I love days that aren’t likely to happen, that have you stepping out of the normal shape of your life and for a while live in another one. Last Wednesday was a prime example; I went on the Steve Wright show. Now I’ve been listening to Steve for over 30 years. I remember having his Radio 1 show on when I used to train with a good friend in my home gym after an early turn, and how often we’d have to stop mid-exercise because we were laughing too much at one of his characters. Sid the manager was my favourite, but really, how to choose from Jervaise the hairdresser, Mr Angry or the host of his other creations. Back in my police days, many were the night shifts that got interrupted in the quiet hours by an anonymous colleague making honking noises, inevitably followed by a chorus of “Get the geese off!” from the rest of the shift. Yes, sometimes that is what you’re paying your taxes for. At least we were awake.
My ability to listen ebbed and flowed with my career, including seven great continuous years driving home from Hendon when I was an instructor there. I’ve laughed with him, met loads of people through his extended-question interviews, enjoyed the banter with Janey, Tim and Old woman, and marvelled at the knowledge of Ask Elvis. And sometimes he’s just been noise in the background as I struggled with some of my life’s turmoils and tears. So when I heard I was going to be on his show I found my hands shaking.
Steve pre-records many of his interviews, which I found comforting, because if I cocked up big time the whole thing could be quietly forgotten. On the day my lovely publicist from Hodder, Leni, accompanied Bex and I into an anonymous building behind the BBC in Portman square, up the smallest lift in the world, and into a waiting room we shared with Elton John’s piano and another guy who I think might have been one of the Smiths. Without much delay I was brought into the studio itself to be immediately met by a welcoming handshake from the man himself, followed quickly by greetings from Tim and Janey. Surreal.
I’d always imagined quite a spacious room to accommodate the fluctuating size of his gang and guests, but actually it’s quite bijou, with Janey, Tim and myself arranged around the outside of his desk. Very BBC cutbacks. The interview itself was a bit of a blur – but I hope the beginning doesn’t get cut, and if you’re a fan of him you’ll know why when you listen. I was aware, however, of his skill at shaping the interview and felt very safe throughout thanks to the quiet support of them all – and he generously gave fantastic coverage for Cognitive Hypnotherapy and Lovebirds, the latter of which was obviously the focus of our time together. Cognitive Hypnotherapy explained to an audience of 6 million people. It feels a bit of a milestone.
Since then I’ve been thinking about the importance of people we usually never meet. For my hands to shake in the way they did clearly indicates that meeting Steve felt hugely significant, but why? The best I can come up with is the way our brain finds comfort in certainty and habituation. If our life is a song there are certain people that accompany it, and in the modern world many are supplied by the media. I think part of the public response to the death of Diana was the sense of losing someone who was supposed to accompany our song through to the end. There are people we expect to get old with, and it’s a shock when that doesn’t happen because of the illusion of a certain future our brain tries to concoct – like a backing singer suddenly going silent, often you don’t realise their part in the song until the notes they sing disappear. Recently I mourned the loss of Terry Wogan’s retirement because he was such a part of Bex and I’s breakfast routine – I’m sure you can think of your own examples.
Steve Wright has been a quietly reassuring part of the background to my song, his voice one of many amongst the unwitting contributions of other people I’ve never met, and long may he continue in that role. I wonder if he has any sense of this importance as he goes about his everyday broadcasting routine? I hope so. Bringing him from the background to the foreground of my life made for an unlikely day, but a really enjoyable one, and I hope you have the chance to do the same some time, whoever that might be for you.
PS. My interview is going to be broadcast on February 5th, and Lovebirds is published on the 31st January.