The Closest Thing to Magic


She’s had the kind of enviable pick ‘n’ mix media career that countless English graduates dream of: a radio show, satirical news programme, fashion columnist, presenter of the occasional award show and now published novelist. Like the over achiever who’s always let off by the teachers when caught smoking round the back of the bike sheds, it seems she’s the woman that can do everything. And all whilst effortlessly retaining that coolest girl in school vibe. With kooky, funny and clever as her calling cards it’s easy to see why everyone wants to be friends with Lauren Laverne.

Having been one of the very few that actually do fulfil their teenage dreams of being propelled to stardom via their high school band, Laverne spent her late teens ‘on Top of the Pops, being in the studio writing songs, which was always my favourite bit, and touring the world’. She was lead singer and guitarist of the indie band Kenickie — belting out acerbic punky songs about the experiences of youth, with a choppy blonde bob and razor sharp eyeliner. Most memorable was their song ‘In your car’, whose twangy, bolshy chorus — including the pre-chorus “yeah yeah, yeah yeah” — seemed to have come joyfully out of a jar labelled ‘90s adolescent experience’. For her, the best bit was ‘getting the opportunity to be a band who played to our peers. We were a bunch of 17 year olds playing to other 17 year olds which is a particular kind of special.’

When I ask about the lows that seem to, inevitably, come with fame at such an early age Laverne remarks, ‘I suppose we were exposed to things I would flinch at the idea of my teenage goddaughter or little cousins coming into contact with, but I’m not sure whether another path would have been any more innocent in that respect!’ And indeed, not only did she not succumb to the usual child star trail of wild illegal antics concluding in a position on the line up on Never Mind the Buzzcocks but, when the band split after 4 years, managed to slip seamlessly into a faultless television career.

From initially presenting various music shows, Planet Pop and CD:UK amongst many others, Laverne soon became a panel show staple. She then spent 4 years on The Culture Show with Mark Kermode where she interviewed everyone from Beyoncé to Sarah Millican with her trademark dry wit and ‘regional’ straight talking. Her favourite interviewee is Paul McCartney. ‘He did a private gig for us on the roof of a windmill on one occasion. That was quite a nice way to spend a Tuesday afternoon. I don’t know about worst – I’ve had difficult or taciturn interviewees but I don’t take that personally. I take the view that people are who they are and that’s fine. Not everybody is Noel Cowerd, nor should they be.’ I ask about interviewees that surprised her: ‘I was expecting Lou Reed to give me a hard time but we got on like a house on fire – which was a massive relief as I am a big fan of his.’

Laverne landed the 10 — 1pm weekday slot on BBC 6 Music, springing passionately to its defence when the station was threatened with closure in March 2010 along with the Asian Network due to BBC cost-cutting plans. ‘Music is the closest thing we have to magic in the world. Pop music – in the broadest sense of the phrase – is one of Britain’s most vital cultural exports. 6Music nurtures, documents, celebrates and educates people about it. I am the station’s biggest fan. It’s a hard time for the arts at the moment. I am concerned - for smaller organisations as well as large ones like the BFI’ (British Film Institute).

Laverne’s enduring support for the music industry and the arts as a whole are only the thin end on the wedge of her political interest. She co-hosted Channel 4’s Alternative Election Night in 2010. Laverne’s hometown of Sunderland is considered a Labour safe seat. And presumabley she was cheering along as the Houghton and Sunderland South constituency retained the tradition of being the first seat to declare its results.

Although her political interest has undoubtedly developed since her time as indie girl rocker Laverne certainly has a reputation for being outspoken. She memorably referred to the Spice Girls as ‘Tory Scum’ after Geri Halliwell saw fit to call Thatcher ‘the original spice girl’. Her passion hasn’t wavered: ‘It’s a good thing to be politically conscious, to vote, to be involved in the way the country you live in is run. That’s not to say you have to ram your opinions down everyone else’s throat. I would never say that about the Spice Girls now. I was a moody teenager responding to a rather fatuous comment one of them had made about Margaret Thatcher at the time.’
Despite the empty Clapham high street and newfound short life expectancy of police cars, Laverne does find positives in the increasing amount of political awareness or, at least, involvement, ‘As I see it, it’s a combination of things. We’re in a recession – hardship and inequality politicises people but there are also mechanisms allowing people to make themselves heard more easily these days – technological tools that are changing the way people can exchange opinions, protest and disseminate information and news stories.’ This is clearly a reflection of Laverne’s role on 10 O’Clock live. And, despite criticisms of it, surely the fact that an, albeit satirical, news programme is on prime time TV aimed at young people is something quite telling.

Laverne seems to slip effortlessly between categories — from sparky presenter on pop music shows to political commentator. All the more impressive then that Laverne doesn’t seem to feel the need to pigeon hole herself. She’s one of a sadly small number of women in the media that doesn’t seem to fear being thought vacuous if she wants to do a programme on fashion, or that she can’t have a voice in politics if she does so. Thankfully, as she told the Guardian: ‘I take a no-brow approach to culture’.

Lauren Laverne will be presenting 10 O’Clock Live from 8th February.


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