Thank you for the music

While many female DJs must stoop to flashing cleavage on the covers of men's magazines, Jo Whiley has carved her own niche with sincerity, encyclopaedic knowledge - and a passion for pop

"OH GOD," grimaces Jo Whiley, when she claps eyes on the photographer, "I can't stand being photographed - or interviewed, for that matter." She looks positively shell-shocked by such attention at 10.30 in the morning. Like a frightened rabbit caught in the headlights; her small blue eyes, framed by a pale face and even paler hair, blink with unnerving frequency. Her slim frame burrows uneasily into the corner seat of a greasy cafe next to Radio 1's offices, as if searching for cover.

Such coyness from the Radio 1 DJ who, in your average week, interviews more pop "celebs"on her lunchtime show than Noel necks cups of tea; Tuesday was Radiohead, the day after, Rick Mayall, and Friday, Ian Brown. Until some time last summer, Whiley's husky tones were better known to the NME brigade for co-presenting The Evening Session with Steve Lamacq. Now, though, she reaches a much wider audience with her lunchtime slot, and the world of television has suddenly woken up to her potential.

Despite Chris Evans's blokish quip at the the Brit Awards two years ago that Whiley was the woman at Radio 1 most likely to give you the horn, she seems to have been able to rise above such stereotyping. Last year, she was schlepping through mud with John Peel for the BBC's coverage of Glastonbury. Now a regular presenter on Top Of The Pops, she's swiftly rising as Brit Pop's equivalent to Muriel Gray; a sort of Annie Nightingale for a Nineties pop-literati suffering from bouncy-blonde-presenter fatigue. Her partnering with Peel continues at the end of January with Music Of The Millennium - The Final Countdown on Channel Four, letting the public vote on their favourite albums. If she had her way, it would be Massive Attack's Blue Lines, but as it is, she's crossing her fingers that die- hard trad rock fans won't dominate. "It still seems to be the fans of Led Zeppelin that vote. I live in dread that Zep and Pink Floyd are going to come up again and again."

There's also a new pop programme in the pipeline for Channel 4, still at pilot stage, which, if successful, Whiley will present some time in spring. "I think there's a real need for an intelligent music programme, talking about the issues in music with people you're interested in hearing, whether it's Jarvis or Skunk Anansie."

Whiley's sincerity about pop music, her indie-sensibility and down-to- earth presenting style seem like a perfect antidote to zanier pop formulas. While the Denise van Outens and Zoe Balls of this world have been swiftly "babefied" for the male magazine market - exposing cleavage and legs on countless glossy covers - it's hard to imagine Whiley, 32, packaged in such a way. As an old mate of Ball's, she does find it somewhat irksome that women in her industry are so quickly pigeon-holed. "Zoe came round just before Christmas and we were doing a pop trivia game. She just wiped the floor with everyone - Radio 1 producers and people from the music industry. Her knowledge of music is incredible. I just thought, 'God, that's a side that really doesn't get through'."

With Whiley, though, it most definitely does get through. After five minutes in her company, it's easy to see why. There's no flirting, frills or fancy stuff to distract you. She's plain-spoken without being a motor- mouth. Pop stars clearly warm to her, because she doesn't try to upstage them or get girlie in their company, and she isn't impressed by the nature of their celebrity - or, increasingly, her own. It's certainly not something she's ever courted. "I wasn't one of those people who used to listen to John Peel under the bedclothes and think, 'One day I'll be there'."

Yet she grew up, in Northampton, surrounded by music. Her mother runs a post office, her father is an electrician, and they would constantly listen to Elvis and the Rolling Stones. Even now, says Whiley, her father will phone up and say, "John Peel played this really good reggae record the other night."

Whiley doesn't come across as hugely ambitious or driven. But like many people, it seems, who make a living out of a personal passion, she's risen rather effortlessly. While studying languages at Brighton Polytechnic, she started working on a local radio station and then came to London to study radio journalism. She worked in television on a couple of obscure programmes, before landing two series on The Word, booking bands. Then Radio 1 tried her out on the Session slot and she started with Steve Lamacq in 1994. Despite her rise and rise in the television pop world, you won't find her ligging at pop and PR bashes. Home is in North London where she lives, "like a gang" with her husband Steve, who works in music promotion, and her five-year-old daughter, India.

As a music fan, though, she can still be overawed by the people she has to mix with. "Some are more scary than others," she says. "I was terrified of David Bowie. I just used to think he was God's gift. He came to the studio half an hour early and I was sitting, with no make-up on, still writing my notes out. His head popped round the door and he said, 'Hello. Shall I come in?' I said, 'I haven't got any make-up on,' to which he replied, No, neither have I. Never mind.'"

What saves her from descending into luvviness when she relates such chummy escapades with the pop world's A-list is a focused passion for the music, far more than the hype and image that surrounds it. Whiley seems more relaxed talking about her love of radio, or the first time she saw The Clash in Birmingham when she was ten. She's just as enthusiastic about new music - Cornershop and Belle & Sebastian are among her current favourites - and since her move to the lunchtime slot, a priority is breaking new bands to a larger audience. "That's what makes it worthwhile. If all I could play was M-People or The Lighthouse Family all the time, I would go absolutely insane," she says. "If I know I'm going to play a new DJ Shadow record and interview Ian Brown, then it's a good day."

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Sport
Louis van Gaal watches over Nani
transfers
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
transfersColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Teaching Assistant

    £12024: Randstad Education Leeds: Teaching Assistant September 2014 start - te...

    Physics Teacher

    £130 - £162 per day + UPS: Randstad Education Hull: Physics Teacher Long Term ...

    IT Technician (1st/2nd line support) - Leatherhead, Surrey

    £23000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Technician (1st/2nd line support)...

    Primary Teacher EYFS, KS1 and KS2

    £85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education are urgentl...

    Day In a Page

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn