A workmate put me onto the BBC Radio Four Desert Island Discs podcast – she’d listened to the Bradley Wiggins episode, and highly recommended it, so I had a listen and I was hooked. I use an app, Pocketcasts, to listen to podcasts on my phone, so I dug around in the Desert Island Discs archive via Pocketcasts to have a listen to some other episodes. At first I picked out episodes featuring people I’d heard of or were particularly interested in – Roger Waters, Sarah Millican, Damian Lewis, and Malcolm Gladwell.
If you’ve never heard of Desert Island Discs, the premise is that you are to be cast away on a desert island. You get to take 8 songs with you, plus one book of your choice (you get The Bible and the Collected Works of William Shakespeare as well), and a luxury item; one person requested and got an endless supply of red wine, another got to take a guitar. Desert Island Discs has been going since 1942.
I remember riding home on the bus one evening listening to Lily Allen’s episode and trying not to be “that person”, laughing myself sick at the thought of Sultans of Ping FC’s ‘Where’s Me Jumper’ appearing for the first time ever on Radio Four.
Once I’d gone through all the episodes of known to me ‘interesting’ people I lost interest in the podcast. Instead I caught up on a couple of Marathon Talk podcasts and barrelled through a few novels. Every so often I’d flick into Pocketcasts and see who Kirsty Young had interviewed that week, and sometimes I’d download it, sometimes I wouldn’t.
Then one day I fumbled and accidentally downloaded an episode that I hadn’t meant to. I figured, “Well, I’ve already downloaded, it, may as well load it up and have a listen”. I was rather glad of my mistake. I can’t remember which one it was that I’d downloaded because now I’ve downloaded so many different episodes of people I’d never heard about, but there are a few notable mentions.
Pamela Rose, was a WWII era budding actress then was recruited to work at Bletchley Park, got married after the war and only returned to the stage 60 years after she originally left it.
Robin Millar, record producer (he produced Sade’s Diamond Life album) and has slowly been losing his sight since adolescence. Listening to him introduce songs that he loves, and why he loves them is a musical education by itself.
Professor Monica Grady, a scientist who worked on Ptolomy, a device on the European Space Agency’s Philae probe; which she described as a “thing the size of a cotton reel, in a container the size of a shoe box, part of a probe the size of a washing machine, landed on a comet the size of the Heathrow runway”.
So if you’ve never listened to Desert Island Discs, I recommend trying them. And don’t be afraid to listen to ones about people you’ve never heard of. Trust in the BBC to choose to interview people who are interesting, otherwise you’d probably never be introduced to Imtiaz Dharkar, a Pakistan-born female poet, who moved to Glasgow with her family as a baby, grew up there, eloped as a teenager with an older man and having subsequently been disowned by her family, ran off to live in Bombay for a number of years. She eventually moved back to the UK, and is now living in Wales. Tell me that you don’t want to hear that story.