The celebrated Five Live host has a chinwag with ShortList's Andrew Dickens
Don’t know if you’ve ever done a photo shoot for ShortList with a headache and a massive hangover. It’s not as much fun as you might imagine.”
This is a tweet by @richardpbacon. The same @richardpbacon I’m on my way to interview for ShortList. I’m squinting at it through my insomniac eyes, cup of tea in hand to combat the effects of three hours’ sleep. This could be interview gold, I think. I tweet back to that effect. I know he likes Twitter.
I eventually find the pub in Shepherd’s Bush where he’s being photographed; with his hangover, it’s probably the last place he wants to be. He doesn’t look as bad as I thought, though when we make eye contact there’s more glaze in the room than the lounge of a Royal Doulton fanatic. It’s a look he’s had to get used to in recent weeks, thanks to his latest television venture: Richard Bacon’s Beer & Pizza Club. It’s a show we’re so keen on, we’re sponsoring it.
“It’s me and three guests, drinking beer, eating pizza and telling stories,” he tells me. “Often we’d record two in a day and I drink from the beginning to the end, so at the end I’m really quite drunk. Think of Oliver Reed on After Dark. But hopefully we can attain the wit and insight of popular men’s magazine ShortList.”
If there’s a tongue in his cheek, I’m clearly programmed to ignore it.
“In a way we’re trying to bring ShortList to life,” he says. “That’s where I’m trying to be: somewhere between ShortList magazine and Oliver Reed on After Dark. On ITV4. Yes, there is an ITV4. Who knew it?”
A COLOURFUL PAST
It’s too soon to call the show a cherry on Richard Bacon’s career cake. At 34, he’s far from a final teary trip to the broadcasting vet, but equally he’s no half-blind puppy. This is a man whose love affair with TV and radio began as a child, watching his solicitor father being interviewed by local news crews.
A first job at BBC Radio Nottingham was followed by his television debut, as a reporter for ill-fated channel L!VE TV (and he thinks ITV4 is obscure) alongside the infamous News Bunny; a job that gave him his first brush with authority.
“I got banned from the state opening of parliament for turning up there with News Bunny. I think technically I’m still banned from parliament,” he confesses. This bothers me. I know for a fact that he’s been back to the Houses since and if he can get in, what about a terrorist who hasn’t been banned?
L!VE TV was followed by something at the opposite end of the prestige scale: a job as a Blue Peter presenter. It was to become the ‘world meet Richard Bacon’ moment as he became the most controversial person to ever bother a tortoise on the BBC’s flagship children’s show. In 1998, 18 months into his tenure, those kings of the sting the News Of The World revealed that Bacon had taken cocaine. He was immediately dismissed.
You’d forgive Bacon a grudge towards the tabloids; I mean, let’s be honest, journalists don’t exactly live like monks. I ask him if he thinks it smacked of hypocrisy.
“The point was it wasn’t compatible with being a Blue Peter presenter. So no, I didn’t think about any hypocrisy. I understand tabloid newspapers, I love tabloid newspapers,” he says, with admirable perspective.
It may not have done Bacon’s image any good with the ‘moral majority’, but it did his career no harm whatsoever. In fact, it helped him claw his way out of the presenter’s graveyard that is children’s television. He was given a job as a roving reporter on The Big Breakfast purely, he admits, because he was in the papers. A blessing in disguise then?
“Yeah, it was a blessing in disguise. Though it didn’t feel like it at the time,” he says, nodding thoughtfully.
“I’m not recommending it,” he continues. “I’m not saying to current children’s TV presenters that you should get yourselves involved in a tabloid scandal, but it worked for me. When it happened to me, one of the reasons I could move on was because other people had either done it or knew people that had. There are other scandals that it’s harder for people to move on from.”
“Phil Spector. There’s one,” I suggest. “It’s hard to come back from shooting someone.” He nods. “And Gary Glitter.”
“You can put that,” he says. “I didn’t say it.”
Bacon and I are roughly the same age. I’ve noticed that, for the first time, I hesitate saying my age out loud. I want to know if his mid-30s have brought him any fears.
“I have got fears,” he says. “November will be my last month in the 16-34 demographic. It’s an odd demographic, because 16-year-old me is nothing like 34-year-old me, but I am a bit scared of becoming valueless to advertisers.”
THE ART OF INTERVIEWING
This transient decade may have its drawbacks, but there’s no substitute for experience and maturity — and it’s this that has seen Bacon rise from establishment outcast to notable mainstream broadcaster. After a hugely successful stint on Radio Five Live’s 10pm-1am slot, he was given the station’s prime afternoon berth from Monday to Thursday when Simon Mayo moved to Radio 2 Drivetime.
Taking on Mayo’s slot was the radio equivalent of being given access to Jonathan Ross’s swivel-chair. People with something to plug queue up for airtime. He even got one of only two broadcast interviews Tony Blair did to promote his new book. I want to know how he, Richard Bacon master interviewer, would interview Richard Bacon if he were me.
“That’s good,” he says. Flatterer. “I’d start by talking about whatever it is I’m here to promote, then I’d get me to comment on a topical subject. Then, and you’ve done this, I’d ask about when I presented that kids’ show. But frankly, I’d probably have a word with the editor and say, ‘I had f*cking Usain Bolt yesterday. Now I’ve got a bloke hosting a show on ITV4 and I didn’t even know ITV4 existed!’ I’d also solicit for texts, which is where I have an advantage over you.”
I don’t like people having an advantage over me, so I suggest that Mr Twitter solicits some from his 1.3 million followers. He does.
“My interviewer from ShortList, @andrewdickens needs some questions to ask me about me. Can you help?”
I continue with my own questions. Well, actually I don’t. They’re questions that one of Bacon’s close friends emailed to me last night. One particularly cryptic poser demanded explanation.
“Apparently,” I say, slightly puzzled, “there have been reports of complaints from an elderly member of the Coronation Street team about her rumoured post-party portrayal in an upcoming episode. How do your lawyers respond?”
“Ha!” exclaims Bacon. This sounds good. “That’s referring to a story I tell about when the aforementioned children’s show won a TV award. I turned up to an after-show party at a hotel and a more elderly member of the Coronation Street cast invited me to what she said was an after-after-show party in her room. Being a naive 21-year-old, I took her at her word, so I went up to her room. She opens her door and there’s no one in there. And I’m so naive that I think I’m just the first to arrive, so I go in. Then she just took all her clothes off right in front of me. And if you want to hear how that story ends, you are going to have to find ITV4.”
This seems an appropriate time to see what Twitter has provided. There’s an assortment, from “Which other food would he like as a surname?” to “Are you wearing clean underwear?” (the answer is yes).
I give up on Twitter and ask one last question of my own: “What do you think your job is as a presenter?”
“That’s a good question. That’s a very good question,” he says. If you want something doing well…
“When I worked at Big Breakfast,’ he continues, “Johnny Vaughan kind of mentored me and used to talk about when you’re a presenter, you’re basically a salesman. I think that’s right; you’re fronting a product.”
So how would he sell the Beer & Pizza Club?
“I’d say that if the readers of ShortList want to learn more about the naked elderly Coronation Street star, hear a colourful story about Su Pollard and watch me and Rufus Hound talk about killing animals, then they need to put some effort in, hunt down the mystical channel that is ITV4 and tune into ShortList-sponsored Richard Bacon’s Beer & Pizza Club.”
Richard Bacon’s Beer & Pizza Club, sponsored by ShortList, is on Wednesdays at 10pm on ITV4