‘We each need what the other has’: five of the hottest new podcasting duos

Podcasting is known for its famous double acts, but who are the latest to listen out for? From a hilarious TV-loving couple to the friends finding the farce in Formula 1, we talk to the hosts of five of our favourite new shows

Closet Confessions

Candice Brathwaite and Sarel Madziya (better known as Coco Sarel), pictured above, present Closet Confessions in which they discuss their secrets and ones sent in by listeners

“We never have a fear of running out of things to say, because our conversations go on such random tangents – sometimes really deep, really nuanced – that we can’t even cover them in one show,” says Coco Sarel. “Yeah, just start a sentence, one of us will run with it!” replies Candice Brathwaite.

The pair are Zooming from a familiar place: Brathwaite’s actual clothes closet at home in Milton Keynes, a cosy top-of-the-house space, with colourful shoes on display shelves, fresh flowers in a vase and Brathwaite’s dog, Brixton, hopping from lap to lap. This is where they record Closet Confessions, a raucously funny but honest and open discussion between the pair around the theme of confessions; theirs and the listeners’. Examples range from the quite mild – Sarel admitting she hates dating rich guys, Brathwaite getting outraged over whatever a “smart casual” dress code is – to the more saucy. Recently, a listener wrote in to say she loves her boyfriend but he’s stopped being romantic so she’s slept with seven other men in the past year. Sarel and Brathwaite had a lot to say about that one. Sarel: “That retaliation is actually not in line.” Brathwaite: “He stopped doing all the romantic things, so you’re gonna skin out the pum pum? God forbid if he cheats – girl, where you going? To his daddy?”

The show has only been going since the beginning of this year but it was an immediate hit, and they’re already on season three. “By season two,” says Brathwaite, 35, “we were like, ‘Oh we’re tired, we’ve had a good run, maybe we’ll stop now’, and the production team were like, ‘No, nononono, you cannot stop now!’ Week on week they’d be sending us these listener numbers, saying, ‘These are so unheard of…’”

The show’s success was a surprise to them, even though both came to podcasting with solid fan followings. Sarel, an actor and host, started her @cocosarel TikTok account during lockdown and swiftly built it to 880k followers; Brathwaite is a presenter and writer, with a bestselling book, I Am Not Your Baby Mother, a YA novel and a busy Instagram account to her name. They’re both trained performers: Brathwaite went to the Brit school and Sarel followed a degree in media and performance with training at the Courtyard theatre.

They were brought together when Brathwaite’s management company took on Sarel as a client. The management had a hunch they might click and took them out to dinner. (Brathwaite: “We spent four hours cackling, they left, and we carried on.”) Soon after, they discovered they lived an 11 minutes’ drive from each other, in “cheap and chill” Milton Keynes. “It all made sense!” says Brathwaite.

Aside from their established audiences, they attribute the success of Closet Confessions to their lack of competitiveness (Sarel: “There are no egos here”), and the fact that, although they’re both “young black women trying to make a space for our own voice”, they’re at different stages in their lives. “Sarel’s younger than me and she isn’t a mum, so she’s seen as more zippy, kiki [gossipy], bantz,” says Brathwaite. “And then here comes aunty Candice, all like, ‘Guys, guys, let’s think about this from a higher perspective…’”

Their audience is broader than they expected, as they discovered when they branched out to live performance. In July, they sold out the Clapham Grand (800 people, with 400 on the waiting list), with an evening that, as well as their confession chat, included a DJ, games and audience interaction. “It was more like a comedy show,” says Sarel. “We met three generations from one family there,” recalls Brathwaite. “Daughter, mum and grandmum, 18 to 65.”

And, though they didn’t expect podcasting to come this easily, they’re grateful for it. “If you’re lucky enough to get something in your life or career that just flows like water, accept it,” says Brathwaite. “Coming up from immigrant parents you can feel like, ‘Oh it’s a trick if I’m not working hard! It has to be fake, a scam…’ But not everything has to be black excellence. We champion very much black mediocre. We’re tired: black mediocre’s fine today.”

“Because black mediocre is still bloody good,” says Sarel. “If you’ve been taught you have to work twice as hard your whole life, of course your mediocre’s gonna be good, you’ve been doubling down for most of your life. I’m someone who usually feels like I should be working all the time, hustling hard. This podcast just feels eeeasy. We’re going off intuition and vibes.” Miranda Sawyer

Sum up your podcast in three words.
Young, gifted and black!

What was the first podcast you fell in love with?
CB: The first podcast live I ever attended was The Read With Kid Fury & Crissle.

Who is your fantasy podcast-host couple?
CB: Beyoncé and Jay-Z.
CS: Wendy Williams and Oprah (Wendy Williams is chaos and Oprah is deep and thoughtful. Sums Closet Confessions up!).

They Like to Watch

Following their cult Succession podcast, husband-and-wife duo Geoff Lloyd and Sara Barron co-host a show about the hottest new TV

Sara Barron and Geoff Lloyd on an orange sofa, competing with remote controls
Sara Barron and Geoff Lloyd: ‘We wanted to cut through the endless streaming services.’ Photograph: Antonio Olmos/The Observer

They Like to Watch is a nicely naughty title for the new podcast by potty-mouthed couple Sara Barron and Geoff Lloyd, otherwise known as Firecrotch & Normcore. That was the name of their brilliant Succession podcast (a reference to Shiv and Tom) which finished earlier this year, full of their “brain dumps”, Barron’s favourite filthy lines and emails from listeners (sent to their amazing email address, which they’ve kept: fuckoff@firecrotchandnormcore.com).

Despite having to make the show around the school run (their seven-year-old son is sitting downstairs watching Netflix as we Zoom), they managed to bag stellar guests such as actor Alexander Skarsgård and showrunner Jesse Armstrong. The latter texted Lloyd to say they should definitely go ahead with the new idea they’d had – to do a show that widens their square eyes to the wider landscape of TV. “We wanted to cut through the endless streaming services and find what was actually good,” Lloyd explains.

The pair met in 2010 when Lloyd, a DJ, was presenting a Virgin Radio show for a week in New York. He went along to a live edition of the storytelling radio programme The Moth, which the Chicago-born-and-bred Barron was presenting. “He didn’t like my hair as it made me look 55,” Barron hams as Lloyd protests. “But the second time we met, I had a hat on.”

She moved to London a year later, the couple married in 2013, and Barron became a standup, now with three critically acclaimed Edinburgh fringe shows under her belt (she’s also appeared on the BBC’s Live at the Apollo, the game show Would I Lie to You? and Richard Osman’s House of Games). Lloyd has presented on Absolute and 6 Music, made documentaries about the Beatles, and co-hosts the Reasons to Be Cheerful podcast with Ed Miliband, which started in 2017.

But husband and wife resisted working together for years. “The idea of doing something with your partner even a few years ago felt cheesy,” says Lloyd. “And then the culture shifted.” “We were also thinking if there was something we could do together, it’d be fun,” Barron adds. “Then when season three of Succession was coming, we realised we were trying to plan when to watch it together as much as we were trying to sort childcare – so we realised that could be the thing.”

All their shows are a great mix of waspish banter, domestic squabble, and rants and raves. Barron says: “We want to acknowledge not everything is a five-star show. We’re not: ‘The Bear is the greatest! And so is Ozark!’ I mean, they’re medium and that’s fine. But let’s discuss why it’s medium instead of being dishonest with ourselves.”

They also get on guests who talk about their shows in depth, and recommend things they’ve enjoyed watching themselves. The Sixth Commandment writer Sarah Phelps suggested Disney+ show Mr Inbetween, while Black Mirror’s Charlie Brooker suggested BBC Two’s Once Upon a Time in Northern Ireland, which – brilliantly – the couple watched the next week.

Lloyd enjoys “podcasts that make you feel like you’re in a club when you’re listening to them”. Barron loves it when they “feel like a little thing that someone made for you, and worked really, really hard”. Lloyd works hard, she says. “He has to edit me for hours – and thank God he does. Without it, I’d sound like a fucking maniac.” Jude Rogers

Sum up your podcast in three words.
What’s on TV.

What was the first podcast you fell in love with?
Lloyd: Doug Stanhope’s Nowhere Man and a Whiskey Girl.
Barron: S-Town.

Who is your fantasy podcast-host couple?
Lloyd: Jerry and Jessica Seinfeld.
Barron: Me and Steven Soderbergh talking about Magic Mike, or Charles and Camilla.

The Giddy Carousel of Pop

Simon Galloway and Gavin Hogg co-host The Giddy Carousel of Pop, a podcast about the much loved music magazine Smash Hits, which closed in 2006

Simon Galloway, left, and Gavin Hogg.
Simon Galloway, left, and Gavin Hogg. Photograph: Gary Calton/The Observer

It all began deep under the eaves of a suburban Sheffield semi in spring 2018. “I was searching for something up in my parent’s loft and rediscovered my childhood stash of Smash Hits magazines,” recalls Simon Galloway. “They were covered in dust and dead spiders but flicking through them was like a time capsule. I felt there was a podcast in there somewhere. Even if crawling around up there did aggravate my sciatica…”

He roped in his friend and fellow Smash Hits aficionado Gavin Hogg. Both in their early 50s, the pair met a decade ago through monthly vinyl listening session Glossop Record Club and community radio show Charity Shop Classics. The duo dreamed up an appreciation podcast, dedicated to the “swingorilliant” magazine published between 1978 and 2006. As an audio engineer, Galloway is the technical wiz and trivia buff, teacher Hogg the ebullient enthusiast. Before the launch, they made a point of getting the blessing of former Smash Hits editor David Hepworth, who agreed to appear as a guest. The Giddy Carousel of Pop hasn’t stopped spinning since.

Each episode sees the duo and a guest – either an ex-Smash Hits staffer, a pop star who appeared on its hallowed pages or a devoted reader – going through a back issue of the pop bible fondly known as “Ver Hits”, usually from its 80s heyday. “The great thing about Smash Hits was that it created this entire imaginary world,” says Hogg. “It took these strange alien creatures that you saw on Top of the Pops every Thursday – Adam Ant, Kajagoogoo or whoever – and turned them into cartoon characters. It was like a psychedelic Stella Street. A carousel where some were riding high, while others slid down the dumper.”

The podcast is a freewheeling page-by-page dissection of its interviews, song lyrics and posters – plus the mag’s regular features such as the “RSVP” page, where pop fans advertised for like-minded pen pals. “Before social media, there was a real need to connect,” says Hogg. “It feels so odd now that they used to publish readers’ names and addresses like that.”

Scans of the issue discussed are made available online, so listeners can read along. Spotify and YouTube playlists enable full immersion. As personal memories are sparked, it becomes a snapshot of the time. “It’s a celebration of pop and our communal pasts,” says Hogg. “Watching TOTP, taping the Top 40 off the radio, buying singles at Woolworths. But it’s not just nostalgia. That era has such a long tail that it encompasses the present day too.”

Listeners hail from Scandinavia, the US and Australia, as well as the UK. “You realise how Smash Hits travelled further than these shores,” says Galloway. “Australian comedy writer Sarina Rowell came on as a guest and told us about a rumour that spread around Oz that Simon Le Bon was Bryan Ferry’s secret son.”

Amid the retro pop merriment, it can be unexpectedly emotional. “We did an episode with Laura Kelly from the Big Issue and it was fascinating to hear what the magazine meant to her,” says Galloway. “Laura grew up in small-town Northern Ireland and described Smash Hits as this community of misfits with a common passion. She found her people, which gave her a sense of belonging. At one point, we were all in tears.” “The magazine really did feel like a club,” concludes Hogg. “The best podcasts have that as well.” Michael Hogan

Sum up your podcast in three words.
Positive, enthusiastic, giddy.

What was the first podcast you fell in love with?
Hogg: Remainiacs, which later became Oh God, What Now?.
Galloway: The much-missed [pop culture discussion] Bigmouth.

Who are your fantasy podcast co-hosts?
Hogg: Bob Mortimer and Neil Tennant.
Galloway: Brian Eno and Liza Tarbuck.

Media Storm

Mathilda Mallinson and Helena Wadia co-present an investigative podcast that gives a platform to those whose voices are often left unheard

Helena Wadia, left, and Mathilda Mallinson
Helena Wadia, left, and Mathilda Mallinson: ‘We each need what the other has.’ Photograph: Callum Baker

When she was younger, Mathilda Mallinson leapt off a cliff and broke her back. “I’d have checked for rocks first,” her co-host Helena Wadia insists. They’re sitting side by side, sharing a screen on our video call, and their exchange epitomises the complementary differences – as well as the combination of diligence and pluck – that make their relationship work so seamlessly both on and off air. As Wadia says, “We each need what the other has.”

Their investigative podcast is now in its third season, and last year scooped the best current affairs gong at the British Podcast awards. Billing itself as “the news podcast that starts with the people who are normally asked last”, it’s part of the house of The Guilty Feminist and each episode fuses in-depth reporting with candid studio discussion. This latest season has found the duo conversing with everyone from reformed far-right radicals to chronic pain sufferers, asking questions such as what does a free press really mean and highlighting the plight of migrant domestic abuse victims.

The show isn’t without laughter – riffs with guests can get daffy and daft, even when discussing trans rights – but these are heavy topics and it’s the pair’s compassionate, informed tone, and the authenticity of their responses as they navigate complex, often challenging material, that makes the listener trust them as guides and want to follow where they lead. Think Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour crossed with a late-night radio phone-in.

They met working on London’s Evening Standard in 2020. A couple of weeks later, the first national lockdown sent everyone home with their laptops but the duo had already bonded over a shared frustration about how rarely minority voices find expression on news reports about them. That passion for reforming the mainstream media by promoting lived experience and empathy still drives them. There have been ample challenges along the way, not least financial, and each has had to pull the other back from despair on multiple occasions. “We’ve been lifelines for one another”, says Mallinson, “I don’t know how people start a business on their own.”

In terms of the division of labour, they take it in turns to report and produce depending on their expertise – Mallinson has long covered the refugee crisis, for instance, while Wadia recently investigated a piece on anti-Asian abuse. The giving and receiving of criticism is an integral part of their process. “That would have been trickier if we’d started as friends rather than colleagues,” Mallinson points out.

The intensity of making the podcast together has fast-tracked their personal relationship, and they’re now so seamlessly integrated into each other’s lives that Wadia Facetimed Mallinson to share the news that her boyfriend had proposed when he’d barely got up off bent knee. Mallinson is now also engaged, although as Wadia jokes, their fiances know they’ll be secondary partners.

Their chemistry seems to stem from an intricate blend of similarities and differences. They’re close in age (Wadia just turned 30 and Mallinson is 28) and their voices are unmistakeably middle-class and university-educated. As they gesture to emphasise their points, the camera catches flashes of metallic nail polish, and they even admit to having bought the same Uniqlo winter coat. They have an easy intimacy that jives both with the medium and with their focus on the personal, but they’re mindful of the third party in their relationship: the listener. “It’s important to be good friends but some podcasting duos have too many in-jokes,” Wadia says.

Crucially, they also embrace their differences. As Mallinson puts it, “While you want that overlap, diversity of perspective and skills is what makes a duo work. Our outlooks are different and our networks are different, and that’s all proved really vital.”It’s manifest in the attentiveness with which they listen to one another, and that brings us to their final tip for a successful podcasting partnership – one that’s central to their broader mission: don’t interrupt one another. Hephzibah Anderson

Sum up your podcast in three words.
HW: Redressing the balance.
MM: Actually bloody listen!

What was the first podcast you fell in love with?
HW: 2 Dope Queens and The Guilty Feminist – both, at the time, duos. I fell in love with women talking openly and unapologetically and not being interrupted by men.
MM: Serial. It’s journalism with impact, amazing investigative storytelling, and voices being given a platform.

Who is your fantasy podcast-host couple?
HW: I love reality TV, so Camilla and Diana doing a Love Island watch-along.
MM: How about real-life Barbie and real-life Oppenheimer hosting a current affairs podcast?

Dirty Air F1

Josh Weller and Alfie Brown, hosts of Dirty Air F1 podcast, play Scalectrix
Josh Weller, left, and Alfie Brown: ‘The whole routine was just an excuse to hang out.’ Photograph: Antonio Olmos/The Observer

Josh Weller and Alfie Brown co-host a podcast exposing the comedic underbelly of Formula One

In a distinctly tepid Formula One season, one podcast is thriving: Dirty Air F1, the sport’s naughty audio fanzine. As its co-host Josh Weller says: “TV ratings reflect how boring it’s been but that sort of helps us.” “It’s where we excel,” agrees Alfie Brown. “The more browbeaten we become, the better. Frustration makes us funnier. We love F1 but it’s like an impossible relationship with someone who doesn’t love you back.”

A place to laugh with (and often at) F1 was badly needed, says Brown: “There’s so much comedy with this ridiculous sport but nobody had tapped into it.” “We highlight the farcical moments and skewer the pomposity,” adds Weller. “We could do an hour per week on Bernie Ecclestone alone.”

For the two standup comics – they’ve been pals since Brown hosted a night at Notting Hill Arts Club with Weller on the bill – watching races together was already a weekly ritual. Lifelong F1 fan Weller made it his mission to convert Brown, who is now equally obsessed. “The whole routine was just an excuse to hang out,” explains Brown. “Soon we had established catchphrases and running jokes.” “When a certain commentator came on, we’d go ‘Fuck off, Crofty!’” says Weller. “There’s a Belgian driver called Stoffel Vandoorne, which we thought sounded like a delicious apple filo pastry dish. Our mates were like, ‘You’re already doing a podcast, you’re just not recording it.’”

Why the title? “We wanted something that implied we’d be taking the piss quite heavily,” says Weller. “Dirty air is the turbulence behind a F1 car.” The duo know their stuff but wear it lightly. “We’re more into following the characters than talking about parabolicas. This is a sport of beautiful but tiny men taking themselves far too seriously. With all the millionaires and arcane sponsors, it’s like watching a twisted money-laundering exercise. Like a Mel Brooks film. But not The Producers, more Robin Hood: Men in Tights. Or Blazing Saddles, in that there’s one black guy.”

They describe Dirty Air as “culty” and “underground”. “People feel like they’re in on a secret,” says Brown. “But it’s interesting how the podcast is slowly infiltrating the world of F1.” “Staff from several teams come along to live shows,” explains Weller. “A guy from Red Bull told us, ‘We listen to it in the garage but turn it off when the bosses walk in.’ Someone else quite high up said, ‘I love the show but can’t tweet about it because you take the piss out of my employer every week.’”

“We were invited to do an episode at Silverstone last month and genuinely thought they’d made a mistake,” says Brown. “We were like ‘We don’t belong here!’ We were the only men in long trousers for a start. I’ve never seen so many pairs of shorts or those boots you buy in Millets.”

Via word-of-mouth, the podcast has built up 16,000 monthly listeners but not everyone appreciates the joke. “[Dutch driver] Jos Verstappen blocked us on social media after we rinsed him,” shrugs Weller. Neither is the audience as blokey as one might assume. “It’s a 50/50 gender split,” says Brown. “Couples listen together, which is sweet. [The documentary series] Drive to Survive on Netflix has opened up the sport to a whole new demographic.”

Their hobby has blossomed into a bona fide side hustle. “Watching the Grand Prix with Josh started as a way to escape my family every Sunday,” laughs Brown. “Now I have to for work. It’s the perfect crime. Next up, a beer podcast and a ‘dinner dates with Mila Kunis’ podcast…” Michael Hogan

Sum up your podcast in three words
F1 is funny?!

What was the first podcast you fell in love with?
Weller: Freakonomics Radio.
Brown: The Anfield Wrap.

Who are your fantasy podcast co-hosts?
Weller: Patrick Stewart and Jonathan Frakes analysing every episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Brown: A pop culture podcast with Iris Murdoch and Gemma Collins.

Josh Weller’s Age Against the Machine is at Edinburgh Fringe throughout August. Alfie Brown is on tour throughout 2023 and at Edinburgh Fringe.


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