Former Desert Island Discs host Kirsty Young to return as Christmas guest

Long-time presenter will share her thoughts on the Queen’s funeral in BBC festive schedule highlight

The turntables will be turned on Kirsty Young this Christmas Day, the BBC has revealed, when the former Desert Island Discs presenter is to be asked to choose eight of her favourite pieces of music as a castaway on the famous show.

Young, who has marooned almost 500 other guests on the fictional island in her time, revealed this weekend that she found it strange to be at the other end of the famous Radio 4 format: “It was a slightly discombobulating and thoroughly enjoyable experience,” she said, adding: “Although making anyone narrow down their favourite discs to just eight is frankly unreasonable. It’ll never catch on.”

Young, who stepped down permanently from the role due to ill-health in 2019, has admitted that she found it too upsetting to listen to the interview show because she had been forced to leave before she was ready to go. “I don’t want to overstate that or be melodramatic about it, but that’s how it felt – it was like, ‘I’m sad I’m not doing my job right now’, so it would’ve been uncomfortable to listen,” she revealed in May.

In a pre-recorded interview, the 54-year-old, who is married to Nick Jones, the founder of the international Soho House club chain, will be heard telling Lauren Laverne, her successor as host on the programme, about the key achievements of her journalistic career, which began in news and led her to a news anchor role on Channel 5 and then to the presenting job on BBC One’s Crimewatch.

Most recently, Young returned to broadcasting as the face of the BBC’s coverage of the Queen’s platinum jubilee in the summer. She was then called upon to preside over the BBC’s presentation of the late monarch’s funeral in September. Young is to tell Laverne about the emotion she felt when she ended the live broadcast after the service at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, choosing the closing words that moved many of the millions who were watching.

The presenter will also discuss the challenge of interviewing radio guests on the show with Laverne, who initially took over her job temporarily in 2018. Young was struggling with the debilitating symptoms of the condition fibromyalgia. The Scottish journalist had been misdiagnosed at first and suffered from extreme pain and fatigue.

Among Young’s favourite encounters during her years in the job were the programmes with Dawn French, who spoke movingly about her mother’s hopes of joining her late father when she died, and with the surgeon David Nott, who discussed his work in war zones.

Laverne’s interview with Young is a highlight of the station’s festive programming but is also designed to mark the end of the 80th year of the prestigious radio show, and so it comes as the finale to a particularly starry lineup of guests. This Sunday’s episode features the Australian film director Baz Lurhmann, who is candid about the way his colourful movies, including Moulin Rouge and Romeo and Juliet, have often divided critics and audiences, and about how frustrating this can be.

“It’s not [about] me but all the people I’ve led down the road,” he says, “particularly a new actor or even the financiers – they’ve believed in you and they’ve gone out on a limb so I have to go out and do hand-to-hand combat to make sure that the film is not beaten to death like a baby seal.”

Luhrmann adds: “It’s up to history to decide whether the underlying notions or the underlying big ideas have relevance or presence, or resonance.”

Also talking to Laverne next month will be Steven Spielberg and Cate Blanchett. On Sunday 11 December, Blanchett will discuss a career which has brought her two Oscars, three Baftas and three Golden Globes, and which saw her rise to international attention with the starring role in the acclaimed 1998 film Elizabeth.

Spielberg, the most famous living film director, will be the guest the following Sunday when he reflects on a lifetime behind the camera, dating back to the childhood mini-movies he filmed and which gave him power over the popular kids who had once ignored him.

The Hollywood giant will also recall the first big impact he made on cinema audiences, with the tense truck-chase drama Duel. He tells Laverne why the child’s perspective has always been important to him, steering him to make films such as ET, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The BFG and, most recently, The Fabelmans.

The glitzy Desert Island Discs line-up is among several BBC radio attractions for the holiday season to be officially unveiled on Monday. But Radio 3 has also offered an early sample of its festive schedule, taking a contrastingly sedate approach.

Its flagship offering on Christmas Eve at 9pm will be a technical first for audio programming. BBC microphones were attached around the neck of a mother reindeer and they will allow listeners to follow her and her young as they trek through the Nordic landscape. The programme Slow Radio: The Reindeer, will take its audience through dense forests of spruce, birch and pine, as well as over the steep frozen mountains of Sweden, Norway and Finland.

The recordings were created in close collaboration with the Sámi people and with as little human interference as possible, using a specifically created sound device on a necklace to transmit the day-to-day sounds of a reindeer herd. The sound of hooves treading softly on the snow, coupled with the distant tinkling of reindeer bells, is promised, in addition to the chance to listen to the animals eating and sleeping in their natural habitat.


Vanessa Thorpe

The GuardianTramp

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