September 15, 2020 8:45:46 AM
What’s this? Jeremy Vine, genial BBC Radio 2 presenter, Channel 5 host, dad dancer extraordinaire and all-round good egg, writing a steamy sex scene in his debut novel?
It’s not quite Fifty Shades Of Grey, but page 209 of The Diver And The Lover is likely to raise eyebrows among his broadcasting peers, as well as loyal listeners and viewers who have followed him from his hard news Panorama days.
“I’m waiting to hear back from Fiona Bruce about page 209,” the 55-year-old broadcaster says with a chuckle, referring to the scene in which the main female character seduces a waiter in his bedroom, all in earshot of a sleeping male colleague.
“Sara Cox said, ‘Ooh er!’, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown said, ‘Blimey Jeremy, I didn’t expect that of you!’ She was actually blushing. I’m too scared to get back to Fiona Bruce. I’m just worried someone’s going to put it on the staff intranet!
“But I wanted to have one sex scene which is explosive and comes out of nowhere,” he continues. “I took off the belt and the braces for that one. I can’t remember if I had half a lager before, but you have to light scented candles and maybe have a dry sherry.”
Aside from THAT scene, the novel is based in part on real events surrounding one of Salvador Dali’s most famous paintings, Christ of Saint John of the Cross, painted in 1951 in Catalonia. Today, the painting still hangs in Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Vine’s place of escape while filming more than 60 editions of Eggheads over a two-week period.
The story, set in 1951, sees sisters Ginny and Meredith travel to Spain where they discover Dali is staying nearby. Meredith, fascinated by modern art, longs to meet the famous surrealist.
It explores a variety of issues including mental health, a subject not unfamiliar to Vine, who has previously admitted he suffered stress related burnout in his younger years. While today he is reluctant to throw the spotlight on his own mental health, he wrote about his personal turmoil three years ago in his book, What I Learnt, What My Listeners Say And Why We Should Take Notice, an autobiographical montage of his life and career.
Today, he is in a different place. “I feel great, I love my life, I’m in great shape,” he says. “We are all just conscious that you need a cushioning, to take a bit of time for yourself and not live a five-screen lifestyle and try to pause when you are in a happy moment. Don’t be constantly thinking about something else.”
He was a reporter for years on current affairs programmes including Radio 4’s Today, going on to present Newsnight, Panorama and election coverage. Some may feel his gravitas has been affected taking over The Wright Stuff on Channel 5 – now just called Jeremy Vine – where news is served up in more of a tabloid format.
“Both shows are defined by their audiences, which may be slightly different,” he concedes. “Television does have a tendency to make things a bit more polar than they need to be. The classic story we did on Channel 5, that we wouldn’t do on Radio 2, was the row between Rebekah Vardy and Coleen Rooney, about whether somebody was leaking stories.
“For me as a presenter, I feel I’m the same person on both shows. The shows are about the audience. People need relevance in their daily news coverage. For example, if you were to talk about the election campaign in the USA, I find it fascinating, but people who are watching would think, ‘Hang on, I’ve got my own problems, let’s sort them out first’.
“The whole thing is so exciting – to be a serious journalist but also to be engaging the audience, entertaining them and giving access to all the stories.”
Of course, it’s important that he remains impartial, not airing his views. “It’s tricky in the digital world to be impartial because so much of you is now on view,” he reflects. “When I was at Westminster 25 years ago, we didn’t even have a 24-hour news channel, so I would pop up on the Nine O’Clock News and 5 Live and I’d do this stately broadcast interview wearing a suit and tie. I wasn’t tweeting, I didn’t have a Facebook page.
“Now it’s really important that people keep their powder dry and if they vote for a party, they don’t say which party it is. It sounds boring and traditional but it’s the future of the BBC.”
He won’t be drawn on claims from some critics the corporation is in danger of becoming too ‘woke’. “I feel sorry for the BBC,” he says with a sigh. “It’s trying to be everything to everyone, and it’s so hard in the digital age. It has its moments when it can be too traditional one day and too ‘woke’ the other.
“You can pick an example and say, ‘We’re too ‘woke’ and pick another and say, ‘We’re too traditional, too white and too middle class’.
“The BBC has done incredibly well to survive for nearly 100 years. But if we thought the first 100 were difficult, the next 100 are going to be a real problem for us. We have the wherewithal to survive, we just need to work out where we are going and who we are.”
Twitter, he admits, is the one place he does vent his anger, particularly about discourtesy to cyclists. “I’m sure one day I’ll have to apologise for not being impartial on cycling, but it’s very hard. I’m about to get on my bike to cycle seven miles home and I know I’ll have at least one near miss.”
He tries to balance his huge work schedule with family life with wife, journalist Rachel Schofield – who recently co-presented his TV show for a week – and daughters, Martha, 16, and Anna, 13.
“I try to stay off social media at weekends. It’s like walking into a pub when you hear every conversation and you suddenly start arguing. One of the small things about Covid is that I’ve seen a bit more of my daughters than I would have done if we weren’t locked down,” says Vine.
“I love to spend time with them. They have such a wicked sense of humour and I am the butt of every joke at home. It doesn’t matter how famous you think you are, when you walk through your front door, you’re just an idiot.”
The Diver And The Lover by Jeremy Vine is published by Coronet, priced £20 hardback, ebook £9.99. Available now.