`I walked on the dancefloor and I was treated like the messiah'

Revelations: Pete Tong
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Indy Lifestyle Online
The time: February 1998

The place: Derby

The man: Pete Tong - DJ

"I'VE ONLY just been coming to terms with the fact that I'm famous. Even though I've been on the radio all my adult life. I started at Radio 1 as a journalist/guest DJ in 1979 so I've transcended generations of clubbers. Up till recently, being on the radio might have made you notorious, but never famous. The DJ as a superstar has been very strange for me, I have to pinch myself. All I do is walk into a club and people go wild. I think: `it's only me, all I've got is a box of records!'

The intensity of the cult of personality really hit me last month at a club in Derby; people outside London and the South-east are a little less cynical. Although I'd worked at Progress in Derby in the past, I don't go out on the road very much - especially now that I have a family. So getting me back to places is very difficult, but this year I've returned to people who earlier in my career supported me big time.

When I was finally given own Radio 1 show, back in 1991, I was the only dance DJ. The other jocks were still just chasing the money and being booked into the chicken and chips clubs on Wednesday nights - like the Bruno Brookeses and Peter Powells of years gone by. Although I was really well known, credible and played at all the right places in the South-east, everywhere else, being a Radio 1 DJ, I was not the coolest person. So I'd phoned Derby and actually begged for a gig.

I hadn't seen the owner of Progress for seven years. He got me to meet him in the town centre because the club had moved to a pedestrian walkway and he needed to guide me in. He was amazed by the response: `I've never seen crowds like it. Last time you played for me, you couldn't even mix. I don't believe it. I've turned 2,000 people away tonight. It's gonna clear me out, because you're charging a fortune, but I don't mind. Just tell me what you ve done.' The truth was that I don't know!

I entered through the back door of his club, word went through like wildfire, there was an incredible buzz. I walked on the dance floor and I was treated like the messiah! I'm not a pop star and I don't want to be one but that's all I can liken it to. The crowd parted and they wanted to stroke me, shake my hand, kiss me - and it was just as much the boys as the girls. It was stupid and over the top but they were beautiful people and I was really pleased. Even before I played my first record there was a massive cheer and everybody ran to the front.

It's a funny job - all I'm doing is playing somebody else's records! The adulation is quite uncomfortable, although I'm proud of my ability to entertain, I feel I should be doing more - like juggling.

Also in the last six months, because my mix albums have been phenomenally successfully, selling 700,000 copies, which is more than anything else in my genre has ever sold, I've been asking what I should do with myself. All these doors are being opened that I haven't gone knocking on. Perhaps it's a flaw in my character that I'm not more ambitious to do bigger and better things.

I'm both excited and scared. Half of me thinks this a young person's business and I'm an old bastard, 37, much older than the average age of my club-going audience, who are somewhere between 18 and 25. I always wanted to go out at the top and do something sensible instead. Maybe I should grow up. Yet the other side says nobody has ever got old being a club DJ before - there's no red card yet and I'm not being ordered off stage. At the moment it's too exciting and personally challenging to quit. I'm the equivalent of Alan Shearer in the DJ world - so the money is good too!

My show has grown immensely in popularity, without sounding too conceited, it has attracted some cultural significance for young people because so many live for the weekend. With the new era of Birtism I've been selling the BBC programmes, so I'm behind getting a lot of my so-called competitors, like Judge Jules and Tim Westwood, on to Radio 1.

I've gone from underground to massively overground and now attend John Birt's cocktail parties. I'm quite interested in television next, with the expansion of digital, cable and satellite, there are lots of opportunities. Nobody with my knowledge has been given the challenge of putting club culture on to the box. Nothing has worked before because it's always been done by TV people who know nothing about clubbing.

Pete Tong is on Radio 1 - Friday nights between 6pm and 9pm.

Interview by Andrew G Marshall

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