As a kid, I used to write down notes for my exams and then lay them neatly under my pillow when I went to sleep. I had such faith in my subconscious that I thought the text would infiltrate my dreams and my brain would flood with information ready to lunge straight onto the page the proceeding day. Given that I never particularly excelled in those exams, it’s strange to think that I continue to apply the same practice in my adult life.
Frequently, I go to sleep listening to In Our Time, with a profound longing that some of what Melvin Bragg is banging on about will stay in a compartment in my brain, ready to pounce on the appropriate Trivial Pursuit question. So far I couldn’t tell you a single thing about Cleopatra or Plato’s Republic but I feel as though maybe my general temper is improved by Bragg’s companionship. To be fair, there’s something innately comforting about most of the content on BBC Radio 4.
Unlike ‘sandman’ Melvin Braggs, Kirsty Young offers a different sort of allure. She’s the current anchor of the longest-running factual radio programme, hosting 455 episodes to date. A good interviewer is often undervalued, I suspect this is because traditionally the more one blends into the background, asking the right questions to get their guest to open up, the better they are at their job. Kirsty Young manages to both ask the important questions and prove herself to be an instantly warm, likeable and engaged host who gets the very best out of her guests – a more likeable Parkinson. Young is unrivalled in her ability to conduct a personal, straightforward interview in a way that eases guests and encourages them to open up. I’ve learnt more about my heroes from that show than any other platform.
A good interviewer is often undervalued, I suspect this is because traditionally the more one blends into the background, asking the right questions to get their guest to open up, the better they are at their job. Kirsty Young manages to both ask the important questions and prove herself to be an instantly warm, likeable and engaged host who gets the very best out of her guests – a more likeable Parkinson. Young is unrivalled in her ability to conduct a personal, straightforward interview and I’ve learnt more about my heroes from that show than any other platform.
Born in Glasgow, her journalistic career started in 1989 when she worked for BBC Radio Scotland as a newsreader, going on to work for Five News, where presenters sat on top of their desks instead of behind them (you can only imagine the zany conversations had in the planning room where words like ‘quirky’ and ‘kooky’ were tossed around by Cambridge grads). She moved on to ITV News and Crimewatch before settling into her role as Desert Island Discs presenter in 2006.
Her husband is Nick Jones, the owner of the Soho House chain, which obviously means she currently leads a pretty privileged life. However, her early years were not marked by luxury. Her father, a policeman, left her mother when she was only a few weeks old. In an interview with the Radio Times, she said: “I started life in a council house in East Kilbride. When I moved to London I went to a dinner party and mentioned that I went to state school; you could almost hear people checking their wallets to see if I’d nicked them. But the huge advantage of being Scottish, of this accent, is people find it harder to place you in class terms.”
There was talk that under Young’s reign, Desert Island Discs would be ‘dumbed down’. Instead, Young has proved herself efficient at talking with a range of individuals, from the most formidable thinkers, to athletes, to actors, and it would appear she’s comfortable in their company. Desert Island Discs asks its castaways to nominate eight songs to take on the Desert Island, in that vein, I’ve thought about the top eight episodes during Young’s stewardship.
Thinking back to the sheets under my pillow, I am in awe of people who demonstrate focus and clarity as their defining features; Kirsty Young’s attention to detail is never less than impressive. In an interview with the Guardian, Young was asked who she’d invite to her dream dinner party. Her answer: Javier Bardem, Sarah Silverman, AC Grayling, Nora Ephron, Alan Bennett, Emily Davison, Eric Morecambe. I think you can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep, and Kirsty Young has been in some great company.