Nerves of ‘Phil’ Steele

I’m not sure whether we would have started ‘The Mal & Johnny Show’ podcast if it hadn’t been for lockdown in the Pandemic.  Along with so many offices the BBC Studios were reserved for essential production and presentation staff so anyone who could work from home did.  I was fortunate in that I had already set up a radio station in my house for some other work, so I was soon put to work filling in the gaps for various radio station schedules.

When my dear friend Chris Needs passed away suddenly, I was asked to look after his late night Radio Wales show for a couple of weeks. Chris was a unique broadcaster and I think everyone realised he would be irreplaceable, so management needed time to reflect on what they would do longer term. I was happy to look after the ‘Chris Needs Friendly Garden’ in the meantime.

As the weeks turned into months I thought I ought to add some new content.  It was when I saw a showbiz story posted on his twitter account that I knew Johnny Tudor would be a perfect weekly contributor.  Johnny has been in show business all his life and has worked with some wonderful people in some amazing venues all across the world.  Every Wednesday he would join me on the show with another funny story from his career.

When my time on the Late Show came to an end I knew I wanted to continue having a weekly chat with Johnny, and so was born ‘The Mal & Johnny Show’ podcast.  With the whole world using zoom we also decided to film ourselves and so we started our own YouTube Channel as well as posting the episodes on Facebook. 

People often ask us; how does the show make money and we reply… it doesn’t. 

If the numbers continue to grow then we can add adverts to the videos or maybe we could get a sponsor, but to be honest whilst we wouldn’t mind becoming millionaire YouTubers Johnny and I love having our weekly chat. I think it’s helped keep us sane during the pandemic.  For months it was the only regular booking in my calendar and as I have had to learn video editing to get the show online I have also learnt a new skill at the same time.

Sometimes Johnny and I just chat about a topic, like the old Welsh Club Circuit or travelling the world, or terrible digs on the road.  Other times we get an old friend to join us. We’ve had some really amazing guests on the podcast and because of our showbiz connections we managed to bring in entertainers like Max Boyce, Ruth Madoc, Mike Doyle and Wyn Calvin.

Occasionally, we will have a completely unexpected guest. Like the time Johnny, and I chatted to the Welsh lady who had spent a number of years in Herat, Afghanistan.  She was there working for a charity supporting women in a very male dominated community.  This was at the time Afghanistan was the lead story in every newspaper and we found Sian’s insight really fascinating; but that was more or less a one off, usually out guests come from the world of entertainment.

With showbiz type guests we sometimes get to ask questions about motivation or hard times when the work stops coming in but usually we simply trade stories that make us laugh.

This week we chatted to someone who is probably best known for his broadcasting work, but it was his real life story that also made me cry.

I first met Phil Steele at a pub in Cardiff.  It was during the Rugby World Cup and I can’t remember if it was 2003 or 2007.  I had heard Phil commentating on football and rugby matches but never met him. Anyway, I was there to sing some of my songs and Phil was there to sing a new song he had written especially for that show.  Phil had gained a great reputation for knocking out humorous songs at the flick of a switch, or maybe that should be at the ring of a telephone from a radio producer.

All I remember was he was funny, a big man with a big heart and a great smile.

It’s hard to say why we became friends or really how big friends we actually were.  I lived in Swansea and Phil was based in Taffs Well, so we didn’t go out to the pub for a drink or a restaurant for a meal together, but I think we had a lot in common and we became much more than colleagues.

Over the years our paths would regularly cross at The BBC in Llandaff and we would pick up where we left off.  We shared a love for music and one of the highlights of my early morning Christmas show was having Phil bring in his guitar on the last show before the big day so that we could sing ‘Fairytale of New York’.

I can still remember the morning he rang me to say his lovely wife Liz was ill and asking me to pray for her.  Within a month Liz had passed away.  I was there for the funeral and Phil says he still remembers I was the first person he saw when he got to the church.

Obviously I knew of that part of Phil’s life and I asked if he was happy to talk about how he coped with that sort of tragedy.

So began our podcast.  I would encourage you to follow the links and hear Phil speak for himself because I found what he had to say inspirational…but here are some of our talking points.

Phil Steele the Altar Boy

Phil had grown up in Ely, Cardiff with a dream to play for Wales at Rugby.  He was good and started playing for Glamorgan Wanderers before moving to Newport.  The reason he decided to become a teacher was that meant he could go to the teacher training college in Cardiff that had been the breeding ground for so many past Welsh Internationals.

Phil Steele – left

It was around this time that Phil started a life long battle with depression.  An illness that can’t just be shaken off by pulling yourself together. A disease that needs help and talking and medication.

 Phil explained how he would suffer from panic attacks and deep lows that would render him almost helpless.  At the same time two serious injuries robbed him of his chance to fulfil his dream of being an international.  He was actually named in the Wales B squad but got injured and although his name was on the list he wasn’t allowed to collect his Welsh tracksuit.

Through some twists of fate Phil left teaching to become a full time broadcaster and his humour and great turn of phrase soon made him a regular on the after dinner speaking circuit.

Then he became a widower.

Phil said that he coped much better than he would have expected a decade earlier, but you could still see the scars.  Phil went on to tell us how he found love again with the absolute worst pick up line you can imagine.  You need to hear Phil tell the story himself but basically he tells the lady that he will one day go on to marry that her home county of Pembrokeshire was where he scattered the ashes of his first wife.

As we all said goodbye at the end of the podcast I could feel myself welling up.  I was enthralled by his story of tragedy and triumph and I came away feeling immensely proud to call Phil Steele my friend.

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