The BIG interview: Jeremy Vine

Jeremy Vine, on set for his Channel 5 show

by Tom Spilsbury |
Updated on

The broadcaster gives us his thoughts on the general election, banning things and how he juggles two daily current affairs shows

Jeremy Vine with panellists Henry Bonsu and Carole Malone
Jeremy Vine with panellists Henry Bonsu and Carole Malone

Hi, Jeremy! Can you tell us a bit about how your day unfolds? You must have a very early start to be on air for your Channel 5 show each morning…

Jeremy: Usually, my alarm goes off at 4.41am. The only reason I set it for 4.41 is because if I say 4.40, Alexa ends up doing it at 4.14, and I get a horrible shock! So, at 4.41, I get up. I usually cycle to work, and I get in for 6.30. We have a meeting from 6.30 to 7.00, which is the most important part of the whole process, because the producer is mainly saying, ‘Here’s what we think we should do’, and I can pitch in. And then, at the end of that, I usually start doing some graphics for the show, which I love. At 8.15, we pre-record the last section, which plays out at 10.30, after I’ve left the studio. And then we’re on the air [mostly] live at 9.15. And that is pretty much the way it works, day after day after day. It’s a very dependable routine. It’s 10.39 right now, and I’m about to get on my bike and cycle to Radio 2.

Your Radio 2 show starts at midday, doesn’t it? So, presumably you have to prepare for that once you arrive?

Jeremy: Yeah, for sure. That’s a whole other thing! Usually, I’m quite well prepped on the stories, though, as I’ve already been doing a few hours on current affairs. And then I talk to Vernon Kay at 11.30. Anyway, while we’re talking, I will set off on my bike, and in 12 minutes’ time, I’ll arrive. It’s a very quick journey.

OK, well, let’s make the most of the next 12 minutes. But please keep your eyes on the road!

Jeremy: I’m getting on my bike right now! I’m just engaging with the traffic. Not that successfully… Go on!

Your show is always covering political issues, particularly now, in the run up to the election. How hard is it to keep a sense of balance?

Jeremy: It’s interesting. The ticket for all these wonderful jobs I get offered is just not to have any views myself! I’ve ended up learning you can have values, but you can’t have views. And there are two particularly sacrosanct areas, which are both very relevant at the moment. Party politics and the Middle East are the subjects which you have to be really impartial on. But I guess that’s a small price to pay for having the best job in the world. So, I’m very happy to never express a view! I mean, you can get angry about litter, and you can get angry about some terrible crime. It’s more about having values. You can certainly have a view on the world. But I think staying away from party politics is very important. Once people put their cards on the table about all that stuff, they become really predictable. The joy for me – with my job on Channel 5 – is facilitating great discussions. They’re often left-right discussions. Sometimes, they can be split along age lines or cultures lines, but more usually, they split on left-right political lines. And that’s what makes it such a great show.

Another thing that makes it a great show is that you have a real lightness of touch in your approach.

Jeremy: Yeah. I think the light and shade is a big part of doing the programme, actually. There’s a lot of very serious news in the world at the moment. I’m very conscious that we don’t want to overload people. We need to give them a reason to have a smile! So, when we’re stitching it all together, we want it to be intelligent and tasteful and interesting and generous… and to welcome each of the viewers, which is really hard. That’s the challenge every day. We know we’ll have a piece that makes everyone laugh, and then a piece that makes a lot of people cry. And we want to put them together without it looking like a mishmash.

It succeeds very well.

Jeremy: Thank you! I always think the key word is ‘range’. You need to be able to be really serious. I did some D-Day broadcasting yesterday, and there’s nothing more serious in the world than that. And then, when I came back today, we did a story about a woman who turned up at her father’s wedding a year early! And we also had the comedian Milton Jones on. Put it all together, and there’s never a sense that it’s clunky.

Now, we’ve noticed that your Channel 5 show always seems to be calling to ban things.

Jeremy: [Laughs] Yes, quite right!

Fireworks, smoking outside pubs… You were even calling to ban flip-flops a while back! What have flip-flops ever done to be banned?!

Jeremy: We try to limit ourselves to banning one thing per show, actually. But I am amazed at how many things people want banned. We had people calling for lollipop ladies to be banned the other day, on the basis that they slow the roads down! So, it’s not so much us calling for it. Something happens, which then leads to someone saying ‘such-and-such should be banned’. This goes back about 10 years, but there was a book out by Lemony Snicket, which had a sad ending. And there was a campaign to ban sad endings on children’s books! We’re a very interesting society, because in many ways we are very liberal and tolerant. But there’s also a slightly authoritarian streak to a lot of people, who think the world would be a lot tidier if we jailed everyone who dropped litter.

Now, tell us a little bit about working with Storm Huntley. You made a great partnership, but you don’t appear with her quite so much now she’s doing her own show on the channel, which airs directly after yours.

Jeremy: No, that’s true. I’m very, very proud of our working relationship. One of the greatest things about coming to Channel 5 was to be welcomed by Storm, and then to see her really grow as a broadcaster. When Matthew Wright did his show [The Wright Stuff, 2000-2018], she was the phone person and whatnot, and she stayed on when I took over. I wanted to make sure that she was satisfied with her role, and she’s gone from strength to strength. It’s always exciting to come into the studio, and see that big LCD screen with your name on it – and she has that now. Not many broadcasters do. Famous newsreaders often don’t have that. I think she’s done absolutely brilliantly. The fact that we have a bit less interplay now she’s got her own show is my only regret. She used to do the papers with me, and we’d have a right laugh about many, many things.

We chatted with Storm the other day, and she pointed out that it’s a different style of presenting when you’re co-hosting.

Jeremy: That’s true. It’s that thing where you have a really solid, male-female partnership. I had never really done that before in my career, but I suppose the one place I did was with Storm, in the early days, when her role was changing. And yeah, I loved it. But that’s partly because she’s a very, very funny woman, and she’s brilliant to be on the air with. Every time I tried to tell a joke, she would always remind me I’d told it before. I was like an embarrassing dad, you know?

Let’s get back to the election. We assume you’ll be pulling an all-nighter?

Jeremy: Yes. I’m going to be doing the graphics for the BBC. I’m trying to learn marginal constituencies at the moment, which I did in 2019, 2017, 2015, 2010… going all the way back. I think the first general election I did was in 2010, although the first local election I covered was 2006. So, I’ve done those graphics for nearly 20 years. I’m very proud of the way it’s been done. The amazing thing that we’ve got now – which I think is just incredible – is that when I walk down Downing Street in my graphic at the end of the night, with the famous ‘path to power’, it will be impossible to tell that I’m not in the real Downing Street. We were very close to that at the last election in 2019, but it’s really an amazing thing, because the virtual scenes are now ‘real’. I’ll actually be in a studio in Cardiff, but it will look like Whitehall.

We’ll look forward to that! How exciting is this election, and who’s going to win it? It’s obvious, isn’t it, according to the polls?

Jeremy: It’s unbelievably exciting! The numbers we’re getting through the polls – and the projections from the polls – go beyond anything we’ve ever seen before. The numbers for Labour and the Conservatives are simply stunning. So, we know we’re going to have an exciting night. I say that impartially! I suppose the thing I would flag to people who are interested in it, is that in 2019 – which was the historic ‘good’ result for the Conservatives – Boris Johnson won 365 seats. And in 1997, in the historically ‘bad’ result, when Tony Blair won, the Conservatives got 165. Those two figures – 365 and 165 – are really useful for thinking about the kind of envelope the Conservatives are operating inside. But what’s strange is that since Reform came in with Nigel Farage, the envelope has been completely broken. We’re now seeing predictions that the Conservatives will be on only 70 or 80 seats! So, you can’t help but think about the world beyond the election. If all that stuff comes true, it will be a real reshaping of politics. I also wonder if the core Conservative voters, at some point before the election, might declare a state of emergency and go back to Rishi Sunak, because they realise the stakes are so high. But I don’t know.

It does feel as if we’re in uncharted territory.

Jeremy: It’s bonkers. If the Labour party and Keir Starmer have more than 400 seats… There are all kinds of issues with governing parties when they’ve got that big a majority. There are also a lot of issues inside the House of Commons, when a lot of MPs suddenly realise they’re one of 400, and they’re never going to get a government job, they’re never going to get five minutes with a minister, and the political career they wanted isn’t going to happen. So, believe it or not, there would be issues for Labour if they got an enormous majority – although they are the sort of issues they’d be quite happy to be dealing with.

Just to bring it back to your show, which panellists do you enjoy having on? The debates can get pretty fiery at times…

Jeremy: [Laughs] The main issue is if it’s not fiery! Fiery is good. Fiery isn’t a problem. We have panellists who really believe stuff, but what they believe is the polar opposite of what the other panellist believes, which gives us a great show. There are certain panellists, who just seem to live for arguments, and it’s true – they need a little bit of refereeing! We all know each other pretty well. Mike Parry has been in maybe 50 times, and I’ve known him for a long time. So, if I tell him to shut up, he’s not going to be offended.

Mike is always good value. But it can sometimes be hard to get a word in edgeways. One of your callers was berating Carole Malone the other day, for always interrupting him!

Jeremy: [Laughs] Ah, she’s lovely! All these people… Mike Parry, Carole Malone… it’s just friendship, you know? We had Angela Epstein on today. She’s very good. And it is like a family. I mean, we are constantly using new people, but at the same time, we’ve got a family of 25, maybe, who we see a lot of, and we love. I’m now locking my bike. I’m now at the BBC.

OK, just before you go, I wanted to ask about how it was doing your show during lockdown. It meant an awful lot to me – and I’m sure many others – when we were all stuck at home.

Jeremy: Obviously, looking back, I realise how lucky we were to be allowed to work. I was cycling to work in the mornings, and one day I cycled the wrong way down Park Lane! It was just so tempting, because there was not a single car. It was a London I’d never imagined before. But at the same time, of course, there was an awful lot of pain behind that, because a lot of people were trapped indoors. They couldn’t work. They might not even have been furloughed, because if you’re in the creative world, you’re self-employed, so they were excluded. I think what was amazing for us to realise was how we got a lot closer to our viewers. And you’re very kind to mention it, Tom, that you watched us. It became a really intimate period for us and the audience. It meant a lot to me as a broadcaster. It came through to me when we asked kids to do pictures of an NHS rainbow. We had hundreds, and we plastered them all down our corridor. We ran out of space! We put them all the way out of the front of the building. You suddenly realise you’ve got a real audience, and you’re in a relationship of trust with them, and they were really hurting. There was all kinds of stuff with the rights and wrongs of lockdown, which we debated endlessly. But in the end, my goodness, you thought, ‘Wow. We’re actually really providing a service here’. I mean, it wasn’t quite like wartime, but at times it felt that weird. It’s funny. As a broadcaster, you see the numbers, and someone tells you, ‘This is how many viewers we’ve got’. But even if you have callers, you don’t always sense that the crowd have faces. But that really gave us faces for our audience. It meant so much to me.

Jeremy Vine continues on Channel 5, weekdays

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