This week I got talking to a very excited set of parents who can’t believe their son has come home to Wales. He had a great job working for a big financial company in the city of London and has lived up in the ‘smoke’ for years. Now he was coming home. I was obviously pleased for them to have their boy nearer home but being a parent, my second thought followed pretty quickly after that. ‘Um…so what’s he going to do now?’
The answer was exactly the same job he had been doing in London.
Like so many other people the Pandemic had imposed a new way of working at his company. The business had found that allowing their staff to work from anywhere in the country worked well for them as well as their staff. This was a kid from Wales, coming back to work in Wales and bringing with him a London salary.
The same thing has happened in my own family. I always imagined it was going to be difficult for them to find the type of jobs and careers they had carved out for themselves in London. Maybe sometime in the future my kids might be able to get a similar job in Bristol or possibly Cardiff.
This last year has proved its been possible for them to work from Swansea and that’s what they decided to do. They managed to pack up their small flat in Ealing and come home. For them the attraction is living close to family and the sea and I don’t think the availability of free child care passed them by either.
This week the same thing happened to me. For the early part of my broadcasting life I had to travel east on the M4 to Llandaff or Culverhouse Cross for my radio and TV work. When the BBC refurbished their studios in Alexandra Road I managed to cut down my hours on the road and my carbon footprint quite considerably and of course when we all went into lockdown and were advised to work from home I was able to present most of my shows in my pyjamas or jogging bottoms.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve probably appeared on more different radio stations in the space of a month than I ever have in my life. The reason is that I’ve had a new record out, ‘I Still Think About You’ and its gone even better than I had hoped. With so many radio stations all over the country, some national, some regional and some internet based, programme producers seem eager for content and they are happy for you to join them using a studio connected by the internet. This is a big change for us all in my industry opening up opportunities and cutting down on carbon emissions while we’re at it.
Take for example BBC Radio London. In years gone by if they had wanted to interview me about a new record it used to be on condition that you could come into their studios. At a push they would accept you going into one of the many BBC Satellite stations.
Last Saturday morning I was a guest on the ‘Carrie and David Grant Show’. Carrie and David are one of the most high profile entertainment married couples and as well as their other work TV presenting and making music they present a Saturday morning show together.
The night before I had been performing at the Grand Pavilion in Porthcawl, my first gig in 2 years. I know I would have been tired but in the past, to get the chance to chat to Carrie and David I would probably have driven through the night to get there in time. If asked I would have definitely driven into Swansea to go into the local BBC studios…but this time I didn’t have to do either. All I had to do was log onto my computer, plug a microphone in and wait for them to email me a link to their studio. No one knew I was broadcasting in my ‘Jim jams’ and after they played my record and gave me a really lovely big plug I switched the computer off and went back to bed!
One of the questions they asked was about the diversity in my career, from song writing, recording to being Chair of the Swansea International Festival and a Professor at the University of Wales Trinity St David. I tried to deflect a bit saying I liked a challenge and I had 4 kids to feed but the truth was when opportunities have arisen I’ve usually said yes and worried about how I was going to do it later.
That was how I got into broadcasting in the first place. In 1987 I was being interviewed a lot because I had got to the final of Song for Europe and I had a couple of songs covered by Cliff Richard and The Hollies. It was after being interviewed that the radio producer of one show asked would I be interested in sitting in for one of their presenters during the summer holidays. I didn’t have to stop and think about it, I just said yes.
Broadcasting is an odd job because you can’t learn how to do it on your own, you have to broadcast to other people. I’m sure a lot of people think its easy because, well, look at Ant and Dec or Gary Lineker. They just sit there and talk, and TV companies give them loads of money. Well the reason it looks so easy is that the best broadcasters are brilliant at their job. We see them chatting calmly to camera whilst in the background the whole world might actually be falling apart with technical issues or guests not turning up. But we never know and that’s why it seems a cushy little number.
After saying yes to a radio show in 1987 I’ve usually said yes ever since. I’ve presented programmes on Surfing, major national events and of course music especially my love of Black Gospel music and my trips to the Deep South.
One of the stations I’ve been a guest on lately talking about my new record was Premier Christian Radio. It does pretty much exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a national radio station based in London and most of its audience would go to church or definitely have an interest in church matters. I often tell the story that I was once advised not to study theology in University by Dr Rowan Williams the man who went on to become Archbishop of Canterbury, so I wasn’t sure I was totally qualified, but they asked, and I said yes.
Once again this opportunity arose because of the pandemic. In the past all shows were broadcast from their London studios but coping with the pandemic meant they had broadcasters working from home and once that happens broadcasters can be anywhere in the country.
I was allowed to invite a special guest on to every show so I looked at my contacts book to see who might have story that involved them having a faith. On Tuesday I chatted to Carolyn Harris MP. I’ve known Carolyn since schooldays, I cried with her when she lost her son Martin and rejoiced when she became an MP. She was honest about being angry with God but how her faith had brought her back to life.
On Wednesday I chatted to Mandy Bayton who had found herself homeless with 3 young girls after the breakup of her first marriage. She told tales of looking for love via internet dating and how one prospective partner brought his mother along because she was lonely. Mandy’s reply of ‘couldn’t you have left her in the car with a packet of hobnobs and a thermos’ was probably the end of that relationship before it began.
On Thursday I spoke to Paul Francis who looks after a big church in Cardiff called Glenwood. Paul was open and honest about how tough it is to be the one every looks to lead.
I’ve really enjoyed broadcasting during daylight hours again and the chance to learn lots more about my friends than I knew before. This opportunity came to me because the world has changed. I expect your world has changed too. We can’t turn back the clock or put the genie back in the bottle so maybe now is the time to embrace it.