HOW WE MET: MATTHEW BANNISTER AND TIM WESTWOOD

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The Independent Culture
Director of BBC Radio and, until recently, controller of Radio 1, Matthew Bannister, 40, was born in Sheffield. After studying law at university he landed a job in BBC local radio as a reporter and presenter; by the early Nineties he had become the man chosen by John Birt to shake up the image of R1. Married with two children, he lives in west London. Rap DJ Tim Westwood, 29 (near right), was born in London, left school at 16 and immediately began DJing. He started his first rap show in 1982 on a pirate radio station, left to co-found Kiss FM, and then joined R1 in 1994. He lives with his girlfriend in London

MATTHEW BANNISTER: I was introduced to Tim by the DJ Pete Tong; we'd been talking for a long time about Tim joining Radio 1. Then I heard his show and thought it was just an unique experience, and Pete introduced us. So we met at The Heights bar in Langan Place. The first thing you're always conscious of with Tim is the puffa jacket. The jacket comes through the door first, then the boots and then the trousers, which are 20 sizes too big with the crotch hanging down.

I didn't know whether I was going to get on with him because I sort of fell over the visual image. I didn't know anybody else who looked like that. At first I thought ours couldn't possibly be anything other than a business relationship. But then I genuinely admired what he had to say. A lot of people who come to you for work are there to sell themselves and their abilities. But Tim was there to say, "Do you respect the music as much as I do?" and "I will only come on this basis." That may sound arrogant; but it's self-confidence to believe in what you stand for. I think that's really rare and I don't see it that often.

Our first meeting was really the two of us trying to work out whether our principles met; I was amazed to find that they did. Tim's a public- service broadcaster and always has been; he believes with a real passion that you've got to give something back to your audience.

People seem to be frightened of meeting Tim, because of his reputation - in rap music his reputation is one of god-like genius. But when they do meet him he's not frightening. Real charm is absolutely the first thing that springs to mind when I think of him. You can see him exercising it in a very impressive way. Underneath is a real determination to get what he thinks is right by his principles. He may play the little-boy-lost, but behind it is a driving force: that sense of real mission. It's overlaid by this engaging charm, which is an incredibly potent mixture. You've got to watch out for it. When I see it coming I'll say: "You're just trying to get round me." It's a potent weapon and women seem to go for it in a serious way.

I do send him up, not in a nasty way, about the way he speaks - because he doesn't speak like me. The Westwood way of speaking is unique. You find when you're with him that you start saying things like "man" and "mad real".

Tim's also got some terrible blind spots. He's the world's leading expert on hip hop, but we were playing a game on New Year's Eve where you mime a word on a card. We uncovered a couple of gaps in his knowledge. He'd never heard of The Verve or Radiohead - and this is a Radio 1 DJ we're talk- ing about. But it's because he's so focused in his area. There's so much to know about his subject that he can't be bothered with accumulating all sorts of other extraneous bits of knowledge.

I do feel extremely protective of Tim, though. You don't get the respect he has from black people by playing at it. It's not an act or somebody exploiting something. Saying that, we do disagree about things. I have to put my foot down and certainly we have debates about what's acceptable in terms of language. But I like people who push against the edge - as long as they acknowledge that I'm the edge from time to time.

To be perfectly frank, Tim and I have almost nothing in common. We are chalk and cheese. In terms of our background, I've come through university and then into the BBC. Tim's been in clubs, pirate radio and has connections with New York. We couldn't be more different. Yet we've come together in a social way.

I do find his background a mystery. Tim guards his image very jealously. I feel I know his personality but I don't know everything about him. But that's quite fun - he's got that mystery that everyone wants to find out about. That's part of the game of knowing him.

One unique thing about him is that he's at home in all sorts of situations. He might pretend for image's sake that he's only at home being turned out of some club at four in the morning under dubious circumstances, but actually he's at home in all sort of places and that's intriguing to watch. Soon after he started at Radio 1, I invited him back for dinner and then remembered I had other people coming along. At this point I thought he was just this street figure who materialised out of the darkness and then disappeared back into it. He sat down to this rather middle-class dinner party in Ladbroke Grove and then he got up and started doing the washing up. I thought: "This is extraordinary - Tim Westwood is doing the washing up in my house." But he knows what's appropriate to do at the Notting Hill carnival in front of 5,000 screaming young guys and also what's appropriate to do in a middle-class sitting-room off Ladbroke Grove. He does both with incredible aplomb.

I do see him more than other DJs - the only other time I've had that sort of relationship was with Chris Evans. Tim's effectively been taken into the bosom of my family. My kids adore him and he gets on well with my wife. He was the only Radio 1 DJ who came to my 40th birthday last March, down in Sussex. We made him go for this long country walk and do this treasure hunt. He was in his latest New York street clothes - fleeces, jeans with the crotch hanging down - and everyone else was in wellingtons and corduroy trousers. But he seemed to enjoy being a fish out of water. He's somebody I find incredibly easy to get on with, whose genuine differences from me I find attractive.

TIM WESTWOOD: I first met Matthew when I was signing up to join Radio 1. We were really getting to know each other, talking about radio and what I was trying to achieve. I was struck then by how much we had in common: what I was doing with my rap show and what he was trying to do with Radio 1.

We're similar in our goals and our understanding of what radio should be about. He was the first person to un- derstand what I was trying to do. That really meant a lot to me. So work- wise I could really relate to him and respect him. I've never had that before.

When I agreed to join the station we were meeting most nights; hanging out and spending time together. That's when I started getting open to Matthew. I felt he was very genuine and very sincere. For the first time I didn't feel marginalised or tagged on to late-night programming. Suddenly I was seen as something that really did matter and was important. Before that, I felt I'd been out in the wilderness on my own.

I'd come from stations where profit was the guiding thing; where it wasn't about programming ideas. With rap culture you've got to approach it like a community that you're trying to serve. When Biggie Smalls was killed everyone rung our rap show. When 2Pac was murdered, everyone turned to the show for information and comfort. That's the role radio should be playing.

When I met Matthew I realised R1 was like a proper home, where the show would really work. He was about doing the right thing and he had a clear goal of what he wanted, and what he thought was right. I felt he was for real - no bullshit. You don't meet many people like that, especially in this job. That's really rare and really special.

I can always relate to Matthew person to person. Initially when I met him it was all about work. From there I got to know him much more as a friend. Quite early on, Matthew invited me around to his house for dinner and that meant a lot to me. That's when I started to get to know his family and friends. I find this industry, especially the rap game, aggressive and rough. But I feel good and secure with Matthew. He's also a lot of fun. I'm not a great drinker but I do like to party and when I'm out with him I enjoy drinking champagne, talking and getting open about things. Matthew actually listens to what you're about; he's really interested about what's going on in the rap scene. I tell him a lot about what people are wearing and how, for example, all the hip hop people in New York clubs are drinking Alize - a French apricot brandy with champagne. I bought it back from New York for him and we were drinking it on New Year's Eve.

I know everything there is to know about Matthew - he's mad open. I wouldn't say there is a lot of mystique around me but I'm different to him. Although we're different, the bottom line is we can relate to each other. I'm very caught up in the rap game: the music and the scene. I'm bad at mak- ing meetings and keep late hours. Matthew is more conventional. He has more of a family life. We are from contrasting worlds but I still feel comfortable in his world.

When it was his 40th birthday I was with his family and friends, and that was a really big deal for me - I felt part of it. I must admit I have limited exposure to that sort of situation: family dinners and dinner parties. But I really like it. His family are down to earth and I feel I'm with good people. And I enjoy all that walking stuff even though it's something I'm really not used to.

I admire Matthew most for his honesty. He's so unlike anybody else that I know. I've got enormous trust in him. If I have a problem I can take it to him on a level of being a friend rather than a colleague; I confide in him an awful lot. His support has been fundamental to me in my work. When I used to have big rap artists visiting like Biggie Smalls and Puff Daddy, I'd get food and champagne in so there'd be a nice atmosphere on the show. But the broadcast duty manager used to get really upset and accuse me of having a lot of thugs up there. Matthew would always take my side and support me on that - he could see what I was trying to do.

Even if we do have different lifestyles, that's not relevant. What's relevant is your feelings; I feel that I can relate to him because he's so genuine. He's always been protective of me and I don't know how I'd have managed here if I hadn't had that support.

! Tim Westwood will play the Universe Festival, Knebworth, 23 May.

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