We get the Radio 1 breakfast host we deserve. Current morning chatty man Greg James is – and I mean no disrespect here – the Brexit of Radio 1 DJs. Breakfast means breakfast. His whole schtick is that he’s a ‘normal’ bloke, the bloke next door, a non-celebby celebrity you’d be unsurprised to see pulling a pint down your local pub. When Michael Gove proclaimed that “people in this country have had enough of experts”, he encapsulated the success of Trump, the onset of Brexit – ordinary people boldly rising to fuck things up for themselves, against the common sense opined by bloody ‘experts’ – and, unwittingly, also predicted Greg James’ Radio 1 Breakfast slot. James is more like your brother’s mate than a famous DJ.
In contrast, his predecessor, Nick Grimshaw, was the radio equivalent of an ‘expert’ – a celebby insider who rubbed shoulders socially with the stars (Harry Styles, Rita Ora, you name ‘em) that he interviewed on air. Grimmy lived behind the velvet rope. Greg James stands outside the velvet rope, sniggering and showing you a funny meme on his iPhone. Just before he started the Breakfast gig, James told NME: “My thing has always been that once you join the circus, you can’t take the piss out of the circus. And I really like taking the piss out of things.”
By the time he stepped down from the early slot, Grimmy’s show was, after six years, attracting the lowest Radio 1 Breakfast show listening figures since records began in 1992. In February, when Radio Joint Audience Research (RAJAR) publishes the latest radio listening figures, we’ll know if Greg James has brought the younglings back onboard. Meanwhile, Grimmy’s swapped shows with his sucessor, kicking back with a more civilised 4pm – 7pm broadcast (which must beat waking up at 5am). And you know what? He’s bloody good at it! The new show’s a right laugh.
While Grimmy was famously appointed to Breakfast Show to shed older listeners (no-one told him to lose quite so many people, mind) and bring in a whole new generation, there’s less pressure on him to deliver big numbers in his afternoon slot. He previously hosted a Sunday night show and a late weeknight evening show, and these relaxed environments allowed him to flex his acerbic sense of humour. He was catty, sassy, making side-eyed remarks and dispensing with withering putdowns. He was the same on Twitter, too – when Oasis split up, he tweeted: “I’m glad oasis have split up. 15 years too late.” Ouch! This was the era of Grimmy: Unchained, when he didn’t have to be so bloody cheery all time, obliged to fill us with pre-9am prep.
It’s like Greg James told NME: once you join the circus, you can’t take the piss out of the circus. Grimmy’s Breakfast Show fell flat because it offered a watered-down version of his sassy persona, a neutered version of his sometimes savage humour. He was reduced to parading around his famous mates like a walking Rolodex, unable to take the piss out of other famouses, lest they be booked on the show the following week. Now edged slightly out of the limelight, in the dimmed winter light of weeknight afternoons in January, he’s returned to his roots.
Even his music has improved: Slowthai’s punk anthem ‘Doorman’ was recently his Tune of The Week and, as I write, he’s spinning Minnesota rapper Lizzo’s bleeding edge banger ‘Juice’.
Recent shows haven’t entirely returned to naughtiness of the late noughties, when he hosted one show with fellow Lancastrians the model Agyness Deyn and fashion designer Henry Holland, who crowed, “We’re Northern but we live in London!” in his broadest accent, the sense of anarchy palpable. Yet there’s a renewed ease to his demeanour and more than a glimmer of his former edge. He recently chastised an assistant for servilely flogging a new BBC app (“Oh, stop trying to plug BBC Sounds”) and name-checked ASDA Living, an implicit rebuke to those who claim he became too showbiz. Shame it took the Beeb six years to realise that you’re a great DJ not cut out for a Breakfast Show, but welcome back, Grim.