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Interview: Lauren Laverne


Novelist, broadcaster, mum, former popstar… Stylist finds out just how Lauren Laverne navigates her life

Words: Debbie McQuoid

Historically, the best TV presenters have been men. Wogan, Parky, Wossy, Chris Evans, Graham Norton… And although we’re yet to secure a female in a heavyweight primetime solo slot, at least we have more candidates than ever getting ready to grab the crown.

Our money is on Lauren Laverne. The 34-year-old Sunderland export’s quick wit and easy manner make her the perfect everywoman. Since a brief stint as a popstar in Nineties teen punk band Kenickie, she’s morphed into the go-to girl for festival coverage, music fandom, fashion know-how and cultural opinion, interviewing everyone from Beyoncé to David Hockney. Best of all, she’s funny.

In the past few years, Lauren has become increasingly omnipresent through her daily 6Music radio show, Sunday supplement style column, Channel 4’s 10 O’Clock Live, teen novel Candypop, and a Twitter feed approaching 200,000 followers. Career aside, she is mother to two boys, Fergus, four, and Mack, 20 months (her children with DJ and television producer Graeme Fisher). Her sheer industriousness means I half want her life, half want to lie down and stare at the ceiling at the mere thought of it.

I catch her just as she’s finishing up her 6Music show. She’s just as enthusiastic about the programme as when we spoke to her two years ago but this time its future is much more certain, after the channel was saved from planned closure in 2010. Buzzing with energy as she comes off air, she enthuses about brainstorming for the next day’s broadcast and sometimes wishing it went out seven days a week. “Don’t get me wrong, I love my weekends, but…” This is a woman with a (serious) work ethic…

6Music is in a much safer position than when we last spoke. Do you feel more secure?

It’s completely different. I was convinced we were about to be taken off air. In a strange way the threat of closure has completely turned things around for us because not only did our listeners step in and save us by complaining to the BBC Trust, but a lot of people who didn’t know we existed found out about us. Our listening figures doubled and are rising all the time now, which is really exciting. It’s a brilliant place to work. As long as there isn’t a lot of swearing in a song, we can play what we want. There’s a lot of freedom, which is really important for me.

Social media helped save the station. Can you remember what life was like before Twitter?

I remember working in radio before it, obviously, but sometimes our Twitter will break down now and it’s like losing your arm. Especially now, having a four year old, his conception of things is totally different to how it was when I was growing up. When you try and explain the idea of pre-internet, when you actually bought things from a physical shop, it kind of blows his mind. That’s a weird thing. I remember when I first moved to London, I got a pager and I felt like I was from the future. But for someone like me, who has moved away from the place they grew up, [Twitter means] I get to chat with my family and friends all the time. Especially having young kids, it can be hard to get out and see people, especially when you have a busy work life. I feel like it’s made the world into your living room where people can just pop in and out and go, “Hi, you alright?” That’s all you need when you can’t have that big night out.

You feel like you’re connected…

Yeah. But it’s important to do both and meet up with people in real life too! [Social media] is an amazing, magical, wonderful thing but it’s kind of like the old Spider-Man situation, isn’t it? “With great power comes great responsibility.” You have to choose to use the power for good instead of evil. It’s important not to be too reliant on it.

Do you have a ‘bucket list’ of things you want to do this summer?

Yeah, but it’s so wet it’s turning into an actual bucket list! Domestically, we have a lot of sorting out to do. Our record room is an ongoing project – we’re finally thinking about merging collections. After two children, 11 years together and a marriage, we’re thinking that actually, well, maybe, things could work out so we’ll take the final step of merging music. I’ve got a few festivals on the calendar; I’m working with American Express covering the BFI London Film Festival, the National Theatre Inside Out Festival and The London Restaurant Festival at the end of the summer.

You have to juggle and try to stay sane

Any time set aside for a holiday?

Yes, we’re heading to the Isle of Wight. [DJ and Bestival founder] Rob Da Bank is very kindly lending us his place. We won’t need to pack any toys as they’ve got kids and it’s all there already. The perfect way to travel is to travel light. I’m really looking forward to some seaside action.

A lot of your job is preparation. Does having to scour news media and discover new music rob you of the pleasure of just experiencing it?

Yes. It’s changed my relationship with it. It’s a strange feeling, especially from a music perspective – making it something that I do for a living, rather than just enjoy. But you know, I also get to meet my heroes. From a news perspective, it’s been a real eye opener. I was interested in current affairs before 10 O’Clock Live but kind of thought [the country] was run by grown ups. But then the more you know, you realise they are just these acutely fallible bags of human flesh like the rest of us. It’s a bit scary. You think, ‘Surely these people know what they’re doing on some level?’ Films are the only thing I’ve chosen to allow to be magical for myself. I choose not to know too much about them.

You hosted a screening of Life Is Sweet with actress Alison Steadman this month. Why is that one of your favourite films?

I love [director] Mike Leigh and I love Alison and the combination of the two is just brilliant. It’s a real London film but a London that doesn’t usually make it to the screen. It’s the un-iconic, domestic London that people really live in and that’s just so fascinating. I love the domesticity of it. It says that the most profound things in the world are the everyday things; life, birth, love, death, sex. It’s just fabulous really.

Do you get to the cinema much?

Yes. The Rooftop Film Club [in Hoxton] is one of my favourite nights out. And I’ve got The Phoenix near me in East Finchley; it’s amazing and old-fashioned. I’m super lucky to have that.

What do you want from a film?

Since my life has got busier and I’ve got older, my time off is so precious and I just don’t have time for any rubbish. When I see a film, I go to something I really want to see. That could be a big blockbuster or it could be something others might think is a bit too high-brow. I’m definitely not a snob but you’ve just got to search out something that you love, haven’t you? There’s a lot of Pixar in our house. I interviewed Pete Doctor, who co-created and animated Toy Story and based Buzz Lightyear on his own face. That went down very well at home.

Is there anything in particular you’re looking forward to this year?

I’m really looking forward to the documentary about [Seventies folk singer] Rodriguez called Searching For Sugar Man. He made two records and became a cult figure but I don’t think he ever knew. He went back to work in this factory in Detroit or something. Then these two fans try and find him, which is the film. It sounds amazing. I’m also really looking forward to seeing Iron Man 3 next year. One of my best friends, Drew [Pearce], has written it. On that sort of high-kicking front, this year is all about Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, isn’t it? I can’t wait to see what that’s going to be like.

Can someone as busy as you ever switch off?

I’d definitely love the chance to do nothing a bit more but I enjoy my work and I feel so lucky. Sometimes I get overloaded and have to take a ‘time out’ and stop. I’m good at scheduling time to just be off and be with my family. When I’m at work, I’m so there that when I’m at home with my kids I don’t even think about it. It balances it out. I think anybody who has a really full life would say the same thing. There’s never a perfect balance so you have to juggle and try to stay sane but also enjoy what you do. A lot of it is attitude. Sometimes, there’ll be periods where I’ll have a really busy day and realise that I’m not breathing in [laughs]. I’m getting really stressed. Then I have to remember that life isn’t an emergency. Well, not my life. I’m not a paramedic or a brain surgeon. I think when you make that kind of mental shift it’s a lot easier.

In her role as Amex Entertainment Insider, Lauren is exploring some of the UK's most inspiring events this summer. In the video below, she goes behind the scenes at the National Theatre Inside Out festival - tune in to find out more...

Visit facebook.com/americanexpressuk to see more about Lauren's Entertainment Insider role

Picture credit: Rex Features