At the 2012 Freshers Ball Surge Assistant Manager: Alex Rogers, Surge Programme Controller: Emma Clarke and I casually snuck into Greg James’ dressing room (more commonly known as SUSU Meeting Room 1) and waited for the Radio One DJ to arrive. Actually, it wasn’t at all sneaky, we were in fact interviewing other Freshers Ball act, High On Heels before the door swung open and knocked me over. As I turned around to shout at the person that had opened it, I was taken a back by Greg James standing in the doorway. Instantly forgiven we asked if we could ask him a few questions. He agreed and handed us all a beer from his rider (so lovely). We had nothing planned as this amazing opportunity was all rather spontaneous, so the start of our chat was just us doing cheesy 90s DJ impressions and discussions of The Edge sharing it’s name with Southampton’s finest gay bar! As the night went on we got into an awesome discussion about his journey to Radio One DJ, his best and worst interviews and he kindly gave us some tips for the future. Thanks Greg!
How’re you feeling about tonight?
I’m really excited! I love doing gigs, freshers gigs are brilliant, they’re just fun. Everyone’s happy!
So how was your freshers experience? Any memorable moments?
When I was a fresher? Not really, it’s all kind of standard. Unless you’re shitting on people, you’re a good boy, nothing outrageous happened, it was just standard and fun and drunkard and amazing. That’s why it’s great to re-live it and never grow, the peter pan of radio. So i’ll keep doing freshers forever until I’m old and embarrassing, I’ll just be 40 on stage. There’ll be a time when it’s a bit creepy, at that point I’ll just be retired so that’s alright.
So you started in student radio and then won a Student Radio Award (Best Male) and that’s how you got into the industry?
Pretty much! I started in the early early days on hospital radio when I was at school, so about fourteen. It’s a classic. Just because it’s the only thing that’s around for you to have a go at. So, when I was about fourteen or fifteen I started doing hospital radio stuff and just messing around and helping out and tidying CDs and learning how to press buttons and talk at the same time. Just the basics. Then went to university and did student radio and that was it. That’s a kind of short version of a long and arduous journey, but it was really fun, I loved it. I went to a good university which had loads of radio stations in the city, I went to the University of East Anglia in Norwich and they have great stations in Norwich and the surrounding areas so I had a great time.
Do you have any tips for us?
[whispers]Don’t give up. It’s just putting yourself about a little bit, I think is the best advice. Being a pest but not an annoying pest. Just making yourself available and… Sorry I’m being distracted by Big Steve eating Maoams in the back, you’re a very noisy Maoam eater!
It’s just being dedicated to it and really wanting it, really badly, more than anybody else. Because there are a lot of people that want these decent jobs but you’ve got to be the person that doesnt give up or goes ‘it’s too hard, oh that person’s better than me’. Someone has to rise to the top. If you throw enough shit some of it will stick [all laugh]and here I am.
Quoting you on that one.
That’s what they did with Graham Norton’s TV series for ages on the BBC. They tried so many TV shows, threw loads of it at the wall and one of them worked. There you go, The Graham Norton Show. Which I love, I think it’s brilliant.
You have your show with Russell Kane now, How is that?
Yeah, it’s so fun. I love it! It’s brilliant. Something I never really thought I’d do. Actually it’s something I really wanted to do, telly, but I didn’t know what it would be. So I’m pleased this one came along and we said yes to it and it’s nice to work with Russell cause I knew him but not that well, and I’d never worked with him. I thought it would be quite fun to work with him and it is! It’s really fun to work with him. It’s just such a stupid day when we film it. It’s a mess, but it’s a beautiful mess and it kind of works. Do you watch it?
It’s a weird age group of people. [To Alex] You don’t watch it, I saw your face. I can read people, can read you like a book. You’re definitely not ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’. You’re more like ‘The Far Away Tree’ by Enid Blyton.
Now what is Emma? What book?
You are ‘High Fidelity’ by Nick Hornby. [to me]And you are ‘Matilda’ by Roal Dahl. [all laugh].
Who’s the best guest you’ve ever interviewed on Radio One? Elmo?
Elmo is brilliant! Elmo, Hillary Devey, Ricky Gervais and Liam Neeson a couple weeks ago. That was one of my favourites, I love Liam Neeson. He was brilliant, he was just as I hoped he would be. Sort of very dry and brooding. Had to work hard to get fun stuff out of him but I just slowly took the piss, in a nice way, while smiling and then he bought into it and we had a really fun time, it was a hit.
How’re you finding your new(ish) slot? The 4-7?
Absolutely the best six months of my life so far. It all fell into place nicely. Everything aligned perfectly. Drive time started, the telly show, then the summer came and I did all the festival coverage and stuff. The best sixth months.
How do you find doing the festival coverage?
It’s great! It’s pretty formulaic, but it’s great to be there and interviewing those people and watching it all. It’s great to do live telly, cause there’s not a lot of live telly around. so it’s kind of the closest to doing radio that telly can be cause it’s all about linking between songs and having a chat with Fearne. I did Reading and Hackney with Fearne and T in the Park with Edith. It was really fun, we just settled into it and had fun with it really. I think BBC Three is suppose to be like Radio One on telly a little bit. It’s not suppose to be serious.
I saw you interview the Kaiser Chiefs and that was just hilarious!
Yeah, when he started talking about my hair.
Yeah, and said how you’d grown into a beautiful man.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. It was nice to catch up with Grandad! [laughs]To let me know how I was getting on in life. It’s getting rather noisy in here, people just helping themselves! [into the mic, aimed at the intruders]This is my dressing room, get out! Excuse me, I’ve got the second biggest show on radio one, don’t be so rude.
Alex: Should I throw the sausage at them? [Alex produces a sausage wrapped in a tissue, alluding to a joke on Greg’s show earlier that week]
Oh my god, it looks like you’ve got a turd in there. Oh my god, put it away! It’s so sinister. It looks like you’ve just been to the toilet, do you want me to sign it?
Moving on from Alex’s sausage stunt. Did you get to see many acts at Reading?
Meh, not really. We saw the headliners from the tree house and I saw The Maccabees and Two Door Cinema Club. I saw Alt-J. I saw bits and bobs. I saw Jake Bugg. I saw Bastille in our tree house.
Yeah, they did the live slot! They were very nervous about that. I interviewed them before they did it.
Yeah, they did it live live. A lot of the things in there were recorded earlier in the day. They were really good though! They were great. That was their first telly performance as well, they were really impressive.
Also at one point weren’t you standing next to the lead singer of The Vaccines and then later on you mentioned that he smelt really bad.
Yeah, his hair smelt. It’s funny, I saw him at a party last week and he went ‘hey! you said I had smelly hair at Reading’. He’s quite softly spoken as well. And I went ‘Er, um, I did, you did! It’s cause you’ve been touring’ and he went ‘Fair enough’. He did have smelly hair! I tried to backtrack but there was no way out of that one. I do forget that people watch it and people listen to Radio One and stuff.
What’s the worst interview you’ve done? It’s my worse nightmare to have someone who is unresponsive!
Hmm, there hasn’t really been that many, boringly. They all get what’s going on, you wanna be on Radio One for promo, so they don’t mess around too much. We had a difficult time with the cast of Kick Ass. We had Christopher Mintz-Plass, Chloe Moretz and Aaron Johnson as well. Christopher Mintz-Plass was cool but Chloe and Aaron Johnson were just having a laugh with each other and it was live! I thought come on! Spin the bow tie. They were just being a bit awkward.
Is it okay, if I now ask you a really stupid question?
We have this game going around amongst our friends called ‘Would you rather?’ Do you know this game?
I think everyone does. I don’t think you invented that game. It’s like saying you invented ‘Eye Spy’. I’ve got this great game guys, you look at something in the room and you don’t tell anyone what it is, and you just say the first letter of it. Okay go! Sorry I was being a twat then.
Would you rather, dance Gangnam Style in front of a million people on live TV or go into a bar, find a girl you really liked and ask her to call you maybe?
Oh, well I did the Gangnam Style one on tomorrow night’s Unzipped, Wednesday night’s Unzipped, BBC Three, 10 o’clock.
Plug, Plug, Plug.
Ha, I’ve done that one.
I would rather dance Gangnam Style though. Yep.
If you did ask someone to call you maybe, who would it be?
Erm, anybody in the world? Aaron Johnson. He is a dream boat! [sarcasm]I think i’d rather get off with a boy than a 56 year old women.
Judie Dench! Now you’re talking! Miram, Dench, Devey, Anne Robinson.
No. Joan Rivers, Cilla Black, Joan Collins.
Do you get interviewed often? Cause you’re usually the one doing the interviews.
Yeah it is weird when I get interviewed. But more used to it cause I’ve done a lot of press for Unzipped and Radio One. [puts on a voice]‘Why didn’t you get the breakfast show?’ ‘Do you still love Ellie Goulding?’ blah blah. So I’m used to fielding inane questions, no that yours are inane, in fact they’re quite fun!
Whenever I prepare an interview I take a lot of care over it because, i’m gonna get serious here, I’m gonna get deep, when I have an interview, with whoever it might be, if I really like them.What happened there? did you get a text? I’ve been rabbiting for 23 minutes! I’m so sorry! Anyway so, we digress. Whenever I get an interview with someone I always take great care to try and do a couple of bits, maybe the second half of it with something completely new to them, that’s the hardest thing, it’s really hard, cause if you imagine these people are being interviewed all day for maybe ten years and they get the same questions over and over again. It’s just trying to find that little angle that is gonna keep them interested, cause they’re gonna be bored when they get to you, that’s how I think about it. I think these people are gonna be bored so you have to win them over.
We did one with Gary Barlow last week, we had all the X Factor judges in, and I thought how can we make this different and I’ve loved Gary Barlow for ever since I can remember, I even liked his solo career so I thought I’ve never really heard him be asked about that recently so I bought my favourite song of his which is called ‘Open Road’ and I played it to him and sang it to him and he really was livened up by it and at the end of the interview [puts on Gary Barlow accent]‘I really enjoyed that interview, really interesting’ and he gave me his number! He wrote down GB and his number on a bit of paper, that was the last interview they’d done all day, they’d done DayBreak, This Morning and Radio Two. It’s good to have a structure, you should definitely have bullet points in front of you, don’t feel like it’s weak, it’s good to keep a loose running order, because otherwise you get 25 minutes of rambling shit you have to edit [laughs].
We didn’t think we’d get an interview today, so I didn’t prepare!
That wasn’t me telling you off by the way!
You were, a subtle dig.
It wasn’t! No, I was just saying in future when you get a proper interview guest, putting myself down, that was false modesty. If you plan it out in maybe three bits, three or four bits then you know exactly where it’s going.
After taking some silly photos and generally having a laugh we walked with him to The Cube and watched him entertain the hordes of Freshers who had gathered to watch his DJ set.
You can catch Greg James on Radio One weekdays from 4pm.