cocktail of supplements, or exercise, or mindset, can help them stay alive, they are busy on social media. Amid all this noise, doctors have little advice to give – “Should I adopt the ketogenic diet? Take medical marijuana? Fast twice a week?” – because none of these approaches have been, or could be, subject to the kind of clinical trial a new drug treatment undergoes.

But imagine if we could ask people to log how they’re feeling, and what steps they’re taking to manage their disease, every day. Imagine if we could then aggregate all that data and mine it for insights. Couldn’t we find some clues from patients’ unfiltered perspective that would supplement the clinical trials information?

Dr Ethan Basch, of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of North Carolina, undertook some fascinating research last year. He found that if you ask someone with cancer to log their symptoms, the act of doing so, coupled with your clinician’s ability to adjust therapies in real time, can lead to an actual improvement in disease outcome. People lived longer.

I’ve channelled my own frustration with my diagnosis into creating OurBrainBank, a non-profit organisation designed to move glioblastoma from terminal to treatable, powered by patients. We recently launched our pilot app in the US. People with GBM can log their symptoms daily and their aggregated data will be available to any qualified GBM researcher worldwide, for free, subject to strict screening. People using the app report feeling more on top of their disease through daily monitoring; better able to make use of their meetings with their clinicians; and more hopeful that by sharing their personal data they can play an active role in making progress.

Tessa Jowell died during May, which happens to be brain tumour awareness month. Our colour is grey. It’s strangely apt. Because what we need to crack GBM is to use our grey cells to think creatively and empathetically – patient and doctor alike.

That’s the kind of approach she espoused. She put it the best: “I hope always my politics are the politics of aspiration, ambition, possibility and the future.”

Jessica Morris is a strategic communications consultant and the founder and chair of OurBrainBank

Like Tessa Jowell, I have a brain tumour. I hope her death inspires new research | Jessica Morris

Many people are grieving the untimely death of Tessa Jowell. She was an exceptional person. Tony Blair confirmed the impression she gave to those of us who only knew her from afar: “Tessa had passion, determination and simple human decency in greater measure than any person I have ever known.”

For me, her death is personal for another reason. We found ourselves in the same elite club.

Like Tessa Jowell, I was blindsided by a diagnosis of glioblastoma (GBM) in January 2016. I was walking in the hills in upstate New York (we live in the city) when a strange sensation made me stop. I opened my mouth to explain to my friends and found I couldn’t form any words. I slumped into unconsciousness, having a full-blown seizure.

Two days later I had brain surgery, and the terrible diagnosis came two weeks after that. Now, more than two years later, I am determined to do what I can to improve the outcomes for everyone like me living with this brutal disease. Jowell’s death gives me added impetus in the struggle to turn this monstrous disease around.

After I was diagnosed, I asked my neuro-oncologist why glioblastoma is so deadly; why the terrifying statistics suggested that I had a mere 5% chance of surviving five years. He explained to me that the dreaded figure five also relates to another key statistic: the percentage of successful applications for research funding into GBM. This disease is so complex, so aggressive and so rare, that it is hard to attract substantial research funding.

It is especially gratifying that Jowell’s powerful legacy has already begun to be felt in the form of increased government funding. But she would be the first to agree this is not enough. There is another currency to tap: a goldmine of patient-generated data that is massively under-collected and undervalued. At the heart of every GBM drama, as with any life-threatening disease, is a human being enduring symptoms – some good, many bad – resulting from the cancer and the treatments we take. Yet our relationship as patients with our disease is not consistently recorded or analysed. It can feel as if, from the perspective of the medical system, our experience is not worth understanding.

Tessa Jowell dies aged 70 – video obituary

As an example, I’ve been fortunate enough to be treated in New York with ground-breaking treatments that can be hard to come by in the UK, including electrotherapy and immunotherapy. These cost more than $ 30,000 a month, covered by insurance and the drug company’s compassionate use programme. But how the interaction between these therapies is actually affecting me is not recorded. This reflects a long-standing approach in medicine. The “objective” measures of disease progression, as evidenced by things like the size of my tumour, the results of my MRIs, are prized. The “subjective” measures of my experience – how I feel each day, my personal responses in terms of X or Y – are largely ignored.

Patients are active, wanting to share and swap notes. Desperate to know whether a change in diet, or a cocktail of supplements, or exercise, or mindset, can help them stay alive, they are busy on social media. Amid all this noise, doctors have little advice to give – “Should I adopt the ketogenic diet? Take medical marijuana? Fast twice a week?” – because none of these approaches have been, or could be, subject to the kind of clinical trial a new drug treatment undergoes.

But imagine if we could ask people to log how they’re feeling, and what steps they’re taking to manage their disease, every day. Imagine if we could then aggregate all that data and mine it for insights. Couldn’t we find some clues from patients’ unfiltered perspective that would supplement the clinical trials information?

Dr Ethan Basch, of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of North Carolina, undertook some fascinating research last year. He found that if you ask someone with cancer to log their symptoms, the act of doing so, coupled with your clinician’s ability to adjust therapies in real time, can lead to an actual improvement in disease outcome. People lived longer.

I’ve channelled my own frustration with my diagnosis into creating OurBrainBank, a non-profit organisation designed to move glioblastoma from terminal to treatable, powered by patients. We recently launched our pilot app in the US. People with GBM can log their symptoms daily and their aggregated data will be available to any qualified GBM researcher worldwide, for free, subject to strict screening. People using the app report feeling more on top of their disease through daily monitoring; better able to make use of their meetings with their clinicians; and more hopeful that by sharing their personal data they can play an active role in making progress.

Tessa Jowell died during May, which happens to be brain tumour awareness month. Our colour is grey. It’s strangely apt. Because what we need to crack GBM is to use our grey cells to think creatively and empathetically – patient and doctor alike.

That’s the kind of approach she espoused. She put it the best: “I hope always my politics are the politics of aspiration, ambition, possibility and the future.”

Jessica Morris is a strategic communications consultant and the founder and chair of OurBrainBank

Like Tessa Jowell, I have a brain tumour. I hope her death inspires new research | Jessica Morris

Many people are grieving the untimely death of Tessa Jowell. She was an exceptional person. Tony Blair confirmed the impression she gave to those of us who only knew her from afar: “Tessa had passion, determination and simple human decency in greater measure than any person I have ever known.”

For me, her death is personal for another reason. We found ourselves in the same elite club.

Like Tessa Jowell, I was blindsided by a diagnosis of glioblastoma (GBM) in January 2016. I was walking in the hills in upstate New York (we live in the city) when a strange sensation made me stop. I opened my mouth to explain to my friends and found I couldn’t form any words. I slumped into unconsciousness, having a full-blown seizure.

Two days later I had brain surgery, and the terrible diagnosis came two weeks after that. Now, more than two years later, I am determined to do what I can to improve the outcomes for everyone like me living with this brutal disease. Jowell’s death gives me added impetus in the struggle to turn this monstrous disease around.

After I was diagnosed, I asked my neuro-oncologist why glioblastoma is so deadly; why the terrifying statistics suggested that I had a mere 5% chance of surviving five years. He explained to me that the dreaded figure five also relates to another key statistic: the percentage of successful applications for research funding into GBM. This disease is so complex, so aggressive and so rare, that it is hard to attract substantial research funding.

It is especially gratifying that Jowell’s powerful legacy has already begun to be felt in the form of increased government funding. But she would be the first to agree this is not enough. There is another currency to tap: a goldmine of patient-generated data that is massively under-collected and undervalued. At the heart of every GBM drama, as with any life-threatening disease, is a human being enduring symptoms – some good, many bad – resulting from the cancer and the treatments we take. Yet our relationship as patients with our disease is not consistently recorded or analysed. It can feel as if, from the perspective of the medical system, our experience is not worth understanding.

Tessa Jowell dies aged 70 – video obituary

As an example, I’ve been fortunate enough to be treated in New York with ground-breaking treatments that can be hard to come by in the UK, including electrotherapy and immunotherapy. These cost more than $ 30,000 a month, covered by insurance and the drug company’s compassionate use programme. But how the interaction between these therapies is actually affecting me is not recorded. This reflects a long-standing approach in medicine. The “objective” measures of disease progression, as evidenced by things like the size of my tumour, the results of my MRIs, are prized. The “subjective” measures of my experience – how I feel each day, my personal responses in terms of X or Y – are largely ignored.

Patients are active, wanting to share and swap notes. Desperate to know whether a change in diet, or a cocktail of supplements, or exercise, or mindset, can help them stay alive, they are busy on social media. Amid all this noise, doctors have little advice to give – “Should I adopt the ketogenic diet? Take medical marijuana? Fast twice a week?” – because none of these approaches have been, or could be, subject to the kind of clinical trial a new drug treatment undergoes.

But imagine if we could ask people to log how they’re feeling, and what steps they’re taking to manage their disease, every day. Imagine if we could then aggregate all that data and mine it for insights. Couldn’t we find some clues from patients’ unfiltered perspective that would supplement the clinical trials information?

Dr Ethan Basch, of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of North Carolina, undertook some fascinating research last year. He found that if you ask someone with cancer to log their symptoms, the act of doing so, coupled with your clinician’s ability to adjust therapies in real time, can lead to an actual improvement in disease outcome. People lived longer.

I’ve channelled my own frustration with my diagnosis into creating OurBrainBank, a non-profit organisation designed to move glioblastoma from terminal to treatable, powered by patients. We recently launched our pilot app in the US. People with GBM can log their symptoms daily and their aggregated data will be available to any qualified GBM researcher worldwide, for free, subject to strict screening. People using the app report feeling more on top of their disease through daily monitoring; better able to make use of their meetings with their clinicians; and more hopeful that by sharing their personal data they can play an active role in making progress.

Tessa Jowell died during May, which happens to be brain tumour awareness month. Our colour is grey. It’s strangely apt. Because what we need to crack GBM is to use our grey cells to think creatively and empathetically – patient and doctor alike.

That’s the kind of approach she espoused. She put it the best: “I hope always my politics are the politics of aspiration, ambition, possibility and the future.”

Jessica Morris is a strategic communications consultant and the founder and chair of OurBrainBank

Like Tessa Jowell, I have a brain tumour. I hope her death inspires new research | Jessica Morris

Many people are grieving the untimely death of Tessa Jowell. She was an exceptional person. Tony Blair confirmed the impression she gave to those of us who only knew her from afar: “Tessa had passion, determination and simple human decency in greater measure than any person I have ever known.”

For me, her death is personal for another reason. We found ourselves in the same elite club.

Like Tessa Jowell, I was blindsided by a diagnosis of glioblastoma (GBM) in January 2016. I was walking in the hills in upstate New York (we live in the city) when a strange sensation made me stop. I opened my mouth to explain to my friends and found I couldn’t form any words. I slumped into unconsciousness, having a full-blown seizure.

Two days later I had brain surgery, and the terrible diagnosis came two weeks after that. Now, more than two years later, I am determined to do what I can to improve the outcomes for everyone like me living with this brutal disease. Jowell’s death gives me added impetus in the struggle to turn this monstrous disease around.

After I was diagnosed, I asked my neuro-oncologist why glioblastoma is so deadly; why the terrifying statistics suggested that I had a mere 5% chance of surviving five years. He explained to me that the dreaded figure five also relates to another key statistic: the percentage of successful applications for research funding into GBM. This disease is so complex, so aggressive and so rare, that it is hard to attract substantial research funding.

It is especially gratifying that Jowell’s powerful legacy has already begun to be felt in the form of increased government funding. But she would be the first to agree this is not enough. There is another currency to tap: a goldmine of patient-generated data that is massively under-collected and undervalued. At the heart of every GBM drama, as with any life-threatening disease, is a human being enduring symptoms – some good, many bad – resulting from the cancer and the treatments we take. Yet our relationship as patients with our disease is not consistently recorded or analysed. It can feel as if, from the perspective of the medical system, our experience is not worth understanding.

Tessa Jowell dies aged 70 – video obituary

As an example, I’ve been fortunate enough to be treated in New York with ground-breaking treatments that can be hard to come by in the UK, including electrotherapy and immunotherapy. These cost more than $ 30,000 a month, covered by insurance and the drug company’s compassionate use programme. But how the interaction between these therapies is actually affecting me is not recorded. This reflects a long-standing approach in medicine. The “objective” measures of disease progression, as evidenced by things like the size of my tumour, the results of my MRIs, are prized. The “subjective” measures of my experience – how I feel each day, my personal responses in terms of X or Y – are largely ignored.

Patients are active, wanting to share and swap notes. Desperate to know whether a change in diet, or a cocktail of supplements, or exercise, or mindset, can help them stay alive, they are busy on social media. Amid all this noise, doctors have little advice to give – “Should I adopt the ketogenic diet? Take medical marijuana? Fast twice a week?” – because none of these approaches have been, or could be, subject to the kind of clinical trial a new drug treatment undergoes.

But imagine if we could ask people to log how they’re feeling, and what steps they’re taking to manage their disease, every day. Imagine if we could then aggregate all that data and mine it for insights. Couldn’t we find some clues from patients’ unfiltered perspective that would supplement the clinical trials information?

Dr Ethan Basch, of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of North Carolina, undertook some fascinating research last year. He found that if you ask someone with cancer to log their symptoms, the act of doing so, coupled with your clinician’s ability to adjust therapies in real time, can lead to an actual improvement in disease outcome. People lived longer.

I’ve channelled my own frustration with my diagnosis into creating OurBrainBank, a non-profit organisation designed to move glioblastoma from terminal to treatable, powered by patients. We recently launched our pilot app in the US. People with GBM can log their symptoms daily and their aggregated data will be available to any qualified GBM researcher worldwide, for free, subject to strict screening. People using the app report feeling more on top of their disease through daily monitoring; better able to make use of their meetings with their clinicians; and more hopeful that by sharing their personal data they can play an active role in making progress.

Tessa Jowell died during May, which happens to be brain tumour awareness month. Our colour is grey. It’s strangely apt. Because what we need to crack GBM is to use our grey cells to think creatively and empathetically – patient and doctor alike.

That’s the kind of approach she espoused. She put it the best: “I hope always my politics are the politics of aspiration, ambition, possibility and the future.”

Jessica Morris is a strategic communications consultant and the founder and chair of OurBrainBank

Radio 1’s Greg James: ‘It was like a balloon popping. I was choked up’

By and large, you come across two kinds of radio broadcasters. There are those who see the medium as a means to an end, to discuss what’s important to them: electronic music, world politics, the discs you would take to a desert island. Then there are people such as Greg James, the host of the Radio 1 drivetime show for the past six years, who have a passion for radio itself. Once upon a time they were called anoraks; he prefers the term “radio nerd”. He is highly invested in the production of the show. His heroes are Terry Wogan, Alan Partridge and Ricky Gervais – he can still recite links from the latter’s Xfm show 13 years after it was last broadcast.

Even when he started to do endurance challenges for Sport Relief – in 2013 he was part of the group of celebrities who faced the rapids and crocodiles of the Zambezi river in Uganda; in 2016 he completed five triathlons in five days – what attracted him was not, he says, thrill-seeking but bringing excitement back to his show. “I just want to make great event radio. I hate the idea of getting to the end of a show and there’s nothing to remember.”

For his most recent effort, the #Gregathlon, James, 32, was going to climb the three tallest peaks in England, Wales and Scotland, and cycle the 500 miles between them in five days. Even by the standards of these kinds of big TV challenges, it sounded extremely tough. Still, you got the feeling that the preamble about James being not sure if he would be able to manage it and Olympic champion cyclist Chris Hoy saying there was “no way” that he would try a challenge so “mad” was probably just producers ratcheting up the tension before an emotional but inevitable triumph.

What they couldn’t have predicted was the worst week of British weather for years. The “beast from the east” and storm Emma brought perilous conditions and deep snow just as he was setting off. “I started with Mount Snowdon. It was like an episode of 999 with Michael Buerk. My foot would go into the snow and it was going up to my knee,” he says. The cycling, which was supposed to be done on a road bike, had to be done on a mountain bike in flurries of falling snow. All the while, James was trying to host his show from a microphone strapped to his helmet.

After the second mountain, Scafell Pike, James was told that conditions were too treacherous and he wouldn’t be allowed to continue. He seemed distraught. “It just felt like a real balloon being popped. You obviously know you’re on the radio so you want to get the emotion across, but I became genuinely choked up.”

Two weeks after Greg’s return, we are sitting in his manager’s office in London. In his jeans, T-shirt and jacket, he looks a bit like how a child might draw “a man”. Soon he’s going to head to Radio 1 to do his show, then up to Scotland to tackle the challenge again (listeners heard him complete it live on air Friday afternoon – as he finished he learned that he had raised more than £900,000).

He was determined to finish what he started but says the disappointment of not being able to do it in one go struck a chord with the purpose of the stunt, to raise money and awareness for mental health issues.

‘It was like an episode of 999. My foot would go in the snow and it was going up to my knee’ … James.


‘It was like an episode of 999. My foot would go in the snow and it was going up to my knee’ … James. Photograph: Ed Smith/Comic Relief Ltd/PA

“It was the perfect metaphor for the whole week because we were going: ‘Don’t ever feel frightened to say that you’re feeling like shit because there will be somebody you know that has gone through it.’”

He says he’s been overwhelmed by the honesty and emotion from listeners that has come from opening up the conversation about depression and anxiety, which I am sure is true. But I say I’m cynical about how much brands have been “raising awareness” about mental health during the past couple of years, often suggesting people find someone to talk to. While that is an important first step, it doesn’t necessarily help the millions of people who are suffering from serious mental health problems, for whom NHS services are getting worse.

“Yeah, that’s the downfall of everything that gets in the news cycle; people jump on bandwagons. But I’m very, very careful to not do those sorts of things for the sake of it. Most people sliding into the DMs [direct messaging on social media] were just kind of going: ‘I’m a bloke, I’m 24, I feel like I’ve got to pretend to be a lad, and I don’t know how to talk about these things, but hearing you talk about them helped.’ Also, we raised a load of money to fund those sorts of projects. But my next step is do something with mental health groups that is a bit more sustainable, maybe with an organisation that needs someone to chat to young blokes, for example. I would like to do that.”

It is true that James has a unique skill, even among Radio 1 DJs, for connecting with ordinary young people. He feels, I say, like the torchbearer on the station for a certain kind of normal university lad: someone who goes to the gym, doesn’t take themselves too seriously, wouldn’t mind dressing up in a tutu and goes to clubs where they play cheesy music. Other hosts on the station are hired because they are from the in-crowd and can tell the listeners what’s cool. He seems to have been hired because, like the listeners, he doesn’t really care.

“I wouldn’t say I was a lad, I’m not the beer pong guy. But I think you’re right, I really do feel like I know the listeners. I don’t want anyone to feel excluded. I’m phobic of the celebrity world. I’m a big music fan, but I’m not the music impresario. So yeah, I take that as a huge compliment because I feel like, once you join the circus, you can’t take the piss out of the circus.”

James’s devotion to his audience comes at a time when young people are increasingly turning away from radio. Radio 1’s total listenership has fallen from 11.8 million in September of 2011 to 10.5 million in September 2017. When the last round of figures were announced, Radio 4 went to ask a bunch of schoolchildren whether they listen to Radio 1 or had heard of its breakfast presenter Nick Grimshaw. None of them had.

James with Chris Smith, with whom he is writing a series of children’s books called Kid Normal.


James with Chris Smith, with whom he is writing a series of children’s books called Kid Normal. Photograph: Jenny Smith

“Well, these things can be quite cyclical,” says James. “It doesn’t mean just because one generation of kids are like, ‘what the fuck’s that?’ that you can’t reinvent it again.” He says the station went through a confused period when it wasn’t sure which audience to aim at and there was a feeling that it had to shed older listeners at any cost. “I think things have stabilised a bit more since then, which is to say Radio 1 appreciates that if you get the mums and dads, then you have people like my niece and nephew who are eight-years-old, and I think it can start again like that. When we were going through the Lake District [for the Gregathlon] and there was a dad on the front doorstep with his two sons and he was like, ‘Go on Greg!’ and the kids were like, ‘Yeahhh’. I am literally cycling past the listeners of Radio 1: ‘Good morning, good evening, make sure you’re listening tomorrow from 4pm.’ It’s campaigning.”

I also wonder what he thinks about how Radio 1 is responding to increased pressures at the BBC for greater diversity. He is part of a daytime lineup of three white men, along with Scott Mills and Nick Grimshaw, and one black woman – Clara Amfo. But Radio 1 also has a sister station, 1Xtra, with black daytime hosts playing music by predominantly black artists. Does it make sense in 2018 that there is basically a white Radio 1 and a black Radio 1?

“Enormous question … Yeah, it does. There are lots of examples of the stations working more closely together and they do help each other out, but they should help each other out more. I totally see your point about having this station for this kind of person, and this station for that kind of person, but shows such as Charlie Sloth’s are on both networks and it’s not an issue. There should be more cross-pollination. I was on Dotty’s [rapper Amplify Dot] breakfast show talking about the challenge and actually, we had that conversation. I was like, ‘Why haven’t we done this more?’”

One area in which the station has had major success is on YouTube where viral videos, such as James singing with Taylor Swift, have views in the tens of millions. But in that space, Radio 1 is competing for young eyeballs with a huge number of vloggers, a medium that for many in that age group is the new radio. The station has made attempts to bring these internet stars into the fold by giving them shows or other segments. But Greg is distrustful of the way they flog products in their videos to make a living.

[embedded content]

“Influencers are absolutely in my crosshairs in the minute. The disdain some of them have for their own fanbase is mindblowing, just selling crap to them the whole time.”

So he never wants a free weekend at Babington House in return for a few tweets?

“Ha! It would be a hollow weekend, that’s the thing. I like paying for things. I like paying tax. I think there are quite a few people in the public eye who don’t like paying tax and don’t like paying for things. It’s nice to pay tax because that’s a nurse or a teacher. I’m quite righteous about that.”

It’s not just their rapaciousness that he finds offensive. As a radio perfectionist himself, he seems stunned by the content itself. “It’s terrifying, watching some moron bake a cake and it gets 5m views. But shit stuff has always been popular. Lots of people on YouTube need a boss to tell them when they’re being bad. I’ve had producers and amazing writers saying: ‘Woah you need to refine those ideas.’ But they have not got that. No wonder it’s awful.”

So he’s not worried they might rise up and steal his show? “Hopefully, it works itself out, maybe people will grow out of it and go: ‘Oh why did I watch that person make a rainbow unicorn cake, that was embarrassing.’ Fingers crossed. Either that, or I’ll be doing infomercials with Zoella.”

James was born in south London in 1985, his parents both teachers. Growing up, his two loves were cricket and radio. He played for Hertfordshire under-18s, and, after hearing that his future colleague Mills started out on hospital radio, found the local station and tried out a show there. He followed up on university radio at the University of East Anglia, obsessing over editing and creating his own jingles. He was soon discovered by Radio 1, hosting his first show for the station the day after he graduated. It was the early breakfast slot, starting at 4am.

“I loved that show so much because I was completely fearless. It was the happiest I’ve ever been. Then I moved to afternoons and I was really miserable because I didn’t know what I was doing. I was young and just moved to London and just getting drunk all the time and a little bit famous. I used to panic a lot about it all. I used to worry about someone else getting a job, thinking: ‘Argh, why haven’t I got that show?’ or ‘Why is he doing so well?’”

Greg James completes his Radio 1 Gregathlon for Sport Relief.


Greg James completes his Radio 1 Gregathlon for Sport Relief. Photograph: Ed Smith

He moved to drivetime where he says he found his groove and, in the last four years has felt comfortable enough to try other projects. He hosts a cricket podcast for 5 Live with Jimmy Anderson and is writing a series of children’s books, Kid Normal, with Chris Smith, who hosts the news on his show. “We worked really hard on them because we didn’t want it to be: ‘Those two twats from the radio think they can just do a book now.’” It’s paid off – the first book was the bestselling children’s debut of last year.

He is also co-hosting Sounds Like Friday Night, the BBC’s sort-of Top of the Pops replacement. Ratings for the initial run were solid, but there was something a little off about it. The sketches were flat and James and co-host Dotty seemed to feign naivety about the music they were introducing in a way that felt at odds with their radio personas.

“It wasn’t a disaster and it’s coming back for another series. But it’s hard, it’s really hard to land a music show where you’ve got Stefflon Don in the slot where A Question of Sport was the week before. I think we’ll make the show feel looser and not overthink it too much. The reason I wanted to do it is because I could show off, do interviews, run around, interview the audience and have a laugh. It didn’t quite happen in the first series, so I want to do that for the second.”

We have been talking for more than an hour and there is something strangely unflappable about James. While he might have had struggles in the past, he now seems content in every part of his life. I tell him that I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone who seems to be so sorted.

“Yeah, it’s probably boring for you, but I do feel quite content. It’s only happened in the last year or so that things have slotted into place. I have found peace with my love life, feel happy with my friends and I am looking after my family. It’s made me funnier on air and better at my job. The moment I stopped overthinking it, when I realised that I don’t have to go to that party, or get to that place, I realised there was nowhere I wanted to get to. Radio is my skill, it’s like plumbing, and now I’ve learned that I get to try other things and enjoy that.”

Two days later, I am at home listening to James power through a 120-mile cycle in relentless rain. He sounds in pieces, saying it’s harder than even the first part of the challenge. Still, he finds time to guess the age of some local children, have a conversation about teen mental health and do an extended link about farts. You’ve got to say, it’s pretty good radio.

To donate, visit sportrelief.com/sponsorgreg

Radio 1’s Greg James: ‘It was like a balloon popping. I was choked up’

By and large, you come across two kinds of radio broadcasters. There are those who see the medium as a means to an end, to discuss what’s important to them: electronic music, world politics, the discs you would take to a desert island. Then there are people such as Greg James, the host of the Radio 1 drivetime show for the past six years, who have a passion for radio itself. Once upon a time they were called anoraks; he prefers the term “radio nerd”. He is highly invested in the production of the show. His heroes are Terry Wogan, Alan Partridge and Ricky Gervais – he can still recite links from the latter’s Xfm show 13 years after it was last broadcast.

Even when he started to do endurance challenges for Sport Relief – in 2013 he was part of the group of celebrities who faced the rapids and crocodiles of the Zambezi river in Uganda; in 2016 he completed five triathlons in five days – what attracted him was not, he says, thrill-seeking but bringing excitement back to his show. “I just want to make great event radio. I hate the idea of getting to the end of a show and there’s nothing to remember.”

For his most recent effort, the #Gregathlon, James, 32, was going to climb the three tallest peaks in England, Wales and Scotland, and cycle the 500 miles between them in five days. Even by the standards of these kinds of big TV challenges, it sounded extremely tough. Still, you got the feeling that the preamble about James being not sure if he would be able to manage it and Olympic champion cyclist Chris Hoy saying there was “no way” that he would try a challenge so “mad” was probably just producers ratcheting up the tension before an emotional but inevitable triumph.

What they couldn’t have predicted was the worst week of British weather for years. The “beast from the east” and storm Emma brought perilous conditions and deep snow just as he was setting off. “I started with Mount Snowdon. It was like an episode of 999 with Michael Buerk. My foot would go into the snow and it was going up to my knee,” he says. The cycling, which was supposed to be done on a road bike, had to be done on a mountain bike in flurries of falling snow. All the while, James was trying to host his show from a microphone strapped to his helmet.

After the second mountain, Scafell Pike, James was told that conditions were too treacherous and he wouldn’t be allowed to continue. He seemed distraught. “It just felt like a real balloon being popped. You obviously know you’re on the radio so you want to get the emotion across, but I became genuinely choked up.”

Two weeks after Greg’s return, we are sitting in his manager’s office in London. In his jeans, T-shirt and jacket, he looks a bit like how a child might draw “a man”. Soon he’s going to head to Radio 1 to do his show, then up to Scotland to tackle the challenge again (listeners heard him complete it live on air Friday afternoon – as he finished he learned that he had raised more than £900,000).

He was determined to finish what he started but says the disappointment of not being able to do it in one go struck a chord with the purpose of the stunt, to raise money and awareness for mental health issues.

‘It was like an episode of 999. My foot would go in the snow and it was going up to my knee’ … James.


‘It was like an episode of 999. My foot would go in the snow and it was going up to my knee’ … James. Photograph: Ed Smith/Comic Relief Ltd/PA

“It was the perfect metaphor for the whole week because we were going: ‘Don’t ever feel frightened to say that you’re feeling like shit because there will be somebody you know that has gone through it.’”

He says he’s been overwhelmed by the honesty and emotion from listeners that has come from opening up the conversation about depression and anxiety, which I am sure is true. But I say I’m cynical about how much brands have been “raising awareness” about mental health during the past couple of years, often suggesting people find someone to talk to. While that is an important first step, it doesn’t necessarily help the millions of people who are suffering from serious mental health problems, for whom NHS services are getting worse.

“Yeah, that’s the downfall of everything that gets in the news cycle; people jump on bandwagons. But I’m very, very careful to not do those sorts of things for the sake of it. Most people sliding into the DMs [direct messaging on social media] were just kind of going: ‘I’m a bloke, I’m 24, I feel like I’ve got to pretend to be a lad, and I don’t know how to talk about these things, but hearing you talk about them helped.’ Also, we raised a load of money to fund those sorts of projects. But my next step is do something with mental health groups that is a bit more sustainable, maybe with an organisation that needs someone to chat to young blokes, for example. I would like to do that.”

It is true that James has a unique skill, even among Radio 1 DJs, for connecting with ordinary young people. He feels, I say, like the torchbearer on the station for a certain kind of normal university lad: someone who goes to the gym, doesn’t take themselves too seriously, wouldn’t mind dressing up in a tutu and goes to clubs where they play cheesy music. Other hosts on the station are hired because they are from the in-crowd and can tell the listeners what’s cool. He seems to have been hired because, like the listeners, he doesn’t really care.

“I wouldn’t say I was a lad, I’m not the beer pong guy. But I think you’re right, I really do feel like I know the listeners. I don’t want anyone to feel excluded. I’m phobic of the celebrity world. I’m a big music fan, but I’m not the music impresario. So yeah, I take that as a huge compliment because I feel like, once you join the circus, you can’t take the piss out of the circus.”

James’s devotion to his audience comes at a time when young people are increasingly turning away from radio. Radio 1’s total listenership has fallen from 11.8 million in September of 2011 to 10.5 million in September 2017. When the last round of figures were announced, Radio 4 went to ask a bunch of schoolchildren whether they listen to Radio 1 or had heard of its breakfast presenter Nick Grimshaw. None of them had.

James with Chris Smith, with whom he is writing a series of children’s books called Kid Normal.


James with Chris Smith, with whom he is writing a series of children’s books called Kid Normal. Photograph: Jenny Smith

“Well, these things can be quite cyclical,” says James. “It doesn’t mean just because one generation of kids are like, ‘what the fuck’s that?’ that you can’t reinvent it again.” He says the station went through a confused period when it wasn’t sure which audience to aim at and there was a feeling that it had to shed older listeners at any cost. “I think things have stabilised a bit more since then, which is to say Radio 1 appreciates that if you get the mums and dads, then you have people like my niece and nephew who are eight-years-old, and I think it can start again like that. When we were going through the Lake District [for the Gregathlon] and there was a dad on the front doorstep with his two sons and he was like, ‘Go on Greg!’ and the kids were like, ‘Yeahhh’. I am literally cycling past the listeners of Radio 1: ‘Good morning, good evening, make sure you’re listening tomorrow from 4pm.’ It’s campaigning.”

I also wonder what he thinks about how Radio 1 is responding to increased pressures at the BBC for greater diversity. He is part of a daytime lineup of three white men, along with Scott Mills and Nick Grimshaw, and one black woman – Clara Amfo. But Radio 1 also has a sister station, 1Xtra, with black daytime hosts playing music by predominantly black artists. Does it make sense in 2018 that there is basically a white Radio 1 and a black Radio 1?

“Enormous question … Yeah, it does. There are lots of examples of the stations working more closely together and they do help each other out, but they should help each other out more. I totally see your point about having this station for this kind of person, and this station for that kind of person, but shows such as Charlie Sloth’s are on both networks and it’s not an issue. There should be more cross-pollination. I was on Dotty’s [rapper Amplify Dot] breakfast show talking about the challenge and actually, we had that conversation. I was like, ‘Why haven’t we done this more?’”

One area in which the station has had major success is on YouTube where viral videos, such as James singing with Taylor Swift, have views in the tens of millions. But in that space, Radio 1 is competing for young eyeballs with a huge number of vloggers, a medium that for many in that age group is the new radio. The station has made attempts to bring these internet stars into the fold by giving them shows or other segments. But Greg is distrustful of the way they flog products in their videos to make a living.

[embedded content]

“Influencers are absolutely in my crosshairs in the minute. The disdain some of them have for their own fanbase is mindblowing, just selling crap to them the whole time.”

So he never wants a free weekend at Babington House in return for a few tweets?

“Ha! It would be a hollow weekend, that’s the thing. I like paying for things. I like paying tax. I think there are quite a few people in the public eye who don’t like paying tax and don’t like paying for things. It’s nice to pay tax because that’s a nurse or a teacher. I’m quite righteous about that.”

It’s not just their rapaciousness that he finds offensive. As a radio perfectionist himself, he seems stunned by the content itself. “It’s terrifying, watching some moron bake a cake and it gets 5m views. But shit stuff has always been popular. Lots of people on YouTube need a boss to tell them when they’re being bad. I’ve had producers and amazing writers saying: ‘Woah you need to refine those ideas.’ But they have not got that. No wonder it’s awful.”

So he’s not worried they might rise up and steal his show? “Hopefully, it works itself out, maybe people will grow out of it and go: ‘Oh why did I watch that person make a rainbow unicorn cake, that was embarrassing.’ Fingers crossed. Either that, or I’ll be doing infomercials with Zoella.”

James was born in south London in 1985, his parents both teachers. Growing up, his two loves were cricket and radio. He played for Hertfordshire under-18s, and, after hearing that his future colleague Mills started out on hospital radio, found the local station and tried out a show there. He followed up on university radio at the University of East Anglia, obsessing over editing and creating his own jingles. He was soon discovered by Radio 1, hosting his first show for the station the day after he graduated. It was the early breakfast slot, starting at 4am.

“I loved that show so much because I was completely fearless. It was the happiest I’ve ever been. Then I moved to afternoons and I was really miserable because I didn’t know what I was doing. I was young and just moved to London and just getting drunk all the time and a little bit famous. I used to panic a lot about it all. I used to worry about someone else getting a job, thinking: ‘Argh, why haven’t I got that show?’ or ‘Why is he doing so well?’”

Greg James completes his Radio 1 Gregathlon for Sport Relief.


Greg James completes his Radio 1 Gregathlon for Sport Relief. Photograph: Ed Smith

He moved to drivetime where he says he found his groove and, in the last four years has felt comfortable enough to try other projects. He hosts a cricket podcast for 5 Live with Jimmy Anderson and is writing a series of children’s books, Kid Normal, with Chris Smith, who hosts the news on his show. “We worked really hard on them because we didn’t want it to be: ‘Those two twats from the radio think they can just do a book now.’” It’s paid off – the first book was the bestselling children’s debut of last year.

He is also co-hosting Sounds Like Friday Night, the BBC’s sort-of Top of the Pops replacement. Ratings for the initial run were solid, but there was something a little off about it. The sketches were flat and James and co-host Dotty seemed to feign naivety about the music they were introducing in a way that felt at odds with their radio personas.

“It wasn’t a disaster and it’s coming back for another series. But it’s hard, it’s really hard to land a music show where you’ve got Stefflon Don in the slot where A Question of Sport was the week before. I think we’ll make the show feel looser and not overthink it too much. The reason I wanted to do it is because I could show off, do interviews, run around, interview the audience and have a laugh. It didn’t quite happen in the first series, so I want to do that for the second.”

We have been talking for more than an hour and there is something strangely unflappable about James. While he might have had struggles in the past, he now seems content in every part of his life. I tell him that I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone who seems to be so sorted.

“Yeah, it’s probably boring for you, but I do feel quite content. It’s only happened in the last year or so that things have slotted into place. I have found peace with my love life, feel happy with my friends and I am looking after my family. It’s made me funnier on air and better at my job. The moment I stopped overthinking it, when I realised that I don’t have to go to that party, or get to that place, I realised there was nowhere I wanted to get to. Radio is my skill, it’s like plumbing, and now I’ve learned that I get to try other things and enjoy that.”

Two days later, I am at home listening to James power through a 120-mile cycle in relentless rain. He sounds in pieces, saying it’s harder than even the first part of the challenge. Still, he finds time to guess the age of some local children, have a conversation about teen mental health and do an extended link about farts. You’ve got to say, it’s pretty good radio.

To donate, visit sportrelief.com/sponsorgreg

Radio 1’s Greg James: ‘It was like a balloon popping. I was choked up’

By and large, you come across two kinds of radio broadcasters. There are those who see the medium as a means to an end, to discuss what’s important to them: electronic music, world politics, the discs you would take to a desert island. Then there are people such as Greg James, the host of the Radio 1 drivetime show for the past six years, who have a passion for radio itself. Once upon a time they were called anoraks; he prefers the term “radio nerd”. He is highly invested in the production of the show. His heroes are Terry Wogan, Alan Partridge and Ricky Gervais – he can still recite links from the latter’s Xfm show 13 years after it was last broadcast.

Even when he started to do endurance challenges for Sport Relief – in 2013 he was part of the group of celebrities who faced the rapids and crocodiles of the Zambezi river in Uganda; in 2016 he completed five triathlons in five days – what attracted him was not, he says, thrill-seeking but bringing excitement back to his show. “I just want to make great event radio. I hate the idea of getting to the end of a show and there’s nothing to remember.”

For his most recent effort, the #Gregathlon, James, 32, was going to climb the three tallest peaks in England, Wales and Scotland, and cycle the 500 miles between them in five days. Even by the standards of these kinds of big TV challenges, it sounded extremely tough. Still, you got the feeling that the preamble about James being not sure if he would be able to manage it and Olympic champion cyclist Chris Hoy saying there was “no way” that he would try a challenge so “mad” was probably just producers ratcheting up the tension before an emotional but inevitable triumph.

What they couldn’t have predicted was the worst week of British weather for years. The “beast from the east” and storm Emma brought perilous conditions and deep snow just as he was setting off. “I started with Mount Snowdon. It was like an episode of 999 with Michael Buerk. My foot would go into the snow and it was going up to my knee,” he says. The cycling, which was supposed to be done on a road bike, had to be done on a mountain bike in flurries of falling snow. All the while, James was trying to host his show from a microphone strapped to his helmet.

After the second mountain, Scafell Pike, James was told that conditions were too treacherous and he wouldn’t be allowed to continue. He seemed distraught. “It just felt like a real balloon being popped. You obviously know you’re on the radio so you want to get the emotion across, but I became genuinely choked up.”

Two weeks after Greg’s return, we are sitting in his manager’s office in London. In his jeans, T-shirt and jacket, he looks a bit like how a child might draw “a man”. Soon he’s going to head to Radio 1 to do his show, then up to Scotland to tackle the challenge again (listeners heard him complete it live on air Friday afternoon – as he finished he learned that he had raised more than £900,000).

He was determined to finish what he started but says the disappointment of not being able to do it in one go struck a chord with the purpose of the stunt, to raise money and awareness for mental health issues.

‘It was like an episode of 999. My foot would go in the snow and it was going up to my knee’ … James.


‘It was like an episode of 999. My foot would go in the snow and it was going up to my knee’ … James. Photograph: Ed Smith/Comic Relief Ltd/PA

“It was the perfect metaphor for the whole week because we were going: ‘Don’t ever feel frightened to say that you’re feeling like shit because there will be somebody you know that has gone through it.’”

He says he’s been overwhelmed by the honesty and emotion from listeners that has come from opening up the conversation about depression and anxiety, which I am sure is true. But I say I’m cynical about how much brands have been “raising awareness” about mental health during the past couple of years, often suggesting people find someone to talk to. While that is an important first step, it doesn’t necessarily help the millions of people who are suffering from serious mental health problems, for whom NHS services are getting worse.

“Yeah, that’s the downfall of everything that gets in the news cycle; people jump on bandwagons. But I’m very, very careful to not do those sorts of things for the sake of it. Most people sliding into the DMs [direct messaging on social media] were just kind of going: ‘I’m a bloke, I’m 24, I feel like I’ve got to pretend to be a lad, and I don’t know how to talk about these things, but hearing you talk about them helped.’ Also, we raised a load of money to fund those sorts of projects. But my next step is do something with mental health groups that is a bit more sustainable, maybe with an organisation that needs someone to chat to young blokes, for example. I would like to do that.”

It is true that James has a unique skill, even among Radio 1 DJs, for connecting with ordinary young people. He feels, I say, like the torchbearer on the station for a certain kind of normal university lad: someone who goes to the gym, doesn’t take themselves too seriously, wouldn’t mind dressing up in a tutu and goes to clubs where they play cheesy music. Other hosts on the station are hired because they are from the in-crowd and can tell the listeners what’s cool. He seems to have been hired because, like the listeners, he doesn’t really care.

“I wouldn’t say I was a lad, I’m not the beer pong guy. But I think you’re right, I really do feel like I know the listeners. I don’t want anyone to feel excluded. I’m phobic of the celebrity world. I’m a big music fan, but I’m not the music impresario. So yeah, I take that as a huge compliment because I feel like, once you join the circus, you can’t take the piss out of the circus.”

James’s devotion to his audience comes at a time when young people are increasingly turning away from radio. Radio 1’s total listenership has fallen from 11.8 million in September of 2011 to 10.5 million in September 2017. When the last round of figures were announced, Radio 4 went to ask a bunch of schoolchildren whether they listen to Radio 1 or had heard of its breakfast presenter Nick Grimshaw. None of them had.

James with Chris Smith, with whom he is writing a series of children’s books called Kid Normal.


James with Chris Smith, with whom he is writing a series of children’s books called Kid Normal. Photograph: Jenny Smith

“Well, these things can be quite cyclical,” says James. “It doesn’t mean just because one generation of kids are like, ‘what the fuck’s that?’ that you can’t reinvent it again.” He says the station went through a confused period when it wasn’t sure which audience to aim at and there was a feeling that it had to shed older listeners at any cost. “I think things have stabilised a bit more since then, which is to say Radio 1 appreciates that if you get the mums and dads, then you have people like my niece and nephew who are eight-years-old, and I think it can start again like that. When we were going through the Lake District [for the Gregathlon] and there was a dad on the front doorstep with his two sons and he was like, ‘Go on Greg!’ and the kids were like, ‘Yeahhh’. I am literally cycling past the listeners of Radio 1: ‘Good morning, good evening, make sure you’re listening tomorrow from 4pm.’ It’s campaigning.”

I also wonder what he thinks about how Radio 1 is responding to increased pressures at the BBC for greater diversity. He is part of a daytime lineup of three white men, along with Scott Mills and Nick Grimshaw, and one black woman – Clara Amfo. But Radio 1 also has a sister station, 1Xtra, with black daytime hosts playing music by predominantly black artists. Does it make sense in 2018 that there is basically a white Radio 1 and a black Radio 1?

“Enormous question … Yeah, it does. There are lots of examples of the stations working more closely together and they do help each other out, but they should help each other out more. I totally see your point about having this station for this kind of person, and this station for that kind of person, but shows such as Charlie Sloth’s are on both networks and it’s not an issue. There should be more cross-pollination. I was on Dotty’s [rapper Amplify Dot] breakfast show talking about the challenge and actually, we had that conversation. I was like, ‘Why haven’t we done this more?’”

One area in which the station has had major success is on YouTube where viral videos, such as James singing with Taylor Swift, have views in the tens of millions. But in that space, Radio 1 is competing for young eyeballs with a huge number of vloggers, a medium that for many in that age group is the new radio. The station has made attempts to bring these internet stars into the fold by giving them shows or other segments. But Greg is distrustful of the way they flog products in their videos to make a living.

[embedded content]

“Influencers are absolutely in my crosshairs in the minute. The disdain some of them have for their own fanbase is mindblowing, just selling crap to them the whole time.”

So he never wants a free weekend at Babington House in return for a few tweets?

“Ha! It would be a hollow weekend, that’s the thing. I like paying for things. I like paying tax. I think there are quite a few people in the public eye who don’t like paying tax and don’t like paying for things. It’s nice to pay tax because that’s a nurse or a teacher. I’m quite righteous about that.”

It’s not just their rapaciousness that he finds offensive. As a radio perfectionist himself, he seems stunned by the content itself. “It’s terrifying, watching some moron bake a cake and it gets 5m views. But shit stuff has always been popular. Lots of people on YouTube need a boss to tell them when they’re being bad. I’ve had producers and amazing writers saying: ‘Woah you need to refine those ideas.’ But they have not got that. No wonder it’s awful.”

So he’s not worried they might rise up and steal his show? “Hopefully, it works itself out, maybe people will grow out of it and go: ‘Oh why did I watch that person make a rainbow unicorn cake, that was embarrassing.’ Fingers crossed. Either that, or I’ll be doing infomercials with Zoella.”

James was born in south London in 1985, his parents both teachers. Growing up, his two loves were cricket and radio. He played for Hertfordshire under-18s, and, after hearing that his future colleague Mills started out on hospital radio, found the local station and tried out a show there. He followed up on university radio at the University of East Anglia, obsessing over editing and creating his own jingles. He was soon discovered by Radio 1, hosting his first show for the station the day after he graduated. It was the early breakfast slot, starting at 4am.

“I loved that show so much because I was completely fearless. It was the happiest I’ve ever been. Then I moved to afternoons and I was really miserable because I didn’t know what I was doing. I was young and just moved to London and just getting drunk all the time and a little bit famous. I used to panic a lot about it all. I used to worry about someone else getting a job, thinking: ‘Argh, why haven’t I got that show?’ or ‘Why is he doing so well?’”

Greg James completes his Radio 1 Gregathlon for Sport Relief.


Greg James completes his Radio 1 Gregathlon for Sport Relief. Photograph: Ed Smith

He moved to drivetime where he says he found his groove and, in the last four years has felt comfortable enough to try other projects. He hosts a cricket podcast for 5 Live with Jimmy Anderson and is writing a series of children’s books, Kid Normal, with Chris Smith, who hosts the news on his show. “We worked really hard on them because we didn’t want it to be: ‘Those two twats from the radio think they can just do a book now.’” It’s paid off – the first book was the bestselling children’s debut of last year.

He is also co-hosting Sounds Like Friday Night, the BBC’s sort-of Top of the Pops replacement. Ratings for the initial run were solid, but there was something a little off about it. The sketches were flat and James and co-host Dotty seemed to feign naivety about the music they were introducing in a way that felt at odds with their radio personas.

“It wasn’t a disaster and it’s coming back for another series. But it’s hard, it’s really hard to land a music show where you’ve got Stefflon Don in the slot where A Question of Sport was the week before. I think we’ll make the show feel looser and not overthink it too much. The reason I wanted to do it is because I could show off, do interviews, run around, interview the audience and have a laugh. It didn’t quite happen in the first series, so I want to do that for the second.”

We have been talking for more than an hour and there is something strangely unflappable about James. While he might have had struggles in the past, he now seems content in every part of his life. I tell him that I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone who seems to be so sorted.

“Yeah, it’s probably boring for you, but I do feel quite content. It’s only happened in the last year or so that things have slotted into place. I have found peace with my love life, feel happy with my friends and I am looking after my family. It’s made me funnier on air and better at my job. The moment I stopped overthinking it, when I realised that I don’t have to go to that party, or get to that place, I realised there was nowhere I wanted to get to. Radio is my skill, it’s like plumbing, and now I’ve learned that I get to try other things and enjoy that.”

Two days later, I am at home listening to James power through a 120-mile cycle in relentless rain. He sounds in pieces, saying it’s harder than even the first part of the challenge. Still, he finds time to guess the age of some local children, have a conversation about teen mental health and do an extended link about farts. You’ve got to say, it’s pretty good radio.

To donate, visit sportrelief.com/sponsorgreg

Radio 1’s Greg James: ‘It was like a balloon popping. I was choked up’

By and large, you come across two kinds of radio broadcasters. There are those who see the medium as a means to an end, to discuss what’s important to them: electronic music, world politics, the discs you would take to a desert island. Then there are people such as Greg James, the host of the Radio 1 drivetime show for the past six years, who have a passion for radio itself. Once upon a time they were called anoraks; he prefers the term “radio nerd”. He is highly invested in the production of the show. His heroes are Terry Wogan, Alan Partridge and Ricky Gervais – he can still recite links from the latter’s Xfm show 13 years after it was last broadcast.

Even when he started to do endurance challenges for Sport Relief – in 2013 he was part of the group of celebrities who faced the rapids and crocodiles of the Zambezi river in Uganda; in 2016 he completed five triathlons in five days – what attracted him was not, he says, thrill-seeking but bringing excitement back to his show. “I just want to make great event radio. I hate the idea of getting to the end of a show and there’s nothing to remember.”

For his most recent effort, the #Gregathlon, James, 32, was going to climb the three tallest peaks in England, Wales and Scotland, and cycle the 500 miles between them in five days. Even by the standards of these kinds of big TV challenges, it sounded extremely tough. Still, you got the feeling that the preamble about James being not sure if he would be able to manage it and Olympic champion cyclist Chris Hoy saying there was “no way” that he would try a challenge so “mad” was probably just producers ratcheting up the tension before an emotional but inevitable triumph.

What they couldn’t have predicted was the worst week of British weather for years. The “beast from the east” and storm Emma brought perilous conditions and deep snow just as he was setting off. “I started with Mount Snowdon. It was like an episode of 999 with Michael Buerk. My foot would go into the snow and it was going up to my knee,” he says. The cycling, which was supposed to be done on a road bike, had to be done on a mountain bike in flurries of falling snow. All the while, James was trying to host his show from a microphone strapped to his helmet.

After the second mountain, Scafell Pike, James was told that conditions were too treacherous and he wouldn’t be allowed to continue. He seemed distraught. “It just felt like a real balloon being popped. You obviously know you’re on the radio so you want to get the emotion across, but I became genuinely choked up.”

Two weeks after Greg’s return, we are sitting in his manager’s office in London. In his jeans, T-shirt and jacket, he looks a bit like how a child might draw “a man”. Soon he’s going to head to Radio 1 to do his show, then up to Scotland to tackle the challenge again (listeners heard him complete it live on air Friday afternoon – as he finished he learned that he had raised more than £900,000).

He was determined to finish what he started but says the disappointment of not being able to do it in one go struck a chord with the purpose of the stunt, to raise money and awareness for mental health issues.

‘It was like an episode of 999. My foot would go in the snow and it was going up to my knee’ … James.


‘It was like an episode of 999. My foot would go in the snow and it was going up to my knee’ … James. Photograph: Ed Smith/Comic Relief Ltd/PA

“It was the perfect metaphor for the whole week because we were going: ‘Don’t ever feel frightened to say that you’re feeling like shit because there will be somebody you know that has gone through it.’”

He says he’s been overwhelmed by the honesty and emotion from listeners that has come from opening up the conversation about depression and anxiety, which I am sure is true. But I say I’m cynical about how much brands have been “raising awareness” about mental health during the past couple of years, often suggesting people find someone to talk to. While that is an important first step, it doesn’t necessarily help the millions of people who are suffering from serious mental health problems, for whom NHS services are getting worse.

“Yeah, that’s the downfall of everything that gets in the news cycle; people jump on bandwagons. But I’m very, very careful to not do those sorts of things for the sake of it. Most people sliding into the DMs [direct messaging on social media] were just kind of going: ‘I’m a bloke, I’m 24, I feel like I’ve got to pretend to be a lad, and I don’t know how to talk about these things, but hearing you talk about them helped.’ Also, we raised a load of money to fund those sorts of projects. But my next step is do something with mental health groups that is a bit more sustainable, maybe with an organisation that needs someone to chat to young blokes, for example. I would like to do that.”

It is true that James has a unique skill, even among Radio 1 DJs, for connecting with ordinary young people. He feels, I say, like the torchbearer on the station for a certain kind of normal university lad: someone who goes to the gym, doesn’t take themselves too seriously, wouldn’t mind dressing up in a tutu and goes to clubs where they play cheesy music. Other hosts on the station are hired because they are from the in-crowd and can tell the listeners what’s cool. He seems to have been hired because, like the listeners, he doesn’t really care.

“I wouldn’t say I was a lad, I’m not the beer pong guy. But I think you’re right, I really do feel like I know the listeners. I don’t want anyone to feel excluded. I’m phobic of the celebrity world. I’m a big music fan, but I’m not the music impresario. So yeah, I take that as a huge compliment because I feel like, once you join the circus, you can’t take the piss out of the circus.”

James’s devotion to his audience comes at a time when young people are increasingly turning away from radio. Radio 1’s total listenership has fallen from 11.8 million in September of 2011 to 10.5 million in September 2017. When the last round of figures were announced, Radio 4 went to ask a bunch of schoolchildren whether they listen to Radio 1 or had heard of its breakfast presenter Nick Grimshaw. None of them had.

James with Chris Smith, with whom he is writing a series of children’s books called Kid Normal.


James with Chris Smith, with whom he is writing a series of children’s books called Kid Normal. Photograph: Jenny Smith

“Well, these things can be quite cyclical,” says James. “It doesn’t mean just because one generation of kids are like, ‘what the fuck’s that?’ that you can’t reinvent it again.” He says the station went through a confused period when it wasn’t sure which audience to aim at and there was a feeling that it had to shed older listeners at any cost. “I think things have stabilised a bit more since then, which is to say Radio 1 appreciates that if you get the mums and dads, then you have people like my niece and nephew who are eight-years-old, and I think it can start again like that. When we were going through the Lake District [for the Gregathlon] and there was a dad on the front doorstep with his two sons and he was like, ‘Go on Greg!’ and the kids were like, ‘Yeahhh’. I am literally cycling past the listeners of Radio 1: ‘Good morning, good evening, make sure you’re listening tomorrow from 4pm.’ It’s campaigning.”

I also wonder what he thinks about how Radio 1 is responding to increased pressures at the BBC for greater diversity. He is part of a daytime lineup of three white men, along with Scott Mills and Nick Grimshaw, and one black woman – Clara Amfo. But Radio 1 also has a sister station, 1Xtra, with black daytime hosts playing music by predominantly black artists. Does it make sense in 2018 that there is basically a white Radio 1 and a black Radio 1?

“Enormous question … Yeah, it does. There are lots of examples of the stations working more closely together and they do help each other out, but they should help each other out more. I totally see your point about having this station for this kind of person, and this station for that kind of person, but shows such as Charlie Sloth’s are on both networks and it’s not an issue. There should be more cross-pollination. I was on Dotty’s [rapper Amplify Dot] breakfast show talking about the challenge and actually, we had that conversation. I was like, ‘Why haven’t we done this more?’”

One area in which the station has had major success is on YouTube where viral videos, such as James singing with Taylor Swift, have views in the tens of millions. But in that space, Radio 1 is competing for young eyeballs with a huge number of vloggers, a medium that for many in that age group is the new radio. The station has made attempts to bring these internet stars into the fold by giving them shows or other segments. But Greg is distrustful of the way they flog products in their videos to make a living.

[embedded content]

“Influencers are absolutely in my crosshairs in the minute. The disdain some of them have for their own fanbase is mindblowing, just selling crap to them the whole time.”

So he never wants a free weekend at Babington House in return for a few tweets?

“Ha! It would be a hollow weekend, that’s the thing. I like paying for things. I like paying tax. I think there are quite a few people in the public eye who don’t like paying tax and don’t like paying for things. It’s nice to pay tax because that’s a nurse or a teacher. I’m quite righteous about that.”

It’s not just their rapaciousness that he finds offensive. As a radio perfectionist himself, he seems stunned by the content itself. “It’s terrifying, watching some moron bake a cake and it gets 5m views. But shit stuff has always been popular. Lots of people on YouTube need a boss to tell them when they’re being bad. I’ve had producers and amazing writers saying: ‘Woah you need to refine those ideas.’ But they have not got that. No wonder it’s awful.”

So he’s not worried they might rise up and steal his show? “Hopefully, it works itself out, maybe people will grow out of it and go: ‘Oh why did I watch that person make a rainbow unicorn cake, that was embarrassing.’ Fingers crossed. Either that, or I’ll be doing infomercials with Zoella.”

James was born in south London in 1985, his parents both teachers. Growing up, his two loves were cricket and radio. He played for Hertfordshire under-18s, and, after hearing that his future colleague Mills started out on hospital radio, found the local station and tried out a show there. He followed up on university radio at the University of East Anglia, obsessing over editing and creating his own jingles. He was soon discovered by Radio 1, hosting his first show for the station the day after he graduated. It was the early breakfast slot, starting at 4am.

“I loved that show so much because I was completely fearless. It was the happiest I’ve ever been. Then I moved to afternoons and I was really miserable because I didn’t know what I was doing. I was young and just moved to London and just getting drunk all the time and a little bit famous. I used to panic a lot about it all. I used to worry about someone else getting a job, thinking: ‘Argh, why haven’t I got that show?’ or ‘Why is he doing so well?’”

Greg James completes his Radio 1 Gregathlon for Sport Relief.


Greg James completes his Radio 1 Gregathlon for Sport Relief. Photograph: Ed Smith

He moved to drivetime where he says he found his groove and, in the last four years has felt comfortable enough to try other projects. He hosts a cricket podcast for 5 Live with Jimmy Anderson and is writing a series of children’s books, Kid Normal, with Chris Smith, who hosts the news on his show. “We worked really hard on them because we didn’t want it to be: ‘Those two twats from the radio think they can just do a book now.’” It’s paid off – the first book was the bestselling children’s debut of last year.

He is also co-hosting Sounds Like Friday Night, the BBC’s sort-of Top of the Pops replacement. Ratings for the initial run were solid, but there was something a little off about it. The sketches were flat and James and co-host Dotty seemed to feign naivety about the music they were introducing in a way that felt at odds with their radio personas.

“It wasn’t a disaster and it’s coming back for another series. But it’s hard, it’s really hard to land a music show where you’ve got Stefflon Don in the slot where A Question of Sport was the week before. I think we’ll make the show feel looser and not overthink it too much. The reason I wanted to do it is because I could show off, do interviews, run around, interview the audience and have a laugh. It didn’t quite happen in the first series, so I want to do that for the second.”

We have been talking for more than an hour and there is something strangely unflappable about James. While he might have had struggles in the past, he now seems content in every part of his life. I tell him that I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone who seems to be so sorted.

“Yeah, it’s probably boring for you, but I do feel quite content. It’s only happened in the last year or so that things have slotted into place. I have found peace with my love life, feel happy with my friends and I am looking after my family. It’s made me funnier on air and better at my job. The moment I stopped overthinking it, when I realised that I don’t have to go to that party, or get to that place, I realised there was nowhere I wanted to get to. Radio is my skill, it’s like plumbing, and now I’ve learned that I get to try other things and enjoy that.”

Two days later, I am at home listening to James power through a 120-mile cycle in relentless rain. He sounds in pieces, saying it’s harder than even the first part of the challenge. Still, he finds time to guess the age of some local children, have a conversation about teen mental health and do an extended link about farts. You’ve got to say, it’s pretty good radio.

To donate, visit sportrelief.com/sponsorgreg

Radio 1’s Greg James: ‘It was like a balloon popping. I was choked up’

By and large, you come across two kinds of radio broadcasters. There are those who see the medium as a means to an end, to discuss what’s important to them: electronic music, world politics, the discs you would take to a desert island. Then there are people such as Greg James, the host of the Radio 1 drivetime show for the past six years, who have a passion for radio itself. Once upon a time they were called anoraks; he prefers the term “radio nerd”. He is highly invested in the production of the show. His heroes are Terry Wogan, Alan Partridge and Ricky Gervais – he can still recite links from the latter’s Xfm show 13 years after it was last broadcast.

Even when he started to do endurance challenges for Sport Relief – in 2013 he was part of the group of celebrities who faced the rapids and crocodiles of the Zambezi river in Uganda; in 2016 he completed five triathlons in five days – what attracted him was not, he says, thrill-seeking but bringing excitement back to his show. “I just want to make great event radio. I hate the idea of getting to the end of a show and there’s nothing to remember.”

For his most recent effort, the #Gregathlon, James, 32, was going to climb the three tallest peaks in England, Wales and Scotland, and cycle the 500 miles between them in five days. Even by the standards of these kinds of big TV challenges, it sounded extremely tough. Still, you got the feeling that the preamble about James being not sure if he would be able to manage it and Olympic champion cyclist Chris Hoy saying there was “no way” that he would try a challenge so “mad” was probably just producers ratcheting up the tension before an emotional but inevitable triumph.

What they couldn’t have predicted was the worst week of British weather for years. The “beast from the east” and storm Emma brought perilous conditions and deep snow just as he was setting off. “I started with Mount Snowdon. It was like an episode of 999 with Michael Buerk. My foot would go into the snow and it was going up to my knee,” he says. The cycling, which was supposed to be done on a road bike, had to be done on a mountain bike in flurries of falling snow. All the while, James was trying to host his show from a microphone strapped to his helmet.

After the second mountain, Scafell Pike, James was told that conditions were too treacherous and he wouldn’t be allowed to continue. He seemed distraught. “It just felt like a real balloon being popped. You obviously know you’re on the radio so you want to get the emotion across, but I became genuinely choked up.”

Two weeks after Greg’s return, we are sitting in his manager’s office in London. In his jeans, T-shirt and jacket, he looks a bit like how a child might draw “a man”. Soon he’s going to head to Radio 1 to do his show, then up to Scotland to tackle the challenge again (listeners heard him complete it live on air Friday afternoon – as he finished he learned that he had raised more than £900,000).

He was determined to finish what he started but says the disappointment of not being able to do it in one go struck a chord with the purpose of the stunt, to raise money and awareness for mental health issues.

‘It was like an episode of 999. My foot would go in the snow and it was going up to my knee’ … James.


‘It was like an episode of 999. My foot would go in the snow and it was going up to my knee’ … James. Photograph: Ed Smith/Comic Relief Ltd/PA

“It was the perfect metaphor for the whole week because we were going: ‘Don’t ever feel frightened to say that you’re feeling like shit because there will be somebody you know that has gone through it.’”

He says he’s been overwhelmed by the honesty and emotion from listeners that has come from opening up the conversation about depression and anxiety, which I am sure is true. But I say I’m cynical about how much brands have been “raising awareness” about mental health during the past couple of years, often suggesting people find someone to talk to. While that is an important first step, it doesn’t necessarily help the millions of people who are suffering from serious mental health problems, for whom NHS services are getting worse.

“Yeah, that’s the downfall of everything that gets in the news cycle; people jump on bandwagons. But I’m very, very careful to not do those sorts of things for the sake of it. Most people sliding into the DMs [direct messaging on social media] were just kind of going: ‘I’m a bloke, I’m 24, I feel like I’ve got to pretend to be a lad, and I don’t know how to talk about these things, but hearing you talk about them helped.’ Also, we raised a load of money to fund those sorts of projects. But my next step is do something with mental health groups that is a bit more sustainable, maybe with an organisation that needs someone to chat to young blokes, for example. I would like to do that.”

It is true that James has a unique skill, even among Radio 1 DJs, for connecting with ordinary young people. He feels, I say, like the torchbearer on the station for a certain kind of normal university lad: someone who goes to the gym, doesn’t take themselves too seriously, wouldn’t mind dressing up in a tutu and goes to clubs where they play cheesy music. Other hosts on the station are hired because they are from the in-crowd and can tell the listeners what’s cool. He seems to have been hired because, like the listeners, he doesn’t really care.

“I wouldn’t say I was a lad, I’m not the beer pong guy. But I think you’re right, I really do feel like I know the listeners. I don’t want anyone to feel excluded. I’m phobic of the celebrity world. I’m a big music fan, but I’m not the music impresario. So yeah, I take that as a huge compliment because I feel like, once you join the circus, you can’t take the piss out of the circus.”

James’s devotion to his audience comes at a time when young people are increasingly turning away from radio. Radio 1’s total listenership has fallen from 11.8 million in September of 2011 to 10.5 million in September 2017. When the last round of figures were announced, Radio 4 went to ask a bunch of schoolchildren whether they listen to Radio 1 or had heard of its breakfast presenter Nick Grimshaw. None of them had.

James with Chris Smith, with whom he is writing a series of children’s books called Kid Normal.


James with Chris Smith, with whom he is writing a series of children’s books called Kid Normal. Photograph: Jenny Smith

“Well, these things can be quite cyclical,” says James. “It doesn’t mean just because one generation of kids are like, ‘what the fuck’s that?’ that you can’t reinvent it again.” He says the station went through a confused period when it wasn’t sure which audience to aim at and there was a feeling that it had to shed older listeners at any cost. “I think things have stabilised a bit more since then, which is to say Radio 1 appreciates that if you get the mums and dads, then you have people like my niece and nephew who are eight-years-old, and I think it can start again like that. When we were going through the Lake District [for the Gregathlon] and there was a dad on the front doorstep with his two sons and he was like, ‘Go on Greg!’ and the kids were like, ‘Yeahhh’. I am literally cycling past the listeners of Radio 1: ‘Good morning, good evening, make sure you’re listening tomorrow from 4pm.’ It’s campaigning.”

I also wonder what he thinks about how Radio 1 is responding to increased pressures at the BBC for greater diversity. He is part of a daytime lineup of three white men, along with Scott Mills and Nick Grimshaw, and one black woman – Clara Amfo. But Radio 1 also has a sister station, 1Xtra, with black daytime hosts playing music by predominantly black artists. Does it make sense in 2018 that there is basically a white Radio 1 and a black Radio 1?

“Enormous question … Yeah, it does. There are lots of examples of the stations working more closely together and they do help each other out, but they should help each other out more. I totally see your point about having this station for this kind of person, and this station for that kind of person, but shows such as Charlie Sloth’s are on both networks and it’s not an issue. There should be more cross-pollination. I was on Dotty’s [rapper Amplify Dot] breakfast show talking about the challenge and actually, we had that conversation. I was like, ‘Why haven’t we done this more?’”

One area in which the station has had major success is on YouTube where viral videos, such as James singing with Taylor Swift, have views in the tens of millions. But in that space, Radio 1 is competing for young eyeballs with a huge number of vloggers, a medium that for many in that age group is the new radio. The station has made attempts to bring these internet stars into the fold by giving them shows or other segments. But Greg is distrustful of the way they flog products in their videos to make a living.

[embedded content]

“Influencers are absolutely in my crosshairs in the minute. The disdain some of them have for their own fanbase is mindblowing, just selling crap to them the whole time.”

So he never wants a free weekend at Babington House in return for a few tweets?

“Ha! It would be a hollow weekend, that’s the thing. I like paying for things. I like paying tax. I think there are quite a few people in the public eye who don’t like paying tax and don’t like paying for things. It’s nice to pay tax because that’s a nurse or a teacher. I’m quite righteous about that.”

It’s not just their rapaciousness that he finds offensive. As a radio perfectionist himself, he seems stunned by the content itself. “It’s terrifying, watching some moron bake a cake and it gets 5m views. But shit stuff has always been popular. Lots of people on YouTube need a boss to tell them when they’re being bad. I’ve had producers and amazing writers saying: ‘Woah you need to refine those ideas.’ But they have not got that. No wonder it’s awful.”

So he’s not worried they might rise up and steal his show? “Hopefully, it works itself out, maybe people will grow out of it and go: ‘Oh why did I watch that person make a rainbow unicorn cake, that was embarrassing.’ Fingers crossed. Either that, or I’ll be doing infomercials with Zoella.”

James was born in south London in 1985, his parents both teachers. Growing up, his two loves were cricket and radio. He played for Hertfordshire under-18s, and, after hearing that his future colleague Mills started out on hospital radio, found the local station and tried out a show there. He followed up on university radio at the University of East Anglia, obsessing over editing and creating his own jingles. He was soon discovered by Radio 1, hosting his first show for the station the day after he graduated. It was the early breakfast slot, starting at 4am.

“I loved that show so much because I was completely fearless. It was the happiest I’ve ever been. Then I moved to afternoons and I was really miserable because I didn’t know what I was doing. I was young and just moved to London and just getting drunk all the time and a little bit famous. I used to panic a lot about it all. I used to worry about someone else getting a job, thinking: ‘Argh, why haven’t I got that show?’ or ‘Why is he doing so well?’”

Greg James completes his Radio 1 Gregathlon for Sport Relief.


Greg James completes his Radio 1 Gregathlon for Sport Relief. Photograph: Ed Smith

He moved to drivetime where he says he found his groove and, in the last four years has felt comfortable enough to try other projects. He hosts a cricket podcast for 5 Live with Jimmy Anderson and is writing a series of children’s books, Kid Normal, with Chris Smith, who hosts the news on his show. “We worked really hard on them because we didn’t want it to be: ‘Those two twats from the radio think they can just do a book now.’” It’s paid off – the first book was the bestselling children’s debut of last year.

He is also co-hosting Sounds Like Friday Night, the BBC’s sort-of Top of the Pops replacement. Ratings for the initial run were solid, but there was something a little off about it. The sketches were flat and James and co-host Dotty seemed to feign naivety about the music they were introducing in a way that felt at odds with their radio personas.

“It wasn’t a disaster and it’s coming back for another series. But it’s hard, it’s really hard to land a music show where you’ve got Stefflon Don in the slot where A Question of Sport was the week before. I think we’ll make the show feel looser and not overthink it too much. The reason I wanted to do it is because I could show off, do interviews, run around, interview the audience and have a laugh. It didn’t quite happen in the first series, so I want to do that for the second.”

We have been talking for more than an hour and there is something strangely unflappable about James. While he might have had struggles in the past, he now seems content in every part of his life. I tell him that I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone who seems to be so sorted.

“Yeah, it’s probably boring for you, but I do feel quite content. It’s only happened in the last year or so that things have slotted into place. I have found peace with my love life, feel happy with my friends and I am looking after my family. It’s made me funnier on air and better at my job. The moment I stopped overthinking it, when I realised that I don’t have to go to that party, or get to that place, I realised there was nowhere I wanted to get to. Radio is my skill, it’s like plumbing, and now I’ve learned that I get to try other things and enjoy that.”

Two days later, I am at home listening to James power through a 120-mile cycle in relentless rain. He sounds in pieces, saying it’s harder than even the first part of the challenge. Still, he finds time to guess the age of some local children, have a conversation about teen mental health and do an extended link about farts. You’ve got to say, it’s pretty good radio.

To donate, visit sportrelief.com/sponsorgreg