The Week In Radio: When a castaway's confessions are a real treasure

 

My plan this week was to write about science. Honestly, it was. The World Service was running a series of solemn-sounding talks called Exchanges at the Frontier, each delivered by leading epidemiologists, physiologists and other miscellaneous ologists whose job titles were very possibly made up. However bleak their message, I felt it my duty to hear them out. And listening on Sunday morning, for a while I was genuinely concerned about the plight of humankind in the face of horrible mutating viruses that could knock out much of population and possibly leave pigs and poultry to run things.

But that was before my brain started to ache, my eyeballs began rolling into the back of my head and, just for a second or two, I switched channels and happened upon the writer Julie Burchill on Desert Island Discs squeaking: "I'd been up for three nights taking cocaine, so when Morrissey called I didn't want to see anybody. I was quite rude to him and he left." At which point there was really no going back.

There are, of course, those who would rather feed their ears through a shredder than listen to Julie Burchill discuss her favourite subject: Julie Burchill. She done some terrible things, and written a lot worse, and in doing so has played the role of journalism's arch villain to perfection. But not to listen would have been to miss the novel and frequently jaw-dropping experience of listening to a person without empathy and entirely indifferent to the notion of being liked.

Burchill was gobby, self-aggrandising, contradictory and bloody-minded. Talking of her feuds, her marriages and her "intemperate" writing, she made you wince but she also made you hoot. DID interviews are usually cosy and respectful, a soothing accompaniment to Sunday-morning domesticity, but this one was plain bonkers. It was absolutely electrifying.

Burchill was – quelle surprise – a strange and difficult child. "I didn't know anyone as mean as me," she trilled. At 12 she was reading Oscar Wilde and Dorothy Parker and by 14 was shoplifting. When she was 15 she ran away to London and sold perfume at King's Cross station for six weeks before her father found her and dragged her home. The worry had turned his hair white.

Burchill talked with glee about her love of boozing ("I don't just like to have a glass of wine and relax... I like to get drunk") and her drug-taking at the NME ("It was like a youth club with lots of amphetamine sulphate"). When presenter Kirsty Young remarked that listeners might be shocked at her unrepentant attitude, Burchill shrieked, "That's their hard cheddar!"

The conversation took a more intense turn as Young asked why, in leaving two marriages, she had abandoned her children. Burchill said she had been "reckless and selfish" and "could have done things a lot better." Yet she insisted that wasn't sorry and she truly didn't care what people, even friends and family, thought of her. "I don't believe you,' said Young, boldly. "I think you do care."

"I'd like to say you were right," replied Burchill, "and it would make me seem like a better person... but I can't lie to you and say it's a thing that I sit around thinking about. You can't care fleetingly. I look at people who do feel things deeply and I do not envy them. They just come to grief on the rocks of their own emotions."

For a moment this wasn't cartoon Burchill, but a serious glimpse into the inner-workings of an odd and fascinating character. It was a proper conversation between two clever women, which is something you don't hear enough of on the radio. It was, for a short while, more important than science.

twitter.com/FionaSturges

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'