Zoe Ball: I'm such a different person to my Radio 1 days

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It’s fair to say Zoe Ball’s new breakfast show is going to strike quite a different tone to the one she hosted on Radio 1 in the late 1990s.

“I remember our quiz Shop ‘Em or Drop ‘Em, where Hollywood stars would have to either give us a piece of gossip or drop their pants, and Samuel L Jackson dropped his jeans,” the presenter recalls to BBC News.

“It was quite wild… I saw my old team recently and we were like, ‘God, do you remember when we went to France for the Euros and I broke Simon Mayo’s ankle playing five-a-side football?

“Those little things have come back to me. But the main thing that’s come back to me is how much fun breakfast radio is.”

It’s just as well she feels that way, as Ball is gearing up for a new life of alarm clocks and afternoon naps as she replaces Chris Evans on Radio 2’s breakfast show from Monday, following his nine-year tenure.

It’s one of several schedule changes at the station – Rylan Clark-Neal is joining to take over Ball’s weekend slot and there are new weekday programmes for Jo Whiley, Trevor Nelson and Sara Cox, who moves to Drivetime.

But it’s Ball who has landed the big gig.

As the most listened to programme in the UK by some distance, hosting the Radio 2 breakfast show is, quite simply, the top job in radio.

Evans’s departure came at the end of a turbulent year for the station, in which Whiley joined Mayo on Drivetime – a format change which lasted just a few months and was a total disaster with listeners.

Ball’s appointment was also not without controversy, with the radio industry and indeed many listeners expecting one of her colleagues to get the breakfast job.

“A small spurt of positive publicity, from the announcement of Zoe Ball as Evans’s successor, was offset by disappointment from some listeners, who would have preferred Sara Cox,” wrote Mark Lawson in the Radio Times in a wide-ranging piece that outlined Radio 2’s troubles.

Acknowledging Cox’s status as frontrunner, Ball says: “I think it’s because Sara had been Chris’s stand-in, and I love Sara, and so it’s actually all turned out so brilliantly – she starts her new [Drivetime] show on Monday.

“And it’s also nice not being the only new girl. I mean, I’m not a new girl, I’ve been at Radio 2 for years, but in that new role.

Speaking to This Morning on Wednesday, Cox joked: “The ancient Chinese proverb says the stand-in never gets the gig. It just doesn’t happen in radio. So I never thought I was going to get breakfast.”

She added: “The beauty about this moment is there are more women coming through in broadcasting. Zoe and I have been texting non-stop about our various anxiety dreams we’ve been having.

“But I think Zoe’s got the job because she’s a great broadcaster, not because she’s got fallopian tubes.”

Some have argued, however, that the number of women on radio isn’t quite as progressive as it looks.

‘Ladette culture’

“Sara Cox, Zoe Ball, Jo Whiley all came out of the 1990s, and at that time they were all called ‘ladettes’, i.e. women you can have a pint with,” Observer radio critic Miranda Sawyer told Media Masters last month.

“What I find quite interesting is that those women, while still seen as women and eminently qualified to do that job, are all seen as slightly blokey, so they’re allowed into the blokes’ world.”

With that in mind, has the radio industry really changed since those nineties days?

“I do think [it has], but also we’ve changed,” replies Ball. “I think the ladette culture was a label thing, and it was the nineties and it was Britpop and it was quite wild.

“To be honest with you, I think you try to live up to that, I don’t think actually it was as rock’n’roll as we professed it to be, but 20 years on, you’re mums, you’ve been working, you’ve learned a lot, you’re at a different point in your life.

“I’m nearly 50, you’ve got to grow up at some point, I’m such a different person to the one I was at Radio 1… and I like to think that women are treated slightly differently to back then.”

Ball plans to juggle breakfast with her Strictly: It Takes Two presenting gig in the latter part of the year.

Which means she may find herself regularly interviewing her new rival Evans, who has already said he’ll be taking part in the next series.

Under his stewardship, the Radio 2 breakfast show has generally attracted between nine and 10 million listeners, according to industry body Rajar, which monitors ratings.

Ball will, however, likely be feeling relieved that his listening figures dropped to a six-year low on the last quarter to be published before he left. Will she be concerned with audience levels?

“You can’t help but pay attention to the Rajars,” she admits.

“It’s going to be interesting times, I’m going to be up against Chris, I’m up against Jamie Theakston [on Heart], my old telly husband. But I feel generally it’s a really exciting time for radio, and I hope we can make a success of it.”

The 48-year-old says her features on the new show will include Why Wednesdays, where researchers from QI will answer listeners’ questions, and The Ken O’Clock News, building up to Ken Bruce at 09:30.

“The thing we really wanna do is bring lots of music, lots of energy, not too much chat – but enough, and we want people to have learned something by the end of the show,” says Ball.

“And I think the show you start with might not necessarily be the show you finish with, I’m sure the listeners will tell us very quickly if they’re loving features or not, but we want people to feel that they’re part of the show, and that we’re listening to them about things that they want.”

The Zoe Ball Breakfast Show will be broadcast Monday-Friday, 06:30-09.30 GMT, on BBC Radio 2, from Monday 14 January.

BBC News – Entertainment & Arts

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