Each of our lives are peppered with personal milestones. Events that are vividly etched onto our minds in such a way that we can relive every moment in perfect clarity as simply as selecting a track on an iPod. The evening of Thursday 7 July was one such evening for me – my debut as an ‘expert’ on a national radio show.
Firstly, before sharing my experience, I want to thank Adam Sloman – although our paths have yet to cross in the real world, our cyberspace exchanges have proved engaging. Adam’s a talented motoring writer, MG enthusiast and has appeared on BBC Radio 5 Live a few times in his capacity as a font of knowledge on motoring matters, video games and Doctor Who. Adam suggested my name to the producers of Tony Livesey’s BBC Radio 5 Live show and the rest, as the cliché goes, is history.
A week before the broadcast, I was called by the show’s producer where the concept of the programme was outlined to me. I suppose in retrospect it was a telephone interview to see if I knew my stuff as I was quizzed about how long and intensely I’ve followed F1, what other forms of motorsport I watched, as well as aspects of the current season. Presumably, I came across well enough, knowledgeable without sounding too geeky (I was at work at the time, so not sporting my McLaren/Button T shirt) and was invited to come along for the show.
Unlike Tony Livesey’s shows which ordinarily come from a studio, this British Grand Prix build up programme was going to take place at the famous White Horse pub in Silverstone village on the Thursday night. Instructions were given to sign in for 10pm for a broadcast from half past the hour, but I decided to get down there earlier to grab something to eat and soak up the atmosphere.
For inexplicable reasons I thought the place might be just a little busier than normal, what with the Friday being the first day of track action but it was packed – hundreds of Formula 1 revellers mixing with the locals. A spot of huge fortune allowed me to park the Banger Does Britain Rover 600 right outside the venue.
Instructions had been texted through en route to advise that the ‘studio’ was in a snug area of the pub. Immediately I had visions of something from the olden days of Coronation Street and Ena Sharples nursing a warm half a stout upon hearing the ‘snug’ word, but it was nothing of the sort – it was very much a studio crammed into a small penned-in corner of the pub. People, laptops, headset mics and cables intertwined like a technological ivy.
After meeting the producer I was told that because it had been announced the News of the World was closing, the first hour of the show would be devoted to discussing that, delaying my dulcet debut on the airwaves by an hour. This proved to be a help not a hindrance and I made the most of soaking up the atmosphere, having a decent plate of sausage and mash and really enjoying the company and conversation.
11pm arrived and I went back to the studio area, which was now a hive of activity as the broadcast was on. As I stood, sipping on a pint of Coke (not quite the playboy lifestyle one associates with the pinnacle of motorsport), I began to focus upon who was there. Leading the show was Tony Livesey himself, utilising a proper commentator’s microphone with the lip guard under the nose. Paul Hawkins was reading the sports bulletins while newsreader Rachael Hodges interjected with chat and emails from listeners. Also present and offering words of wisdom on matters motor racing was 5 Live’s F1 lead commentator David Croft and three up and coming drivers from junior formulae: from Formula 2 Alex Brundle and Jack Clarke (who incidentally won his maiden victory in the series at Brands Hatch this weekend) and from AutoGP, Jon Lancaster.
Slowly but surely we were all invited up into the pen, squeezing between one another to use the headsets. Stickers with our names on were stuck to our chests so that the presenters knew who we were and for the next hour and a half, we were invited to chat motor racing. I was struck by my lack of nerves about the broadcast itself but was more pre-occupied by not swearing and trying to sound interesting and not an annoying know it all. The feedback I had from those that heard it was good but because of the lateness of the broadcast (11:30pm-1:00am) and the strange lack of availability of the show on iPlayer meant that not many got to hear the programme.
However, for those who did catch it, the questions and discussions revolved around Red Bull’s likely domination of the British Grand Prix (Alonso ensured that didn’t happen on race day); whether Lewis Hamilton was dangerous on track (‘dangerous’ is far too strong a word); whether F1 was boring (less than grippingly interesting GP from Valencia apart, certainly not); and rounded off with a discussion about Asif Kapadia’s Senna movie (if you’ve yet to see it, you really must ensure you right that as soon as possible). The whole discussion was segmented by bulletins and pre-recorded features such as Nick Heidfeld’s phone interview about life as an F1 driver. And in what seemed to be very short space of time, it was all over.
The only fly in the ointment of a memorable evening was the tinge of sadness at the breaking news right at the end of the show – confirmation that Pam St Clements was leaving her role as EastEnders’ Pat Evans.
Off I set back to Lincoln, arriving back at 3am, head buzzing with excitement and not at all relishing being up at 6:30am for a day in the classroom. If you get the opportunity to be on a radio show, grab it with both hands.