People: The right note for breakfast

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I LIKE a bit of excitement to get me going in the morning, and last week I found it in, of all places, a Radio 3 studio. At 8.32am on Friday the place was absolutely buzzing - not at all what I had expected when I went in to meet the new host of the network's "breakfast show", Petroc Trelawny. The crew were talking about the death of Frank Sinatra, which had just been announced in Hollywood. Meanwhile the minutes ticked down to the arrival on the programme of the minister for films, Tom Clarke. "Shall we drop the minister?" was the question. "Yes? No. Let's get a reaction from him on Sinatra." It was all good seat-of-the-pants stuff.

Petroc has been brought in as part of a revamp of On Air, the new format of which comprises arts news and reviews and, horror of horrors, no piece of music longer than 18 minutes. "Everyone thinks back to Radio 3 and morning concerts with long pieces of music, but there's always harking back to a golden age," he told me. "I think Radio 3 realised that radio gets its biggest audience at breakfast and that although audience share was good it could be better. There was a feeling more could be achieved."

In the ever-heated breakfast wars Trelawny and his crew are hoping to make an impression: "Radio 1 is obviously different. But I think that Radio 4 and 5 Live are getting so relentless with the news that we can offer something else. I'm hoping people will find the revamped Today so boring that they'll switch to us."

There is quite an art to picking classical music for a breakfast show. "Not too much choral. I think it's a bit too early in the morning for that. Similarly, we might use a tenor or bass aria but not a soprano aria. It's a bit too much in your face when you are going to work. We'd have a bit of stirring music - something like Night on a Bare Mountain, which is wonderful - and not too many wishy-washy pieces for strings."

Petroc, as his name indicates, is from Cornwall, and grew up an outsider in more senses than one. "I suppose I was always interested in radio because we didn't have a television until I was 16," he told me. "I think it was some sort of experiment by my father that we were living in this wonderful rural place. So, of course, I had no idea what was going on in conversations at school, and in the end I was so embarrassed I used to be briefed by my best friend about what was going on in Blake's Seven. I used to lie to all my friends whenever they came round and tell them the television was being repaired."

Via Plymouth Sound and BBC Radio Devon Petroc found his way to Hong Kong and the British Forces Broadcasting Service. "I thought it would be really glamorous. But the RAF base in Hong Kong is near the Chinese border and it was just like a scene from M*A*S*H - it's 36-degree heat and mosquitoes in a tin shed, with lots of Gurkha soldiers. I played pop music and did dedications - it was just like Smashie and Nicey."

He has always been interested in music: "My mother was a church organist and we always listened to concerts on Radio 3. I remember sitting listening to the Proms with a brochure." Hence a return to London as part of Classic FM's launch team. "Classic FM really saw where there was an audience and they did a lot of live performances by talented young musicians. It was very exciting and I think when it started it really helped to shake up an area of radio that had maybe been allowed to stay the same for too long.

"I got this job because I'd been doing some work for In Tune [the Radio 3 drive-time programme] and at the time I was doing the breakfast show for BBC GMR. It was a bit unfortunate when they asked me because I'd met one of the commissioning editors the day before and had been complaining about how I didn't like getting up in the morning to do breakfast shows." You could have fooled me.

NO PRECIOUS artist is sculptor Antony Gormley. It was, of course, Gormley who brought us the Angel of the North, the huge, winged figure that dominates the skyline alongside the A1 at Gateshead and which last week was adorned with an outsize Alan Shearer shirt. I rather dreaded what he would have to say about it when I rang him, but he couldn't have been more relaxed.

"It's very charming," he told me. "It's like two worlds uniting - I've never heard so many people talking about art. The Angel has now become a place where people go to meet each other, have picnics - I'm sure they will end up getting married there. I suppose lots of people do see Shearer as the Angel of the North, rather than the sculpture. The only thing is I'd have liked to have seen a shirt with sleeves. That would have made it. But I suppose it was too expensive."

English love letters from Africa

ALL ASPIRING writers know the frustration of writer's block. The novelist Francesca Marchiano has hit on a solution: write in a different language.

Speaking about her first book, the Rules of the Wild, a love story based in Africa, she said: "I started off writing in Italian and I then got stuck. A friend of mine said to me: 'You are writing about your English life with people in Africa. You should be writing in English.' And I realised she was right. I was translating what I felt in English into Italian. So I wrote it all again in English and it worked."

Her novel tries to explain the relationship of the whites who live in Africa in a place where they will never belong: "You have to love it without being afraid of the consequences, knowing all along you will never be a part of it no matter how hard you try."

Marchiano was born in Rome, dropped out of university and went to New York where she made films. "It's difficult to explain why I moved to Africa ... There is hardly ever a rational answer behind a question like this. The first time I went to Africa it was completely by chance but somehow I knew straight away it wasn't a coincidence. I had won an airplane ticket as an award for a short film I had made.

"I found myself on a plane heading towards Zanzibar, an island about which I knew absolutely nothing. I hadn't planned to stay but I also hadn't planned to fall in love with Africa which I did immediately."

She now lives in Kenya in an old secluded house without phone or television and often without electricity: "It took me two years to write Rules of the Wild. Sometimes I would look up from my desk and realise I hadn't spoken to anyone in months. In New York I had lived in a community. I had to learn how to survive intellectually and physically. I wanted to prove to myself I could."

So what was it like to come back to Europe. "I just think I can't wait to get back. I just want to see all those puddles of rain again."

AND WHO says it's time to return to the good old days? The tiny village of Stokeinteignhead near Torquay is seeking to revive an old tradition to make a woman ride Lady Godiva-style through its streets.

The village first spiced up its Village Day 20 years ago by re-enacting the procession. There are those who might think it wouldn't be a popular move to bring it back, but there have been three keen volunteers. It looks set to be a real contest. The local postmaster in charge of organising the venture, Phil Riggs, told me: "It's not true they're naked. They wear bikini bottoms or whatever, otherwise the police would be down on us like a shot. I honestly don't know how the tradition came about first of all. We must have had some people down from Coventry. We're meeting next week to decide which one of the girls it will be, but I'm not judging. I don't think my wife would like it very much. So can I put you down as interested in volunteering?" Cheeky so-and-so!

Sombre words from Tribute Tony

ON page 3 we've highlighted the work of one of Britain's most prolific journalists - Tony Blair. I'm struck too by his output in the wake of the newly deceased. Few doubted the aptness or sincerity of his "People's Princess" remark, but now, it seems, hardly a celebrity death can pass without the PM paying his respects. Linda McCartney, he told us, was "a great lady who did a lot for Britain", and now Frank Sinatra, we learn, was someone he had grown up with and "will be deeply missed". I'm sure Mr Blair doesn't want to appear churlish when rung up for a quote on such occasions, but at the same time he's in danger of turning into Tribute Tony.

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