Andy Kershaw: A man of the world who's glad to be on the road again

Andy Kershaw sees his upcoming tour as the start of a new life, he tells Simon Hardeman

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The Independent Culture

The weather-beaten 52-year-old teenager sitting next to me in the ripped jeans and shabby jacket, and who is pulling a loo-roll out of his pocket, has more Sony Radio Awards than any other broadcaster.

The ridiculously long list of his career highlights includes 15 years as a Radio 1 DJ; co-presenting Live Aid; reporting from three civil wars; discovering Ali Farka Touré; and memorable encounters with freedom fighters and presidents. But there's a big lowlight, too – the jail terms for breaching a restraining order relating to his ex partner, the mother of his children; the time he went on the run; and a very public breakdown.

He is about to go on a theatre tour, a chance to re-emphasise, in person, on the store of fascinating tales, peppered with sardonic and uncompromising wit, from which he mined his well-received recent autobiography, No Off Switch, and which revels in Kershaw's ability to say "I was there" about so many momentous events.

He was, very definitely, "there" in Haiti. "My first visit couldn't have been better scripted by Graham Greene," he effuses in his Lancashire accent, its cadences reminiscent of John Peel. "On my first day there I met this extraordinary parish priest in hiding, and nine months later I was standing on the steps of the presidential palace while he was having the presidential sash put round him." The priest was Jean-Bertrand Aristide. "There had been the most terrible massacre a year before at his little church. Ten minutes after finding this place – it was closed – I'm sitting in a room at a convent with him. I said to him: 'If there was ever the chance for you to stand as president, would you?' And he said: [Kershaw adopts a guttural voice] 'Non! Non!' And nine months later..."

By contrast, he met Nelson Mandela soon after the future president's release, and his topic of conversation was typically unconventional: he commiserated over the stars of the celebratory concert. "We'll, after all he'd gone through, to dump on him a Simple Minds concert. Poor bugger. But he was an absolute sweetheart. I'm sure Jim Kerr [of Simple Minds] is the same, though at one point he did threaten to kill me, probably something I'd said on the Whistle Test..."

Kershaw frequently mixes the momentous and the Mickey Mouse. I remind him of when he when first met Radio 1 DJ Tim Westwood, the DJ-ing son of the Bishop of Peterborough, apparently asking him, "How's ya shit, man?"

"There's a common thread in all of these things," Kershaw says. "It's this sensation of... absurdity. It's what I think is my fuel."

His fuel is also injustice, not least that he felt when his own personal life became the story. "When I saw huge injustice was being brought down on, not particularly me, but on my children, I wasn't going to take it lying down. My real crime was to not agree with the Isle of Man authorities [he still lives on the island] and take that situation with serenity and equanimity." He vents his frustrations with the island's powers-that-be – "I refuse to subscribe to the feudal relationship there is there between authority and citizenry" – and the press, then and since – "it was just, 'Andy's on the run and drinking too much'; I would have expected more."

He sees the tour and the book as a watershed. "Within a couple of days of the book being in print I had the very strong sense that there was life part one, chronicled for posterity, and this, starting today, must of necessity be life part two. And what an absolutely thrilling thing that was and is. A sense of a line drawn under all that, and of possibilities now."

'No Off Switch' is published by Serpent's Tail at £18.99. 'The Adventures of Andy Kershaw' tours the UK from 9 February to 12 April (andykershaw.co.uk)

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