The Way I was: The fan who became my friend: John Peel

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Indy Lifestyle Online
John Peel, DJ, tells Nicholas Roe of the 7ft German who walked into his life

THE photograph is of me and my friend Tullus at some international airport, probably Dusseldorf. I'm standing holding a box of records, looking vaguely furtive, and Tullus is alongside me, looking down because he's 7ft tall.

I do these programmes for British Forces Broadcasting, and although there doesn't seem to be a lot of forces listening, they are obviously quite popular with the Germans. Tullus and his mates turned up at the BBC one day in 1980, and phoned up from reception to ask if I had time for a beer.

People in Britain have grown up with the idea that Radio 1 DJs are rather special and wonderful human beings, and they have a certain unease, which I wish wasn't there. But the Germans and Dutch don't know that's how they're supposed to feel - if they like the programme, they kind of like you as well, by extension. So I told Tullus I'd see him for a drink later, and asked how I would recognise him. He said: 'Oh, it'll be easy because I'm 7ft tall.' I thought there had been some mistake in translation, but he actually was.

At the time, I used to go to Germany once every three or four weeks, sometimes with one or two of my children, and we used to meet up with Tullus. I'm sure people will think this is very unsuitable, but Tullus had a great appetite for what he referred to as 'proletariat bars'.

He used to take us all off to these terrible cafes in Hamburg. William must have been seven or eight and Alexandra would have been five or six, and of course they thought this was absolutely priceless, all these terrible dens at one o'clock in the morning.

They remember that now. As I drove round, I'd show them all the interesting places . . . historical sites, beautiful churches. They weren't interested in those at all, but they did like the bars.

Tullus used to have the perfect flat. When you approached Hamburg from the south, you could see on top of a block of pre-war flats a big Dunlop sign, and he lived behind the 'o' in Dunlop.

There was no question of asking 'How do we get to your house?' It was a great big block, just like a film set, and some evenings we would sit out on the balcony for hours with a couple of bottles of wine, talking and watching proletarian Hamburg below. There was the autobahn, and behind that the Elbe river and two overhead railways. You didn't need a television.

Obviously there are people in Britain I've met as a result of Radio 1 programmes, but they are surprisingly few. If listeners write interesting or amusing letters, I'll often write back and say, this is where we live, if you fancy a drink, give us a ring. But they think it's some kind of showbiz scam and it isn't like that at all.

This probably stems from my growing up in the country after the war. I was rather solitary, and I've been trying to make up for it ever since. That may sound a bit pathetic when it's written down, but I was perfectly happy being solitary, you know, and I still go off by myself once in a while. It's a strange job, this . . .

Tullus remains a friend, though he is a doctor now and I don't see him so much. It's one of those things that makes you think: if I'd been too busy or in a bad mood, and had said I wouldn't go for a beer, my life would have been different - I would have been deprived of a friendship. I always think it's best to take a chance on people.

(Photograph omitted)