The week in audio: Grounded With Louis Theroux; RedHanded – review

Guest FKA twigs is compelling as Theroux shows other celebrity interview podcasts how it’s done. Plus, a feminist perspective on true crime

Grounded With Louis Theroux | BBC Sounds
RedHanded |

As we move into Week 759 of lockdown, time is immobile and all-enveloping. Instead of spooling out like a ream of silk, it sits on top of life like a heavy pea-souper. What day is it? Who knows…

So perhaps I should recommend some audio that will bring you out of this fog, snap you into the details of the present. I don’t think so. If you want up-to-the-minute news, it’s not hard to find. Instead, this week I’m going to take a look at a couple of established favourites, shows I often pass over to tell you about something new. Sink into them; time isn’t going anywhere, apparently.

First up, Grounded With Louis Theroux. This Radio 4 podcast began in April 2020, when the original lockdown meant that Theroux couldn’t continue with his TV documentary projects. Now on to its second series, it quickly became one of the most popular around. It’s easy to hear why. There are, of course, umpteen celebrity interview podcasts out there. Often they’re hosted by celebrities themselves, who pull in brilliant guests, only to prove unable to actually interview them. Theroux’s is different. He has years of interviewing experience, and manages to cover both the tough and lighter topics that make such a conversation enthralling. Also, his choice of guests is unexpected: actor Helena Bonham Carter; footballer Troy Deeney; YouTuber KSI; singer Sia – not your usual podcast suspects.

So there are plenty of excellent Grounded episodes to choose from (Lenny Henry is great, as are Boy George and Michaela Coel) – but last week’s, with singer/dancer/all-round artist FKA twigs, is an important listen. The first two-thirds are standard Theroux fare: a relaxed, revealing interview, with the articulate and sensitive twigs discussing her childhood in Cheltenham, what she gets out of her work, her experience of racist trolling when she dated Robert Pattinson, and when she spontaneously hugged Adam Ant on the street. This part of the show was recorded last September.

FKA twigs: articulate and sensitive in detailing her account of domestic abuse on Grounded with Louis Theroux.
FKA twigs: articulate and sensitive in detailing her account of domestic abuse on Louis Theroux’s show. Photograph: Joe Maher/Getty Images for Bauer Media

The final third was recorded more recently, after twigs brought a lawsuit against her ex-boyfriend, actor Shia LaBeouf, accusing him of sexual battery, assault and infliction of emotional distress. Twigs is still articulate, still sensitive, and her straightforward account of what she says she went through with LaBeouf is hard to hear. She says he threatened to crash the car they were in unless she told him she loved him; he strangled her; he insisted that she give him a certain number of kisses each day; he accused her of flirting with waiters when she was simply being polite. She was reduced, she says, to walking around with her head down all the time. It was only when she phoned a helpline that she realised what was happening to her was domestic abuse.

Theroux asks the question that every abused person is asked: why didn’t you leave? Twigs turns this around. “People often ask the victim or survivor: ‘Why didn’t you leave?’,” she replies, “instead of asking the abuser: ‘Why are you holding someone hostage through abusive behaviour?’” She explains that it took her some time to leave LaBeouf because she had to “gather herself” – what a revealing phrase – to ensure that she was strong enough to go and never return. Abusers don’t only abuse. They seduce and promise, offer light as well as shade. Leaving is not as simple as it seems. For his part, LaBeouf has issued a statement saying that “many of these allegations are not true” but that he owed twigs and another woman who is suing him “the opportunity to air their statement publicly and accept accountability for those things I have done”.

Another immensely popular podcast is RedHanded, a true-crime show that’s been going since 2017. Presented by Suruthi Bala and Hannah Maguire, it won silver in the listeners’ choice category at last year’s British podcast awards. I’ve avoided it for some time as I’m a wimp, and RedHanded tackles some tough stuff: not only serial killers but ghosts, whodunnits and other strange spookiness. However, having dived into the show over a few days, I feel happy to recommend it even to wusses like myself (but avoid the child-killing episodes).

Bala and Maguire have a lovely rapport, excellent reporting skills and can tell a story with just the right amount of feminist eyebrow-raising. In the latest, they mock Singaporean serial killer Adrian Lim for believing he could get any woman to fall in love with him if she drank his urine, or his sperm. More than that, they’ve also made a mini-series around Black Lives Matter, in which they give revealing statistics before telling the story of, and getting angry about, a BAME life lost unnecessarily. Far from as grim as this sounds, RedHanded is a rollicking listen, and there are plenty of episodes to enjoy as we leave the Longest January Ever.

Three listens to help quieten your mind

Slow Radio

Slow Radio: Take Me to Your Happy Place
BBC Radio 3
The BBC has (a little belatedly) latched on to the idea of broadcasting natural soundscapes, and this week marks the start of its Soundscapes for Wellbeing season, intended to lift listeners’ spirits through the sounds of nature. And, as this is the BBC, it’s exploring and explaining these sounds. On tomorrow night’s Slow Radio on Radio 3 (11.30pm) Winterwatch presenter and natural historian Gillian Burke chooses music and natural noises that she finds helpful (lapping waves, rustling leaves, cooing doves … wot, no mating foxes?). Between the Ears (tomorrow, Radio 3, 6.45pm) has a lecturer, a rock climber and several writers including Seamus Heaney talking about bogs, marshes and swamps. Just the ticket, with or without squelching noises.

don’t tell me the score podcast

Don’t Tell Me the Score
BBC Radio 4 podcast
This show uses the world of sport to give us insights into our non-sporting lives. With genial host Simon Mundie, a safer-than-safe pair of broadcasting hands, each week we meet a famous sportsperson or expert. Last week it was Ethan Kross, who has worked with Rafael Nadal and written a book about quietening the negative chatter in your head. Kross’s main insight – that, when your mind is in crisis, it’s best to talk to yourself like you’re talking to someone else, as in “Come on Miranda, you can do this” – is so banal that I actually laughed out loud when I heard it, but other interviews definitely contain real insights (try John McAvoy, a riveting tale). A good podcast to help teenagers (and all of us) find small techniques to manage lockdown blues.


Smooth Chill
A spin-off of Smooth Radio, Smooth Chill is … even smoother. Playing a surprisingly wide selection of music – ambient classical, light jazz, Sneaker Pimps, Morcheeba – this is an easy station to have on in the background during the day, bringing some relaxed vibery into your will-I-ever-leave-the-flat-again life. I have only two gripes. The first is that many tracks are cut off far too short, and the second is the remarkably stressful sound of the station ident. “SMOOOOOTH CHIIILLL” says the announcer scarily, sounding very much like he’s about to jump out from behind the fridge to stick a breadknife between your shoulder blades. Other than that: yep, chilly chill chill.


Miranda Sawyer

The GuardianTramp

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