ShortList’s Danny Wallace has a new early morning pursuit. Here, he shares his experiences of his first week hosting The Xfm Breakfast Show
“So, do you want to do it?” asks my agent, because yes, it sounds poncey, but I have an agent.
“You have to be sure,” she says. “There’s no turning back if you’re not.”
“I think I’m sure,” I reply.
“You think you’re sure or you’re sure you’re sure?”
“I’m not sure. But I think I’m sure.”
I have had one meeting in a swanky bar and a day or three later, I decide: I’m in.
I’ve just agreed to take on a job that will radically change the way that I live and the way that I function.
I’ve just agreed to host The Xfm Breakfast Show.
Now, I’ve got some form in radio, and I’ve got some form with Xfm. And I love them both. But a breakfast show is a big responsibility. You’re with people at a special time — helping them to wake up, talking to them while they’re eating their breakfast, trying not to look while they’re in the shower, sending them on their way in the best mood you can… It’s an honour to be in a stranger’s life in that way.
Of course, you can only really do it on the radio. If you did all that in real life, you’d almost certainly risk arrest.
But the hours! Oh, the hours! Up at who-knows-when to be there God-knows-how! I can’t do that!
So I decide to do that.
THE WEEK BEFORE…
I am in the Xfm building, on the corner of London’s Leicester Square, and I freeze slightly when I pass Margherita Taylor from sister station Capital FM in a hallway.
When I last did a show on Xfm, I found a button that allowed you to speak into any presenter’s headphones while they were on air. My friend and I had timed it so that we were on air at the same time as Margherita, and then made dolphin noises in her headphones while she tried to talk about the weather. Margherita decided she did not like hearing dolphin noises while attempting to broadcast to an audience far in excess of ours, and she angrily attempted to breach our studio, which we barricaded with half a dozen chairs because we were so scared of her. If she remembers this, she hides it well, and glides glamorously by.
There are lots of pieces of paper in my bag with various ideas, but, essentially, I think I have a plan for this show. I want guests. Big, special guests. And I want features that are inclusive and make the best use of our listeners that we can. Essentially, I want this to be an exclusive club that absolutely anyone can join.
SUNDAY 31 JULY: THE NIGHT BEFORE…
I receive a text from ex-Xfm Breakfast Show DJ Christian O’Connell.
“Enjoy tomorrow. Good luck.”
I text back, saying thank you very much and that I’m a little nervous but will get through it.
“I still get nervous from time to time,” he replies, “and I am amazing. It isn’t all on tomorrow’s show. In your head it is, but it isn’t. Relax and be you and don’t get into thinking about the whole show — just link by link.”
I stare at his words, and nod, and am amazed by how wise he sounds, having met him.
“If you fancy a pep talk tonight, just call.”
I thank him, have a bath, and go to bed terrified that I won’t get enough sleep.
MONDAY 1 AUGUST
My eyes fire open at 4.55am and I swing my legs off the bed.I creep out of the bedroom, creep into the shower, then creep downstairs. I didn’t realise how much creeping I would have to do. My whole life is going to be very creepy from now on. At 5.30am a car creeps towards my door to take me to the show, and so I creep outside… and by 6.30am…
We’re on air.
My brand new theme tune has played out, the first song has been chosen (Oasis — Hello) and we’re into our first feature… But will it work?
Essentially, I’m trying to confirm we have listeners. Myself, newsreader Matt and producer Dave have shared amazing facts about ourselves (Me: “I have not had a bath without thinking of Mexican guitarist Carlos Santana since the early Nineties”; Matt: “I came last in an under-10s newsreading competition in Eighties Leicestershire”; Dave: “My grandmother’s terrifying ferret once clamped on to my nose”) and we are asking listeners to share similar stories so that we’re all aware of what we’re dealing with.
They do. It’s exciting. We have listeners.
At 8am, James Corden, our first ever guest, strides in, and decides to stay right until the end so that he can mess about properly.
I launch a feature called ‘Smack My Pitch Up’ — which a listener suggests should actually be called ‘Snap My Pitch Up’, and annoyingly, they’re right — and it goes like this: whenever we have a big actor or comic on the show, I’ll pitch them ideas for star vehicles they can choose from and we can both then become millionaires. James Corden opts for ‘James Corden: Jordan Warden’, a 300-part series in which James Corden constantly supervises Jordan and stops her from doing almost anything she wants.
And by 10am, it’s all over.
I am relieved. Relieved it all works. Excited to come back.
And then we all have a coffee and agree to do it all again tomorrow.
TUESDAY 2 AUGUST
Noel Gallagher is on the phone today. He is relaxed, he is funny, he talks about his home life openly and with great humour.
Some of the papers start to pick up on the show. The Sun and Daily Star and Metro all run stories about things James or Noel shared on the show, and, oddly, we start to amass an unusual number of listeners in Venezuela.
In the afternoon, I pre-record an interview with Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis (right) after squeezing beyond their many 7ft security guards.
They take a little while to warm up, until I pitch Justin a new TV show called ‘Cry Me A River’, in which he sings sad songs to 200 emotionally unstable women on a drought-stricken plain in order to create a river of lady-tears which will aid local farmers.
It should be said, Mila liked this more than Justin. But I don’t mind that.
WEDNESDAY 3 AUGUST
I have started to bump into Johnny Vaughan every morning just before 6am. It is like having my own personal Big Breakfast, except he is a lot closer and swears more.I play ‘Snap My Pitch Up’ with Bradley Cooper. He commits wholeheartedly to ‘Bradley Cooper’s Pewter Scooter’. We start to get to know our regular listeners — and it’s heartening.
THURSDAY 4 AUGUST
The Kasabian boys (left) talk to me about their new track. There is a happy atmosphere in the studio, which may or may not be to do with the fact that they have arrived at the studios fresh from Radio 1, where they were disappointingly offered mere coffee, and I have attempted to improve on this in the name of Xfm.
I dash out to the newsagent, where I buy a bottle of moderately priced champagne. While there, I bump into someone I know who demands to know why I’m buying champagne. “This is for Kasabian,” I explain, and they look at me like I must already be drunk.
FRIDAY 5 AUGUST
Week 1 is over!
I leave the studio happy and phone my mum. Lisa Snowdon walks past and is ruthlessly papped. I am in the background of each and every shot, smiling and waving at the camera. The team and I buy champagne at the pub. I see the person I saw in the newsagent yesterday. They look at my champagne glass and immediately write me off as some kind of drunken dandy.I can already taste my Saturday lie-in.
SATURDAY 6 AUGUST
I wake at 5am and sit bolt-upright.
It’s Week 2 and we’re well into the swing of things. I head home after each show, grateful that caffeine is not flammable, because if it was, I would have been cordoned off by the police by now as a danger to society.
And once there, in a brand new, lifestyle-changing night-time routine which in all honesty begins to border on OCD, I check and recheck my alarm clock, turn out the lights, turn them back on again, check my alarm clock, and then close my eyes. I wasn’t sure I’d be sure about all this. I was sure I thought I was sure. Because… the hours! Oh, the hours! Up at who-knows-when to be there God-knows-how! The early nights and the early starts! I couldn’t do that!
Well, now I do.
And I love it.
The Xfm Breakfast Show with Danny Wallace is on every weekday from 6.30am until 10am on Xfm DAB, 104.9FM in London or online at Xfm.co.uk