Broadcaster Edith Bowman has presented some of the biggest music shows of the past decade. She’s also mad about film – and is currently the UK’s only solo female national breakfast show host. We get the Anstruther-born presenter’s take on music transcending age, A-list interviews and the best Scottish band of the moment
Interview: Cheryl Caira
Virgin Radio made a huge comeback this year. Was being able to forge a new direction for the station something that really attracted you to the job?
It was a lot to do with it. It was about me being able to do the show that I wanted to do. I’ve done a lot of different radio shows, and from all that experience I knew I could almost write a template for my ideal show. I’m really passionate about film and music and I’ve kind of been there and done the bit where you have to play a lot of stuff that isn’t always up to your taste. It’s about trying to do breakfast a bit differently. It’s not all about ramming stuff down people’s throats and it being about the weather and the news and the traffic. It’s more about having a companion – we’re there with you whether you’re pottering round the house, on the school run or on your way to work.
You’re the UK’s only solo female breakfast presenter on national radio – do women need to be more confident about aiming for roles at the top?
I did a talk at a seminar last week about standing up and speaking your mind and there was a woman there who asked a question about whether it was all down to confidence. It partly is – I don’t think every female broadcaster out there who is involved in a breakfast show is aiming to do the weather or to be the sidekick. I think that their dreams and aspirations are definitely to have their own show or to feel like they’ve got equal measure on that show. I’ve been lucky when I’ve been part of a team or double act, as it’s always been level pegging. That’s how I’ve set out with things from the start – it’s not about just being a sidekick and laughing at jokes. I would hope it would be a double thing where women could feel like they could expect those roles, but also for broadcasters to take a step back and look at what they’re providing.
You wrote a book called Edith Bowman’s Great British Music Festivals. What is it about festivals that has you so hooked?
I just think we’re so lucky. We really do take them for granted. From just sitting down and writing a plan of what I wanted to talk about, it was impossible to write a definitive list of festivals because there are so many in this country, and it changes every year. We’re such a huge live music-loving nation, and we have so much history and heritage when it comes to music, so that’s where it stems from I think.
Do you think there’s a bit of an inaccurate perception that festivals are just tents, mud and people in their twenties?
Yes! If someone asks me about the weather at festivals one more time… it’s like, get over it, we live in the UK in probably the most unpredictable weather system in the world. Just go prepared. Festivals now offer so many accommodation options, so there’s no excuse when it comes to that. A lot of people tag music with age brackets, which I think is rubbish. It doesn’t matter when you get into something, it’s just about how passionate you are, and you can relate that to festivals. Age shouldn’t matter. You should still be encouraged and allowed to enjoy music in the same way as everyone else.
You’ve covered some of the biggest festivals in the country. What were some performance high points?
The Chemical Brothers performing at Glastonbury in 2011. If you were watching at home, there were these 3D graphics coming at you out of the telly. Everyone’s quick to cast aside DJ performances at festivals but the way The Chemical Brothers bring dance music to a festival is mind-blowing. I’ve been really lucky and seen so many different acts. Seeing Arctic Monkeys for the first time at T in the Park many moons ago was like, wow, they’re like kids, but bloody hell they’ve got the confidence and the tunes to back it up.
What was it like presenting something as iconic as Top of the Pops?
I watched it every week as a youngster and never thought in a million years I’d ever host it. Colin [Murray] and I used to have a lot of fun when we did it. We would wear our favourite bands’ t-shirts to promote some new band that we loved at the time. It was an incredible opportunity.
You seem to love being a roving reporter at premieres – is it a close call sometimes between music and film?
They’re two plates that I really try and keep spinning. I love them both and they cross over in quite a nice way. I love doing the red carpet, because you can prepare as much as you want, but you never know what’s going to happen. I remember doing The Hunger Games and it was like being on a bloody conveyor belt. You were interviewing one, then the next two cast members were waiting, and you’ve got no time. It’s the closest I get to doing live telly, which is an amazing buzz.
Most people would be envious when they see your roll call of interviews. Who stands out for you as an absolute joy to speak to?
Leonardo DiCaprio is always really good fun to interview. The first time I interviewed him he had every right to be Charlie Big Bananas – I mean, it’s Leo DiCaprio for God’s sakes. But he came into the room on his own, sat down and just made eye contact and had a conversation, so I always look forward to that.
Who are you rating on the Scottish music scene?
There’s a great band called Fatherson. They came in to do a session for us at Virgin and they were absolutely incredible live. Adam Holmes and The Embers – he’s also fantastic. I’m really looking forward to the next Rachel Sermanni record as well. There’s so much great Scottish talent, and that’s why I love doing The Quay Sessions [BBC Radio Scotland’s live music show] and the team up there are still keeping me up-to-date on all the new stuff that’s coming through.
On the record
Most played song right now
That I like or that I think is overplayed? I’m playing The Strokes new EP on repeat at the minute. If I never hear that Alan Walker track again it will be too soon.
Album that changed your life
Thriller by Michael Jackson. It was the first album I owned and it unlocked a new world for me.
If you could sit next to anyone at dinner (who you’ve not yet met) – who would it be?
Martin Scorsese. He would ask me to be moved after time as I have so many things I’d like to ask him.
Perfect Scottish day
Wake up at my mum’s and head for a walk along the coast, maybe take a boat trip out to the Isle of May with Tom [Bowman’s husband, Tom Smith, frontman of Editors] and the boys [her sons, Rudy, seven, and Spike, three] then back to see friends for a few drinks and fish & chips from my local chippie.
Low-key gig at King Tut’s or grandeur at the Usher Hall?
King Tut’s. It’s legendary.