Broadcaster and journalist Danny Baker likes to talk. And talk and talk. So when we met to discuss his autobiography, we just let him get on with it.
Were there any celebrity memoir clichés that you tried to avoid?
Yeah, the past 55 years. This book only goes up to when I’m 24. This ain’t your usual, ‘Here’s a couple of my eccentric family members and look at what a shy kid I was’. By the time I was 14 I was working in a record shop in the West End, I was ligging around with Marc Bolan and Elton John and had a house full of stolen property because my family were all in the docks. From there, I got involved in punk rock with Sniffin’ Glue magazine and then writing with NME. I was 19 and flying to Los Angeles to interview groups. I was a popular kid, people liked me, I had loads of girlfriends. It was an extraordinary thing.
You also came to prominence in the Nineties during the TFI Friday days, especially with your ‘binges’ with Gazza and Chris Evans. What’s the best story you can’t remember?
I can remember all of it. Three- or four-day benders didn’t exist. I had two kids at the time. Gaz used to come round and stay indoors. No one wants to hear that – and it’s not me winding my neck in, God knows there’s enough in the book – but nobody can drink all day and all night. Oliver Reed maybe. But there was no “Three Muscabeers”, as The Sun put it. Poor Gazza, he took it seriously. He had more to lose. Gazza couldn’t drink anyway – he always used to pour his drinks away.
He used to pour them away?
Yeah. He used to like being in pubs, but he was never a big drinker. We’d see him throw his drink away and we’d say, “Paul, what are you doing?” “Oh no, it’s all right, I spilled it.”
Are you still in touch with Gazza?
No, I haven’t spoken to Paul for about two or three years. My number never changes, but I think he hangs around with people who say, “You’ve got to cut yourself off.” There are a lot of people who have made a lot of money out of Paul being a ‘bad person’, which he’s not.
What’s the worst thing you’ve done on TV?
I’m not embarrassed by any of it. TV is what you do, not who you are. I rejoice in turkeys; some things pan out, some don’t. The idea that it will affect your ego strikes me as extraordinary. I certainly don’t think, “Oh God, the Daz adverts, why did I do them?” I know exactly why I did them: a big house in Blackheath. I don’t want to say, “That’s my masterpiece.” It’s awfully pretentious and a waste of time. If you really want to be defined through the media then you’re out of control, you want locking up.
So you’ve loved every minute…
And then the cancer thing came along…
Yeah, but the cancer, that’s all right. That’s not a full stop, that’s a roundabout. Hit it and drive straight home. It’s not like this has really defined my life. I was ill for eight months, but because of this kind of bulletproof optimism I’ve always had I came out of it learning no lessons. It didn’t occur to me for a second that I might die.
At any point did you think: “Oh sh*t, I’m going to miss the Olympics or the Euros”?
No, I think that would be quite a shallow take on a life-threatening illness. You worry about how it will affect people around you, because they must be worried, but I learned nothing from it. I didn’t think afterwards, “I’m going to take life more seriously,” because that is not what got me here. It’s possibly what got me through it.
Do you have an image in your head of what you think the public might think of you?
Why would I do that? I genuinely don’t. The stuff I do, it’s not Kafka, it’s not Question Time. People ask me to go on things such as Question Time. Why would you do that? Anyone in my game who goes on Question Time needs their f*cking head examined. I’ve got no desire to either be remembered as a genius or taken seriously.
Who’s the most overrated band of your lifetime?
Queen. A dreadful group. They were neither Led Zeppelin nor Bowie and they played that middle ground in between. Punk rock didn’t come around because of prog rock or anything like that, it came around because of Queen. Abba, Queen and ELO – that was what people were trying to move away from. You can find everything Queen did better elsewhere.
Do you listen to new music?
Yeah. I’ve got no great interest in new poppy stuff because I’m 55. If all music stopped tomorrow people would find that there are stacks and stacks of stuff. If a Martian landed in HMV they wouldn’t necessarily think this is the new stuff so this is what we must listen to. So I don’t feel the pressure to keep up and I don’t think you should at this age. I think after 25 something awful happens to music and you shouldn’t keep going to concerts.
If you could give your 14-year-old self advice, what would it be?
I’m going to have to duck it. What went wrong? Nothing went wrong. I would say to him, “Don’t go to see the film Steel Magnolias.” Absolutely dreadful. I feel that’s the only period of my life that I’ve wasted. Or Coma. “And don’t go to see Coma. Other than that, don’t listen to me and your life will be terrific.”
Going To Sea In A Sieve by Danny Baker is out November 6 (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)