Interview: Phil Taggart & Alice Levine

Alice, you started out in TV so what skills did you find transferrable and what was the biggest change for you?

A: Phil had obviously done a lot more radio before I joined him, so a big shock for me was doing the technical things like the buttons and running the desk which I resisted for a really long time. But as you can see, Phil now has a giant thumb, so it’s a good job I did learn!

P: [lifting up a heavily bandaged thumb] I injured myself so she gets to press all the buttons now, and I just put my feet up and talk nonsense.

A: But he shouts at me, “Press the buttons!” so it’s a very intense experience.

P: “LOUDER! TURN IT UP!”

A: “No, turn the mic down, Alice!” So that was obviously, on a logistical level, a thing to get your head round.

P: What did you think of – sorry, I’ve started interviewing Alice – but when you come from TV, everything’s kind of done for you, whereas in radio you kind of have to do it all yourself, don’t you?

A: That’s definitely true. I’d also never had a co-host, really…

P: Me neither, didn’t even want one!

A: Neither of us really wanted each other – to be perfectly honest, Jo, neither of us want each other now! Actually, it was really weird because we didn’t know each other at all.  We’d met each other maybe twice before we found out we got the job, so getting to know someone, because you’ve obviously got to sound like you’re really friendly, which I think we do now. But getting to know each other in the early days was really weird.

P: Yeah, it took a while. I think our growing pains together were very well-documented on live radio for a couple of months!

A: We were basically just really mean to each other.

P: The first six months we just bitched at each other and then we realised that we actually get on.

At the women in radio panel earlier, you briefly touched upon how in some radio duos there seems to be a lead voice, do you guys ever feel like that?

P: More like there’s a scrabble for air!

A: Yeah, but I don’t think that’s anything to do with being a boy and a girl, I think that’s just being two egos – “I wanna talk and I’ve got something interesting to say!”

P: Massively so, it’s a lot more equal now than it probably was at the start because there was both of us trying to get our opinions across whereas now it’s kind of like we share the same brain.

A: It’s more of a conversation, isn’t it? Having said that, I think the nature of being a duo rather than being just two people together is there’ll be days when I’m not feeling my best and so you’ll take the reins or whatever. That’s what’s nice about having another person, because you can be like “today, can we talk a lot about your stuff and tomorrow we’ll talk about my stuff”

P: That’s the way it works – who’s the most hungover today?

So your slot is quite a coveted one in Radio 1s history due to past presenters like John Peel – how did you feel knowing you were taking over? Were there any particular fears or pressures?

P: Well, like when Grimmy [Nick Grimshaw] took over the breakfast show from Chris Moyles, there was like a revolving door policy until we found out who was going to do the show, so it was me, Annie and Huw for a while. But it was the only show I grew up listening to, I was a massive fan of Grimmy in that slot, was a massive fan of Colin Murray. And from being really young I used to listen to Mary Anne Hobbs and John Peel, so it’s so strange to be doing it but also brilliant because there’s so much freedom. The djs before us got so much freedom, and it’s just all about good music that you’re passionate about and I feel like we’re putting our own stamp on it compared to all the people previous.

A: For me, the pressure wasn’t the slot, but that it was Radio 1. It could be anywhere and I was just going “Shit. This is Radio 1. This is really important and really scary”. I think because it was that slot, it made me up my game a bit – you just can’t do the slot and not be immersed in new music and not find new music all the time and not be listening to new stuff all the time. It’s not a matter of effort, that’s just what goes with the territory so that was a bit of a transition, I suppose, but that becomes integral to it.

Phil, you worked in regional radio for a while, so what did you find were the main differences when you transferred to a national audience?

P: I only had a regional show for about 3 months or so before I started coming over to London to do my shows, but I worked behind the scenes at Radio Ulster for quite a long time. The main difference I found was that when I came to Radio 1, it was actually a really inspiring place to work – there were people who thought along the same wave lengths, who were as passionate about music as you were and who were young. Because, no offence to my beautiful colleagues at Radio Ulster, but they were closer to the end than they were the start, [A: so unprofessional!] and very much stuck in their ways. So, sometimes it was a little bit of a drudgery going into work, whereas at Radio 1 it’s not really like going into work at all.

A: The other difference as well is you always go “We got away with that in Ulster!” and it’ll be some ridiculous inflammatory statement…

A lot of young people have come to the Radio 1 Academy this year looking to learn what they can, do you feel you’ve taken anything in yourselves? And what have you learnt from people simply coming up for a chat, if anything?

P: I’ve been going to workshops like these since I was a nipper, and I played in a band for quite a long time so I used to go along to music industry workshops, and for every one that I found really helpful, I always found one really dull! And that’s just the nature of it

A:  I thought he was going to pop out with “Mine would be really helpful, and Alice’s really dull…” But you just have to try them all really, don’t you?

P: Yeah, see which one fits and sticks. In Derry at the Academy, there were people coming up asking how to get into radio and I just realised the opportunity that I have in talking to other people, which sounds quite strange but I try to help them out as much as possible. Now there’s some of them working as tea boys, but I like the fact that this is helping people flourish towards the career path they wish to choose.

A: I did the comedy writing earlier today, which was really interesting, because the 2 people that did the talk, I felt like I was hearing a lot from them because I’m not a comedian or comedy writer, but it’s something that I’d like to do and people were talking about how it’s not the traditional way of getting comedy commissioned anymore. You don’t have to go to a big channel – you can put stuff on YouTube or you can approach a brand, and I just kept thinking “this is really useful and helpful!” People had such great ideas, and it was the same in the women’s panel as well [Queens of the Airwaves – women in radio discussion]. Somebody came up to me at the end and said “I always just have this fear about doing things because I worry if it’s good, or if I think it is and the people around me are just being kind and humouring me because they know me, but you never know”

P: I’d tell you if it was awful!

A: Well, what she said really struck a chord because I think that’s what stops so many of us doing stuff because you never want somebody to say “actually, you’re not very good at that”, so you just don’t do it. It’s why I didn’t do comedy stuff for a long time and why I’ve avoided talking about being funny and when she said that I just realised that you don’t know if you’re terrible at it until you do it and if you are terrible at it, nobody died! It’s not like the end of the world so, just try to get better. So she’s inspired me a bit, since now I think I shouldn’t be such a scaredy-cat.

P: …does this mean that you’re not going to listen to as tunes and I’m going to have to do most of the show because you’re working on your ‘comedy’? [yes, he did the bunny ear quote thing with his hands]

A: I’ll be working on my act – my one woman show: ‘Life After Taggart’.

Lastly, do you have any little nuggets of advice?

A: I said it today in the comedy workshop, but I genuinely still feel uncomfortable giving advice because I feel like I’m still just getting on my feet. But this amazing graphic designer called Kate Moross did this speech at a conference and I watched the video the other day. She basically said “If you don’t know how to do something, go and find out. And if somebody asks you to do something and you don’t know how, bullshit!” Then she said, “a better word for that is ‘improvise’”. So, say you know, and in the meantime, go and learn – find a YouTube tutorial, find a friend who knows how to, but don’t say no. Say yes and then go and learn because everyone else is, nobody knows what they’re doing – nobody else is so far advanced from you that they’re way out of your league. People are just improvising.

P: Fake it til you make it! And get good at making cups of tea.

[Jo Reid]

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