Next Door

Friends and friends of friends

Travels with my Ant

I was in my old haunt of Oxford on Saturday, driving around with friends Viv and Danny, when we suddenly noticed a very flash soft-top car in Headington. Then, on closer inspection, it turned out that the driver was no less than…Ant from Ant and Dec. We could hardly contain ourselves. Apparently, Ant’s girlfriend lives in Oxford and he’s been sighted recently at the Dogs in Cowley. I’m sure he was equally excited to see me. He just expressed it in an understated way. Following my Six Degrees of Separation entry, I’ve been bombarded by indirect namedrops. Eric sat opposite a CBeebies presenter on the tube the other day. And Matt once had a question directly answered by George Michael in a webchat. But, as I said to the Pope the other day, namedropping’s a terribly bad habit and ought to be discouraged.

Six Degrees

After the Six Degrees of Separation entry, Peacockshock has been bombarded with ludicrously indirect namedrops from friends, such as ‘I once stood on a member of S-Club 7 in the GMTV green room.’ And now I have another. I’ve just discovered that Ben from G4 (runners-up in ITV’s X-Factor) was a student at Parkside in Cambridge, where I once taught English. I hope you’re as impressed as I am by this spectacular connection.
Nick Hornby taught English there too, but ages before me. I once phoned him about something or other. He didn’t reply to my message.

John Peel

This is the most difficult piece I’ve ever written. As you’ll no doubt know, John Peel died on October 26th. And OK…I’ll admit it…I’m crying as I type this.
Weirdly, I was on holiday on 26th and spent ages in the morning actually thinking about John and how I’d got to know him. No idea why. But very strange.
I’d missed his recent 65th birthday do at Radio 1, but I did pass on a card via his producer and got a message back saying he was chuffed. That’s the last communication I ever had with him, but I was delighted he’d bothered to say thanks.
I first encountered John when I was about 12 and heard his late-night Radio 1 show. He was my number-one broadcasting hero from then on and I was addicted to his programme throughout Punk, when I was a 5th and 6th former.
Then, when I was a producer at Radio Cambridgeshire in 1989, I was unexpectedly asked to ‘produce’ John’s Sunday Night Show which went out on BBC stations around the South East.
I didn’t produce it at all as John just brought in the records and the odd famous band. I just made coffee and made sure he got on and off the air OK. When he first arrived, I was so in awe, I merely mumbled “Hi John. Let me know if you need anything” and ran off behind the glass. John was also quite shy, so we never really said a huge amount. But I really saw him as a friend and couldn’t quite believe that such a legend was so nice and normal.
The only difficult time was just after Hillsborough, when John cried on the air. But I just let him get on with it as it was just him being him.
I once asked him who he was broadcasting to and he said: “To myself when I was 17.” That’s probably why he always sounded like he was talking directly to you and not a multitude.
So it was a bit of a shock when I had to stand in for him as presenter a few times. My policy was to play loads of back-to-back music and do very few links in a very understated way. If I’d done my usual ‘DJ Voice’, I’d have felt I was really letting John down. I still sounded like a prat in comparison. ‘Radio voices’ are very difficult to shake off.
One of the highlights of my time at BBC Cambs was when John said he was a fan of the yoof programme ‘On the Edge’ which I produced just before his show. I think he liked the fact it was frequently very free-form (ie. chaotic) and we dared to play non-chart stuff like The Fall and The Pixies. He occasionally came in and contributed. I’ll never forget the time he popped in to studio 1A during a ‘sex special’ and presenter Andrew Wilson asked him if he’d be happy for his teenage kids to have sex on the coffee table.
We then didn’t see eachother for years after Cambridge, apart from a chance meeting at Kings Cross Station, when we had a good chat and traditional moan about the BBC.
But then Home Truths started and John specifically asked me to make features for it. I was unbelievably flattered and it was fantastic to see him again, nestled behind his computer making wry comments. I remember once going in during a violent thunderstorm and John said: “Was that lightning, or am I having a stroke?”
His cues and backannos to my features on Home Truths were absurdly witty. I remember doing a report about an eccentric family who ran their lives according to a speaking computer. I sounded slightly unnerved (perhaps even somewhat frightened) throughout the feature. John’s backanno: “Ian Peacock, last seen running back to Ipswich station as fast as his fat little legs could carry him.”
I hope you don’t think I’m indulging in reflected glory here. I’m just so lucky that I listened to John so much over the years and, by sheer chance, got to know him. I’ll miss him and his programmes terribly.
John…thank you.

Tramp in Cadogan Hotel

The Six Degrees of Separation indirect namedrops continue. My friend Cyn’s godson was in Midsomer Murders on Sunday, playing Henry the rower. Meanwhile, my friend H told me a story about having dinner at the Cadogan Hotel on Sloane Street when she saw an old tramp in the corner. She assumed he’d been brought in by a kindly diner. Then she realised it was Bill Bailey.

Six Degrees

Following my Six Degrees of Separation namedrops (see Next Door section), Viv has pointed out that Cyn’s godson Owain Yeoman (see pic), who played Lysander in Troy, has just been offered a lead role in a new Hollywood production (watch this space for more info).

Six Degrees

Six Degrees is the theory that everyone in the world can be linked through just six friends-of-friends. In other words, you’re only six friends away from The Queen, Madonna, Skippy the Kangaroo, whoever. This inspired me to list my favourite personal indirect namedrops. Please send me yours too. Here goes. These are all genuine…

My friend’s English teacher’s milkman was Sting‘s dad.

My English teacher was at university with Brian Ferry.

Neil Tennant of The Pet Shop Boys went to school just down the road from my school.

I once sat opposite James Dreyfuss on the tube.

I’ve walked past Pavarotti, Elton John and George Michael in the street. They weren’t together by the way. Pavarotti was wearing a floppy (possibly unironed) white shirt. Elton looked somewhat cuboid. George seemed very short. I’ve also chatted to Elton’s other half David Furnish on the phone.

I once walked into a studio and the composer John Tavener was sitting in the corner. I was so in awe of him, I couldn’t speak.

Cliff Richard once brushed past me in a doorway.

I bumped into Joan Collins once in a corridor and said hello.

I once sat next to Julian Clary in a bar. A friend introduced him simply as ‘Julian’. I pretended I had no idea who he was. In fact he looked completely straight and was quite shy.

Melvyn Bragg, Jenni Murray, Brian Redhead and Kathleen Turner have all opened doors for me.

Lesley Judd once told me how to switch on a computer in a radio production office, but I didn’t recognise her.

My Mum has played golf with Nicholas Parsons.

I know the person who ghost-wrote Jordan‘s autobiography.

My friend Paul has met Nelson Mandela.

My friend Charles (not the Prince) has met Princess Diana.

My friend Henrietta’s parents had Margaret Thatcher round for tea. Henrietta once stood on Rachel Stevens.

My Great Aunt Jane was related to Lady Diana Manners, who apparently met Queen Victoria. Diana Manners was very much the Lady Di of her era and considered the most beautiful woman in England. She was at the centre of The Coterie – an influential set of aristocrats and intellectuals. She was also quite eccentric and, during the Blitz, she suggested that giant magnets be put in London’s parks to attract bombs.

My friend Frank was in the Queen video I Want to Break Free. He’s had tea with Kate Bush and Lemmy from Motörhead. And his friend’s piano teacher was Howard Jones.

My friend Cynthia’s godson Owain Yeoman played Lysander in the movie Troy and knows Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom.

I used to chat to a chap called Mike at the gym and one day I asked him what he did. ‘I’m in Bucks Fizz’ he replied. It turned out he was their singer Mike Nolan. I just thought he looked like him.

I once worked with someone who was one of the Wombles on Top of the Pops.

I saw Alan Bennet once on Charing Cross Station concourse.

I’ve met Wittgenstein‘s landlady.

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