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‘It’s simply me… and eight million listeners’: Vernon Kay will get prepared for radio’s high job | Vernon Kay

Vernon Kay is attempting to clarify what it will likely be prefer to current the most well-liked radio present in Europe. We’re in studio 6A, on the sixth flooring of the BBC’s Wogan Home in central London. Outdoors the room is a Yamaha DC7 piano donated by Elton John in 2010, and lately tinkled by Benny from Abba and Fleetwood Mac’s Christine McVie, and a bathroom that’s reserved for Radio 2’s star presenters, who can shortly nip in there whereas a track is enjoying. Within the studio, Kay jumps up and takes two lengthy strides to a mixing desk. It’s a messy jumble of displays, buttons and lights that appears – to the inexpert eye – just like the cockpit of a primary aeroplane.

“Let’s say you’re my producer and there’s two of us within the studio,” he role-plays. “It’s pre-show and we’re simply chewing the fats: ‘What did you do final evening? Blah, blah, blah.’ And I’m sitting right here, wanting on the clock and the fader is down, proper? So there’s two of us. Then hastily, once you do that…” Kay pushes a yellow slider knob, which controls the microphone, to the open place. “Now you’re stay to eight.4 million folks. It’s probably the most weird expertise ever.” He continues to slip the knob up and down, virtually misplaced in a daydream: “Simply us two… Eight million… Us two… Eight million… Us two… Eight million.”

From Monday 15 Might, Kay might be spending numerous time in Studio 6A. In February, it was introduced the 49-year-old could be the brand new presenter of Radio 2’s midmorning weekday present, taking up the 9.30am-to-midday slot from the beloved Ken Bruce, who left the station after 31 years for Bauer’s Best Hits Radio. The information was hardly a tea-spitter: since 2021, Kay has been Radio 2’s tremendous sub, the first-choice stand-in for when common hosts went on their hols. He has a well-known, approachable fashion – honed over time on Radio 1 and Radio X – and has the flexibility, as he usually notes, to speak and discuss and discuss.

However nonetheless, the gig is clearly probably the most high-profile of his profession on radio and TV, which stretches again greater than 20 years and consists of lengthy stints on T4 and All Star Household Fortunes, and truncated ones on exhibits similar to Beat the Star and Splash! Throughout Ken Bruce’s many years within the job, he turned the midmorning slot from an Alan Partridge punchline into the prime actual property of British radio, overtaking the entire breakfast exhibits and turning into – as Kay alluded to earlier – high canine in not solely the UK, however all of Europe.

‘Coming from a Northern working-class family, I think it’s easier to connect with what people are doing’: Vernon Kay wears jacket by; jumper by; trousers by, and trainers by
‘Coming from a Northern working-class household, I feel it’s simpler to attach with what persons are doing’: Vernon Kay wears jacket by; jumper by; trousers by, and trainers by {Photograph}: Dean Chalkley/The Observer

So, no stress then? Kay barely swerves the query. “Everybody’s saying to me, ‘Simply be your self,’” he replies. “I can’t put the mic up and faux to know the whole lot about each artist we’re enjoying, as a result of I’m not that sort of individual. However I’ll say, ‘What’s everybody doing proper now? How are folks going about their each day lives?’ Coming from a Northern working-class household… It’s a sweeping assertion, however I feel it’s simpler to attach with what persons are doing. My dad’s a lorry driver, didn’t actually see that a lot of him, up and down the street, correct grafting, to present me and my brother a very good residing. My mum labored in a division retailer and she or he did precisely the identical.

“My first ever job at 14 was placing stickers on bins of bananas at a ripening manufacturing unit,” Kay goes on. “I used to be a caretaker. I used to scrub telephone bins. I’ve carried out all types of jobs the place you meet all types of individuals. And I feel it’s good to only be one in every of them. As a result of I’m one in every of them.”

Kay, who’s married to the Strictly Come Dancing’s Tess Daly, with whom he has two teenage daughters, begins to properly up as he thinks of what lies forward. He dabs tears from his eyes. “Yeah, it’s huge,” he says. “Completely. Huge. It doesn’t get any greater. But in addition for me, Tess and the youngsters. It’s mega and it comes with numerous accountability. So yeah, it means an terrible lot. It actually does.”

Twirl the dial to Radio 2 today and, in case you are a Gen Xer, you’re more likely to really feel a strong throwback to the interval both facet of the millennium. Lately, a lot of longstanding presenters have both moved on or been gently nudged: Steve Wright, Simon Mayo, Chris Evans and Ken Bruce, amongst them. Of their place, the station has crammed probably the most high-profile slots with faces and voices who made their breakthrough within the late Nineteen Nineties and early 2000s. Enter Zoë Ball, Sara Cox and Kay: reformed Ibiza stalwarts who now have youngsters and lived expertise.

Early days: Vernon Kay with fellow T4 presenter June Sarpong and Blue in 2004.
Early days: Vernon Kay with fellow T4 presenter June Sarpong and Blue in 2004. {Photograph}: Trinity Mirror/Mirrorpix/Alamy

Kay’s break got here as a mannequin, however not in the best way it normally occurs. He was scouted in his early 20s at BBC Garments Present Reside in Birmingham by an agent from Choose. The agent satisfied him to give up his job in his cousin’s DIY retailer in Bolton, which wasn’t a troublesome promote admittedly, and every week later Kay had moved to a flat in Peckham Rye, southeast London, that he shared with two different wannabes. Someday he was flicking via GQ journal when he got here throughout an interview with the actor Ashton Kutcher. In it, Kutcher mentioned he had written a personal listing of 10 issues he needed to attain by the age of 40. Kay determined to do the identical.

Even now, having ticked off 9 objects, Kay is reluctant to disclose the main points of what ambitions have been on the listing. However a transfer into TV was one. That began when he was picked for a fly-on-the-wall ITV documentary, Babewatch, which adopted aspirational fashions. This led to doing vox pops on a Play UK present known as The Telephone Zone after which in 2000, at 26, to presenting Channel 4’s T4, which he did for 5 years. T4 made Kay well-known, definitely when you have been a bleary-eyed scholar in search of one thing on the telly on a Sunday morning that was diverting and at instances anarchically sensible.

“Making a listing actually works,” says Kay, who’s tall and strapping, with buoyant hair and gleaming enamel (which, in line with legend, he brushes 4 instances a day). “The key is about actually specializing in one thing in order that your entire vitality is about going and grabbing it. And that’s what I did. After I interviewed Ashton Kutcher for T4 I went, ‘Oh, you’ve acquired your listing. I’ve carried out the identical, as a result of I learn your interview.’ And we had a chat about that. About manifesting.”

Twin stars: Vernon Kay with his wife the TV presenter Tess Daly.
‘I fell in love with Tess immediately. It was that straightforward. Simply increase, wow!’ Vernon Kay along with his spouse the TV presenter Tess Daly. {Photograph}: Mike Marsland/WireImage

One other merchandise on the listing was getting married. He and Daly have been fashions, however by no means crossed paths: “I used to be solely doing actually lame stuff and she or he was everywhere in the world.” However Daly additionally needed to interrupt into TV and ended up doing Kay’s vox-pop job when he moved to T4. They met at a Christmas occasion in 2001 and married two years later. “I fell in love with Tess immediately,” he says. “It was that straightforward. Simply increase, wow! She’s a girl, an unbiased lady. That’s what was so engaging and even to today what I discover extraordinarily engaging is that she is concentrated and pushed. Which is fab, however then once you watch her with the youngsters…” Kay puffs out his cheeks, “She’s unbelievable.”

Kay and Daly’s eldest, Phoebe, is now 18; she was born not lengthy after Daly began as co-presenter with Bruce Forsyth on Strictly Come Dancing. Their youthful daughter, Amber, is 13. “Some folks select to have children in a while to see whether or not they can set up themselves, not essentially in media, however in any profession,” says Kay. “For us, it simply felt pure. Each my dad and mom and Tess’s dad and mom – Tess’s father, sadly, handed away on our honeymoon – have been collectively for a very long time, and had children fairly early of their marriages. That was a giant affect for us.”

When Phoebe was born, they moved from London to Buckinghamshire, the place they nonetheless are. Kay smiles, “Noel Gallagher lived in Chalfont St Peter and he used to say: ‘It’s shut sufficient that you may get to an emergency assembly, but additionally far sufficient away that nobody comes and visits you.’”

Kay and Daly’s relationship has had its issues – in 2010, he turned prime tabloid fodder after admitting to exchanging compromising messages with a glamour mannequin – however in September it’s their twentieth anniversary. “There’s one thing deliberate, I can’t say what,” he says. “However after 20 years, you want some private time, don’t you? Good glass of wine, good dinner, good dialog, reflection, transferring ahead, all that stuff. It may possibly solely be optimistic. I really feel actually content material and glad at house, glad at work.”

As for the listing, what’s the ultimate ambition? Kay shakes his head, “To take a seat down with you! No, no, sorry! It’s within the distant future, but it surely’s coming. I can really feel it.”

Whereas Daly’s profession has been notable for its lengthy affiliation with one present, Kay’s has been extra peripatetic. He liked engaged on T4 and was crushed when he was advised in 2005, at 31, that Steve Jones was taking up. “Oh, no, T4 wasn’t a selection,” says Kay. “I might have fortunately signed one other contract. God, yeah.” It was an analogous story at Radio 1, the place he offered a weekend present for eight years. “I bear in mind as clear as day once I acquired the decision saying they weren’t going to increase my contract. And that’s as a result of I used to be 37 on the time. However I get it. It’s a number of the most complimentary trolling I’ve ever had.”

On the couch: Vernon Kay wears shirt by and jeans by
On the sofa: Vernon Kay wears shirt by and denims by {Photograph}: Dean Chalkley/The Observer

A happier turning level got here when he agreed to go on ITV’s I’m a Movie star… Get Me Out of Right here! in 2020. “I’d been requested to go on hundreds earlier than,” says Kay, “and it was primarily as a result of the youngsters are a bit older. Phoebe particularly watched it and liked the Harry Redknapp collection, which was a pair earlier than mine, I feel. So once I advised her she was like, ‘You’ve acquired to do it! Please do it!’”

So Kay’s youngsters have taken the place of his agent now? “Haha, they’re not getting 15%,” he shoots again.

It turned out to be a very good name from Phoebe. The 2020 collection, which happened in Wales slightly than Australia due to the pandemic, and was broadcast through the second nationwide lockdown within the UK, was one of the vital widespread within the present’s historical past, with rankings that peaked at greater than 14m. Kay, who got here throughout as real and unfussy, finally positioned third behind Radio 1 DJ Jordan “Comfortable Place” North and the creator and podcaster Giovanna Fletcher. “Occurring I’m a Celeb,” says Kay, “and simply being me and having fun and having fun with myself, I gained’t say it was an eye-opener, but it surely made folks go, ‘Oh yeah, he’s all proper, him.’ And that was it, actually.

“Two days after I got here out, I had an ITV assembly,” he continues, sipping his tea. “As a result of you possibly can’t escape viewers analysis today. It’s in every single place. ITV had a present lined up for me: Recreation of Abilities. And I used to be like, ‘Yeah, nice, do it, again on a shiny flooring, little bit of jazz fingers!’”

Alas, Recreation of Abilities solely lasted one season, however Kay was again on the map. The shifts on Radio 2 began rolling in, serving as one other reminder of what an adept and likable frontman he may very well be. That is very a lot his gameplan for the midmorning slot: maintaining a lot of the Ken Bruce DNA, however throwing in a few of his “Northerner, two lattes in” vitality. “It’s a case of if it ain’t broke, don’t attempt to repair it,” he says.

Kay is understood for his love of dance music, however he has no plans to inflict that on his viewers. “I’ve had a great deal of folks tweet me, ‘Oh, please don’t be 24/7 dance music,’” he says. “And I’m like, ‘No, no, no…’ They suppose I’m going to show up with a pair of Technics 1210 [turntables] and a field of vinyl: ‘Right here’s some Sven Väth for you, girls and gents.’ It’s not going to be that, don’t fear. After I first met Bruce Forsyth, through Tess, he gave me a superb piece of recommendation. He mentioned, ‘It’s known as present enterprise: present enterprise is 2 phrases. Allow them to cope with the enterprise. You cope with the present. In case you do an important present, nice enterprise will come. In case you do a nasty present, it’ll be unhealthy enterprise. Don’t be a part of the 2.’ By no means a more true phrase mentioned from the nice man.”

Expertise tells Kay he must take his listeners on the journey with him, and if he does that perhaps he’ll maintain going for 3 many years, like Ken Bruce. If he doesn’t… “Effectively, you do realise I’m 50 subsequent 12 months,” Kay says. “It’s simply evolution and I don’t suppose you possibly can cease that. It’s all the time been occurring and it’ll all the time go on. There’ll be a day once I guess I’ll get a telephone name to say, ‘Proper, let’s transfer on.’”

When Kay’s 80? His booming giggle fills the studio: “Fingers crossed!”

Vernon Kay is on BBC Radio 2 weekdays between 9.30am and 12 midday, and on BBC Sounds from 15 Might

Vogue editor Jo Jones; grooming by Tara Hickman; photographer’s assistant Jomile Kazlauskaite; vogue assistant Roz Donoghue

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