FEATURE: In Her Honour: The Rise and Rise of Lauren Laverne



In Her Honour


PHOTO CREDIT: Rachell Smith

The Rise and Rise of Lauren Laverne


EVEN though I have written a few BBC Radio 6 Music-related…


 PHOTO CREDIT: BBC Radio 6 Music

features this year (as the station keeps growing and attracting new listeners), I feel compelled to highlight a wonderful team that is among the finest in radio. Shining bright in the BBC Radio 6 Music crown is Lauren Laverne. Again, I have penned a few pieces this year about Lauren Laverne. In my Station to Station feature (that celebrates radio icons/champions), I gave a pretty comprehensive assessment; I was one of the first to review Laverne’s breakfast show debut on BBC Radio 6 Music back in January; I wrote about her appointment as captain of the Desert Island Discs ship, following the departure of Kirsty Young – suffering from fibromyalgia, she has, sadly, stepped down for good; the keys have now been handed to Laverne permanently. I shall not repeat myself here – or TRY not to, at least -, but I think there are a few reasons why I should revisit a tremendous broadcaster (it will be the final visit of the year because, let’s me fair, she will get a bit fed up with me!).

 PHOTO CREDIT: BBC Radio 6 Music

A lot has happened since I last wrote about Laverne and, by the month, she seems to add something new to her C.V. Having recently presided over the Mercury Prize, she brought great life, warmth and passion to the ceremony. It was a great night where things went right down to the wire – Dave won the prize for his debut album, PSYCHODRAMA. Before I cover over ground, I have noticed something: Laverne has not been awarded an OBE or MBE! One might think that, at forty-one, one needs more life experience and time under their belt before being deemed worthy of such an honour. Lesser broadcaster and those who have been in the public eye less time – and having achieved relatively little – have been garnished with an OBE or MBE…or an even higher honour! For anyone who feels Laverne does not warrant an OBE or MBE, I would have to quote The Simpsons’ Troy McClure: “You’ve got some attitude, mister”. I have scanned pages and used various search terms to see whether I have missed something. The closest I can get to seeing ‘Lauren Laverne’ and ‘OBE’ mentioned in the same article is here (I suspect, when Laverne’s time comes, she will do things a little ‘differently’ when turning up to collect her honour!). In the coming months, I am keen to explore women in radio who are pioneers; who are championing great artists and striving for equality. If you have not caught Laverne’s BBC Radio 6 Music breakfast show, then make sure that is rectified!

The Sunderland-born, Muswell Hill-based broadcaster is an ambassador of her hometown and is incredibly proud of her roots; one of the aspects that makes her so natural and accessible. I will bring in a contentious article where Laverne’s accent and background were brought up when discussing Desert Island Discs. I think the passion she has for her home and roots extends so much further. She is someone who radiates compassion and, one feels, has found her haven and bliss. In fact, when searching through various interviews, I found this from The Times:

Radio is for people who like to show off, but in private. 

As soon as I got in front of the radio mic, I realised I had found my home. It’s not full of people who want to be centre stage – we’re the ones who want to sit in a darkened room, telling you all the stuff that we know.

The longer I go on, the more I think the key to a successful relationship might be luck. I

always felt that it was quite a good sign that Graeme and I like being in the car together, having a laugh on the way to the supermarket. We enjoy doing boring things together. If that’s the kind of relationship you’ve got, you’ll probably be OK. If your relationship is predicated on the need to go travelling or having fabulous meals at upscale restaurants? Nah!”.

I wanted to bring in a snippet that reflected her domestic chemistry because, as I said, it is the accessibility that makes Laverne (among other reasons) such a compulsive fixture.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Boden Diaries

I have already mentioned the fact Laverne hosted the Mercury Prize. She also hosted the AIM Awards, and it seems, when it comes to giving strong voice to the best music around, Laverne is the go-to host! Not only does Laverne have gravitas and huge knowledge; she is fronting a breakfast show that is synonymous with championing the finest acts around. Many broadcasters seem to play what is popular and commercial: Lauren Laverne and her incredible team of producers are committed to sourcing wonderful underground artists whilst combining this with fine cuts from the past. BBC Radio 6 Music is synonymous with its hunger for music that strikes a rare chord and goes deep – Mary Anne Hobbs and Tom Ravenscroft are other names on the station who love to rummage through the crates (physical and online). I will end this piece with a personal story that adds weight (if subjective). Before then, I want to lay out a few cases/examples of why I feel a broadcaster like Lauren Laverne not only ranks among the finest in the country, but is highly deserving of a nod from the highest echelons. You can catch Laverne’s Recommends show, where she brings us the tastiest, juiciest offerings from music. There is not a lot one can suggest regards improving Laverne’s work (maybe a homepage that brings all her various goings-ons and shows into one space?): her voice is one of the most essential and popular in radio. One of the things the radio industry can do to improve is including more women on their playlists.

Rates and ratios vary but, even on a broad and inclusive station like BBC Radio 6 Music, one hears about one female artist for every three men. I am not sure whether there are sonic reasons why men outweigh women on radio playlists – maybe they feel men have greater range or there is more choice in terms of songs. It can be dispiriting to see so many male artists feature but, to me, Laverne is a broadcaster who is keen to address that and spotlight more women. Laverne’s past successes, current popularity and future promise are all reasons why she warrants an MBE, OBE or CBE. I shall stop my campaign to decorate Laverne with some letters – it might be something she doesn’t want, even – but, my point is, here is a broadcaster who keeps making strides and is opening doors for women stepping into broadcasting. As curator and passionate supporters of the best new acts, there is no telling how far and wide Laverne’s influence extends. I am not sure where she finds the time outside of radio to fit any more commitments in, but she does! Laverne is the Ambassador for Music for Dementia 2020: a cause that is close to my heart and one everyone is behind. In this feature, she explains more:

I can’t imagine my life without music. We all instinctively know how important music is, and how beneficial it is for our wellbeing. It connects us to others, to our memories and boosts our mood.
“That’s why it’s a central part of every important human interaction – from socialising with friends to weddings, even funerals.

“But because music is everywhere, we sometimes take it for granted, and that’s a huge mistake.
“There is now a vast amount of scientific research exploring the enormous benefits music has for cognitive, physical and mental health.
“Music’s connection to memory is something we intuitively understand and celebrate every day on radio shows like mine, but we are failing to use this powerful tool in the fight against dementia.
“Music should be made available to everyone living with the syndrome.”

Lauren will bring her experience and insight from the music industry to her role with Music for Dementia 2020 – an initiative created and funded by The Utley Foundation. She will help shape the campaign over the course of two years and increase awareness around how and why music can be used as an integral part of dementia care”.


PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

Lauren Laverne’s breakfast show on BBC Radio 6 Music has attracted a huge wave of new listeners and she has been celebrated and recognised by the industry. Earlier in the year, she was named Radio Broadcaster of the Year at the Broadcasting Press Guild Awards. In this article, the judges revealed why Laverne was a perfect recipient:

Lauren Laverne has been named Radio Broadcaster of the Year at the 45th Broadcasting Press Guild Awards.

The national breakfast presenter was honoured for her work on BBC Radio 6 Music as well as Desert Island Discs and Late Night Woman’s Hour, both on BBC Radio 4. 

The chair of the BPG radio jury, Julian Clover, said: “Our winner moves seamlessly between speech and music radio. She’s been tasked with presenting two of the big beasts of Radio 4… and, after presenting the mid-morning show on BBC Radio 6 Music, her move to breakfast was described by one of our judges as a big step forward for the music content and a welcome step away from obligatory breakfast banter”.

I shall end with a bit about Desert Island Discs and why this recent step highlights why Laverne is so popular and inspiring. Another reason why she resonates and manages to cross boundaries is her down-to-earth personality. There are broadcasters who seem rather distant; maybe they are stuffy or hard to connect with. There are some great interviews around; I especially wanted to source from one Laverne conducted with Red. It seems family life, her career and future are all very bright and important. She also has a very laudable and universal mantra:

Lauren talks about her 40s with an infectious positivity:

"Your 40s are bananas. Everything is happening. You know the sound of an orchestra tuning up, where it’s just bonkers? That’s what your 40s are like. It’s fascinating. You realise there are all sorts of different, brilliant ways to live your life. And hooray for that."

"Parents are getting older, some people are having babies, other people's kids are leaving home, people are going through divorce, people are getting remarries, some are getting marries for the first time..."

Throughout our interview with Lauren her upbeat optimism and drive is clear, from her passion for music to her love for her friends and family.

One of the standout moments? The advice she shared from an old friend: "All that matters in the world is good brews, good tunes and good buddies".

"That's quite a good maxim for life" Lauren notes.

Whether approaching this as an article that argues for an honour coming Laverne’s way or merely an additional bit of kudos, one needs to recognise the importance of Desert Island Discs. If you have not heard her recent interview with Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, then make sure you catch up. Regarding the appointment (whether temporary or permanent) of Lauren Laverne as the presenter of the long-running Desert Island Discs, there were a few eyebrows raised in haughty imperiousness. Not that one should put too much stock in isolated and ridiculous articles – there was something outrageous and insulting regarding the words written in The Spectator last month:

There’s no getting away from it: Lauren is lightweight and uncerebral. Her capacity to come up with the forgettable phrase is quite something. When I asked a former radio critic what he thought of her he answered instantly: ‘Awful. I heard her with [poet] John Cooper Clarke and it was sucking up to PC idiocy and brandished plebbiness. But that’s what the programme is for now… Guests can be nearly anonymous provided they are vibrant and diverse.’ A BBC journalist observed: ‘The latest run of programmes have been really flat — is that her or is that the selection of guests? Nobody chooses anything or says anything that is surprising — perhaps her lack of big interview experience tells.’

The recent programme with Tim Waterstone, the bookshop man, was an exception — it was good listening — but then, he practically interviewed himself. He also cares about music, but because it was classical, it elicited no enthusiasm from Lauren.

Under her, the show has become that bit more politically correct. When she had the Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies on last month, the one thing she pressed her on was the advertising campaign against obesity, and ‘how to remove the stigma and shame from that conversation’ — that is, the indignation fatties would feel at the suggestion they are eating themselves into the grave. Dame Sally gave that usefully short shrift.

She knows her stuff with contemporary music — she was plainly at ease interviewing Emily Eavis — but on classical she’s out of it, which is a pity when some castaways, like the geographer and social scientist Jared Diamond, are so interesting and informed.

Not only was the article hugely inaccurate but, after its release into the wild, the response on social media was clear: a tsunami of support came the way of Lauren Laverne! Such was the level of praise and love, it not only invalidated The Spectator’s article, but it proved that she is a brilliant host and someone who is a very safe pair of hands. There was a response in The Spectator to the original putdown; my point remains this: it is the natural warmth and personality that makes Laverne so popular. If she was to R.P. (Received Pronunciation) her voice – it is not the 1950s anymore! – and try and be someone she is not, then the effect would not be the same. She can ably command a cutting-edge breakfast show on BBC Radio 6 Music and a very different vibe on Desert Island Discs.

Although I still maintain Laverne deserves a big honour – because of her radio accomplishments and all her outside work -, maybe that can be set aside. I would also not single her out for praise on a station that boasts so many inspiring and hugely popular broadcasters. I have heard from a few people who have said Laverne has inspired them in some sense. For some (like me), inspiration comes from a production side; wanting to get into radio so they can work with someone like her – let’s be fair, right; that would be the dream job, wouldn’t it?! For others, she has provided emotional solace and guidance. She does involve listeners in her show – from Monday’s Cloudbusting to Thursday The People’s Playlist (there is also Social Recall and Desert Island Disco) –, and we get to see how Laverne involves the listeners and brings them into her world. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram; there are ways to get involved with her BBC Radio 6 Music show. This is the final BBC Radio 6 Music-related feature I will write this year. I felt compelled to put something out because of the recent article from The Spectator and the terrific work Laverne is doing, not only on BBC Radio 4 and 6, but in some many other areas. From the casual listener to those who want to follow in her footsteps, Lauren Laverne is an inspiration…

 IN THIS PHOTO: Lauren Laverne alongside James Rebanks on Desert Island Discs in January 2019/PHOTO CREDIT: @BBCRadio4

FOR so many out there.