Saturday stories: Blonde, bouncy, but also ballsy

Why do girls identify so much with Zoe Ball, the party girl who has just been chosen to rescue early morning Radio 1? Teen experts tell Ann Treneman that it's mainly because she isn't scary. Photograph: All Action
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It's not too difficult to figure out why the boys like Zoe Ball. She's blonde, bouncy and bubbly. Smash Hits magazine gave her its Sexiest Chick on the Box award. But none of these are why BBC has decided to stake the future of Radio 1 on her by picking her to co-present its breakfast programme.

A teen magazine poll showed that Zoe is a girl that 86 per cent of its readers can identify with, and broadcasting industry sources say it was that kind of evidence that impressed Radio 1 chiefs when they were looking for a replacement for Mark Radcliffe and his sidekick Marc "Lard" Riley, who are being banished to the afternoon.

"She's the kind of girl our readers can relate to," says Jo Hawkings of Bliss. "She comes across as fun. She doesn't seem a bad girl. She's flirty but a good person. She's the kind of girl they think they could enjoy a good gossip with."

This is not the kind of thing that people say about the Spice Girls. They may love them (the current issue of Smash Hits comes complete with a "Free! Inflatable Emma Doll!") but they are hardly the girls next door. Nor do girls feel so sisterly towards the loud-mouthed laddettes from The Girlie Show.

But Zoe is no laddette and though she has been around long enough to be Original Spice she would never fit as such. "Zoe isn't as tarty," said one 14-year-old. If anything Zoe is into girlie power in the lower case rather than in-your-face Girl Power. If her fans can't be her, they would be happy to be her friend.

Fourteen-year-old Georgina Ball from Hertfordshire is no relation but wishes she were. "I'd love to be her for the day. I'd like to have her hair. Her clothes are really extreme, really cool. She's not scarey. She's really friendly." She and her friend Annie White said they watch BBC1's Live and Kicking on Saturday mornings just to watch Zoe.

The official line is that Zoe has been hired for her showbiz glamour. She is a dedicated party girl - it has been said that she would attend the opening of an envelope if invited - and is a staple of the teen magazines' celebrity pages. One senior radio executive said: "Zoe is not regarded as being hugely talented but she is high profile. Essentially she's Evans with a short skirt."

This is a grown-up speaking though and it is the kind of thing that Zoe's fans wouldn't pay attention to - and they know that she wouldn't either. "She is not bitchy," said Sarah Tomczak at Sugar magazine. "You never see a catty remark attributed to her. She doesn't come with an attitude. She just seems like a nice person."

It is not only teenies who like Zoe. More magazine, aimed at girl/women aged between16 and 24, will feature Zoe next month as one of its female icons of the Nineties. "There will be five on the cover and she is one of those who we have approached," said Nigel May, features editor. Others include women such as Sophie Dahl and Martine McCutcheon of EastEnders.

So what does May think is so attractive about Zoe? "It's not Girl Power so much as Girls with Balls. I think our readers enjoy her because she's attractive, she's her own girl, and she been quoted as saying things like that she enjoys a drink and that she enjoys sex. She's just a nice person and she hasn't trod on anyone's feet to get to where she is."

He passes me over to his co-worker Deborah Joseph for the female viewpoint. "She doesn't seem like she loves herself and that is really important. Our readers hate anyone who seems arrogant. She's really stylish and she's appealing and feminine too." So would she say that Zoe was a Girl with Balls? "No, that sounds too laddish. I think Nigel and I will have to disagree over that. Just because she's successful doesn't make her ballsy. I think she's feminine and that is part of her appeal."

The fact that Zoe is different things to different people is part of her magic. "It's one of the reasons I think she'll be really successful," says Deborah. "Men really fancy her and women aren't put off by her either. She has a lot of appeal for both men and women."

Duncan Gray, executive producer of The Big Breakfast, thinks that Zoe is simply a natural. "She is totally unaffected. She has no artifice about her. Women want to be like her and men just fancy the pants off her. She's not like a glamour bitch across the floor at a nightclub. She's approachable, she's fresh and she's natural." And that is what Radio 1 is banking on.

Additional reporting by Preti Taneja.