Greg James on becoming the new Radio 1 Breakfast Show host: “It’s nice to be an outsider”

"I want it to be the show that celebrates the listeners"

Each Radio 1 Breakfast Show reflects the times that they exist in. Chris Moyles steered the laddy ship in the mid-noughties, giving way in 2012 to the more waspish Nick Grimshaw, whose persona was light years from that of his macho predecessor. Now, another sea change. Grimshaw was a friend to the stars; his show was like eavesdropping on conservations in some swanky Primrose Hill hang-out. This, perhaps, now seems a somewhat elitist approach that has fallen out of fashion: Grimmy’s listening figures last year were the lowest since records began. By contrast, the incumbent Radio 1 Breakfast Show host Greg James – his first instalment will air next Monday (August 20) – is the guy next door, a genial figure who reflects millennials’ appetite for all things wholesome.

Basically, he’s human schmaltzcore. But does nice guy Greg James have enough showbiz razzle-dazzle to maintain the prestigious Radio 1 Breakfast Show slot? Let’s hear it from the man himself…

How will this be, distinctively, the Greg James Radio 1 breakfast show?

“The show that we’ve been doing in the afternoon evolved; the show it starts out as is different to the show it becomes in three months, or whatever. I wanna use guests wisely and get them involved in the actual show – that’s really important. I want it to be a place that people can come to for a bit of joy before they go off to work and whatever. I want it to be the show that celebrates the listeners. They’re the most untapped, funny bit. You’ve got so many amazing stories floating around and listeners waiting to confess stuff or tell a funny story.”

What do you mean, use guests wisely?

“I want the guests to be involved with the world we’ve created in the show. I don’t want it to become a plug-fest. ‘Right, what book have you got out, then?’ They can get that anywhere. It’s boring. The guests and the listeners should be treated equally. The listeners should be on if they’ve got a good story. I want it to be a show that’s not just for them, but with them too. We’ve found that if you instil a bit of confidence into them, they repay you with a funny story. It feels like a good gang to be part of. In many ways, my listeners are gonna be co-hosts of the show.”

In many ways, my listeners are gonna be co-hosts of the show

Grimmy’s thing was that he was a friend to the stars. Is this your way of differentiating yourself from him?

“Sort of, yeah. That’s why me and Grim have been doing radio together for such a long time, because we both do such different things. It’s a time for a bit of a change on the breakfast show. The bosses want me to do my thing, and my thing has always been a bit more, ‘Let’s do some really short silly funny bits and let other people do the celeb interviews and stuff. I think with the listeners I’ve built up quite a nice rapport with them and there’s a mutual trust thing.”

Greg James and Nick Grimshaw

Greg James and Nick Grimshaw

Do you think that celebby approach has gone out of fashion a little bit?

“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. The reason that I’m not gonna be on Strictly is that I then can’t have a comment about it, because I’m part of it. My show is supposed to be a look at pop culture, and I don’t necessarily wanna be pop culture. It’s nice to be an outsider, to dip in and report back to the listeners. I’ve always felt more comfortable doing that than schmoozing at the celebrity parties.”

The tabloids will be watching you very closely, and will expect an immediate success.  Does that concern you?

“Not really. People will write what they wanna write – whatever – but I’m gonna do the best show that can create with the listeners and with them in mind. Every decision should start with the question, ‘Will the listeners find this entertaining?’ I’m gonna try my very best not to disappear up my own arse. The Radio 1 listeners are really good at keeping me grounded, which is why I’ve lasted so long at the station. I listen to people, and I actually really like the listeners.”

Do you think Grimmy got a rough deal from the papers?

“Yeah, I think he did get a rough deal to start off with. But he was always going to because of the culture change that he had to instil. He dealt with it so admirably, and I will learn a lot from the way that he dealt with it. Because that was a huge change from Chris Moyles to Grimmy, so he was always gonna get an enormous backlash. I’ve no idea how the press are going to deal with my new show, but I do know that Grimmy has helped to create a place where we feel like we can push it on even further. I have a huge amount of respect for Grim in how he managed all of it. It’s such a tricky job to do at any age, and he did it pretty young. I feel very lucky that I’m getting to do it at an age where I’ve done a shitload of radio and have pretty much done it for 20 years. I’ve got a lot of experience behind me and I’m slightly wiser.”

Your schtick is that you’re a normal, down-to-earth bloke. Do you reckon you have enough showbiz razzle-dazzle to maintain a breakfast show?

“Well, that’s my job and that’s what I’m gonna do. Just because I don’t hang out with [celebs], it doesn’t mean I can’t do a really good interview with them. I wanna do a show that feels accessible and that people feel part of. That’s pretty universal, and there’s no reason it can’t be even bigger than the current Breakfast Show. If you get The Rock on after a funny story about John’s night out in Stoke, that is showbiz razzle-dazzle, because you’ve got lots of elements. It’s not daunting me in any way. I’m just gonna do my thing, because it’s worked for far.”

– Radio 1 Breakfast with Greg James launches on Monday 20th August on BBC Radio 1