Easter Sunday's Desert Island Discs personage is none other than Virginia Ironside of The Independent. Why, she does not know. But the way Sue Lawley introduced her was enough to bring a blush to the cheek of any agony aunt
The programme itself used to include lunch, but although that's out now, Sue Lawley does at least have the courtesy to come and collect you from the BBC hall in person. She is cool, feminine and charming, and leads you into the studio with cups of coffee, croissants and glasses of water. To loosen me up, I suppose, we listen to snatches of each of my favourite records, and soon I feel thoroughly at home.

She tells me that she'll record one-and-a-half hours' worth, but it will be reduced to 28 minutes of talk and 12 minutes of music. She's an easy talker and by the time the green light comes on I could tell her anything.

"Watch out," friends had told me. "She's a scourge, a Rottweiler!" Diana Plomley has bewailed her "extraordinary obsession" with people's sex-lives.

Certainly I was totally unprepared when she introduced me with the words: "My castaway this week is Virginia Ironside, author and journalist. Born at the end of the war to parents illustrious in the world of art and fashion, Virginia went to art school, became a rock correspondent to the Daily Mail in the Sixties, when she was very promiscuous, and joined Woman magazine as an agony aunt in 1973." What! I gulped. Promiscuous! Me? I mean yes, but then no, and anyway, what an awful thing to say about anyone, however undiscriminating they'd been in their twenties. We staggered on with the interview until my first piece of music ("Sexual Healing" by Marvin Gaye) when I dared to protest. (I felt like the character in the Harry Enfield programme - "If that Sue Lawley asked me on Desert Island Discs I'd say okay Sue, fair enough, but if that Sue Lawley then called me promiscuous I would say "No, Sue, No! That is out of order!") She could describe me as a wild child of the Sixties if she liked, I said, or into sex, drugs and rock and roll, but promiscuous - certainly not. It sounded really creepy and clinical. She looked very surprised at my objection but re- recorded the intro as "wild child".

The question which loomed in my mind, but was neither asked nor answered, was why on earth I'd been asked to be a castaway on Desert Island Discs in the first place. I wasn't one of the great and good, I hadn't rescued hospitals from closure or won the Olympic hurdling contest or paddled up the Amazon single-handed. It was all very mysterious. Had they perhaps confused me with my mother, the late fashion professor, Janey Ironside? As Roy Hattersley said recently, the people who used to be chosen were "men and women of distinction and enlightenment, to whose achievements every ambitious schoolchild could listen with envy."

"But that was then, in the Roy Plomley days," said friends, bitter with envy - being asked to appear on Desert Islands Discs being almost more prestigious than getting the OBE. "The standards have slipped dreadfully since Sue Lawley took over. Now they choose just anybody."

The researcher who came to talk to me for two-and-a-half hours before Sue Lawley got her hooks into me, told me that being asked on Desert Island Discs was "half as an award for achievement, and half as a living obituary". I didn't know whether to feel flattered or depressed.

Lawley says she now refuses to be interviewed herself because she's fed up with all the questions about re-inventing herself, changing her accent from pure Dudley in the Black Country, and all that harking back to Roy Plomley.

But she says that when people refuse to come on to Desert Island Discs it is, she suspects, because they're worried that their musical tastes will let them down; she says women are far more organised about it all than men.

But in fact choosing the music is a great deal more difficult than might be imagined. What, after all, are you doing? Is the programme a chance to tell people what you are really like or is it a chance to put yourself across as you would like others to see you? I tried to give a cultured impression by including a piece of Mozart in the collection, but my son disabused me of this affectation. "Unless you choose a little-known classical piece specifically recorded in 1931 by the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Giorgio Caravaggio, with soloist Bertha Spinfield or whoever," he said, "you'll be revealed for the Classic FM hick you really are."

It seemed to me to be as important not to choose eight pieces of Schubert or eight sad pieces (though Dame Elisabeth Schwarzkopf chose all her records featuring her own voice except one), as to choose eight pieces about which there was some story to tell, and to choose an entertaining programme of music - diverse and interesting in its own right. These restrictions got my entire list of 334 down to about five, and in the end I was scrabbling about for suitable tracks.

As for the luxury item, Ben Elton chose the British Museum; Roald Dahl chose a packet of tobacco seeds and a bunch of grape-cuttings from Burgundy, and Artur Rubinstein wanted a revolver since he was sure he would kill himself after only a few days of solitude.

When told I had to take something strictly non-functional, friends suggested: "A man". Others, harking back to what they saw as the good old days, said: "Why not ask Sue if you could take Roy Plomley?" One suggested a paving stone, so I could stand on it and imagine I was in London - but I thought that might remind me too much of waiting for a 49 bus, or hailing a non- existent taxi, so I gave it a miss.

An hour-and-a-half after I'd clapped eyes on Sue Lawley, and far too many confessions later, it was over. My favourite record had been of my son singing Hot Tamales with the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, and my book (apart from the Bible and Shakespeare, of course) was The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale.

Thinking about what I'd said later, I wondered whether I'd been wise to go on. Lord Olivier, the Prince of Wales, Anita Brookner and George Bernard Shaw all refused, Shaw on the grounds that he was "too busy with more important things". When the producer thanked me for a "very generous interview" I suspected I had unbuttoned my mouth too much. "Hmm," said a producer friend. "`Very generous'. That means you spilled your guts out." I groaned with shame.

Well, at least the music's great

Virginia Ironside will appear on Desert Island Discs on Easter Sunday at 12.15 on Radio Four

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