Matthew Wright: 'I don't feel I have a job. I'd turn up for nothing'

That's how happy Matthew Wright is hosting his chat show on Five. And now he can also be heard in a Radio 2 arts slot. Not bad for a one-time Mirror showbiz hack.

In the middle of an item about a cheese festival on Five's The Wright Stuff, a member of the audience leapt up and started accusing Matthew Wright of being gay. The presenter ended the programme the only way he could think of - thrusting a cheeseboard into the man's face and asking him, "Would you like some cheese?"

"I'm very comfortable as a slightly camp man. I can't be any other way, so if people want to imagine that they're my gay lovers, more power to them," says the once married, currently single 41-year-old. It is this personable approach to broadcasting that has made The Wright Stuff one of the most successful daytime programmes on British television, consistently beating Channel 4 in the same 9-10.30am time slot.

Two months ago, Wright, formerly a Daily Mirror showbiz hack, was hired by BBC Radio 2 to host its Friday-night arts show. Wearing this new hat, he is about to come out of the closet - as a folk fan - and this week he will present his show live from the Cambridge Folk Festival.

A passion for folk music is more usually associated with bearded types than sharp-suited presenters, but names such as Pentangle, Fairport Convention and Curved Air, the Sixties psychedelic folk rock band, roll easily off Wright's tongue, confirming his enthusiasm.

He is also keen on the new wave of folk bands, from the bizarre Circulus to the soulful Seth Lakeman, whom Wright has known since the singer was 12. (He is the son of the Mirror's West Country correspondent, Geoff Lakeman.)

The BBC originally booked Wright into a hotel in Cambridge, but he insisted on camping instead. "I can't go to a festival and not camp. What is the point of going to a festival and staying in a hotel?" he asks.

His former partner in crime on the Mirror showbusiness desk, Richard Wallace, now the newspaper's editor, likes to describe Wright as "lite, trite and full of shite". But at Radio 2, he feels able to express a different side of his personality - "to show that there is more to me than a tabloid caricature".

Wright did not really enjoy his previous experience of radio at the London station LBC. "I'd turn up on a Saturday morning to an empty building, with just a security guard to let me in, and a fairly rudderless show for three hours." In contrast, Radio 2, where he regularly stood in for Steve Wright before his current job, "seems to be ticking like a Rolex watch". "You've got guys there that have been in radio all their lives. I can't describe how professional it is. It is a joy to go into. You've got producers who are mustard-keen, who know everything there is to know about their subject."

In each two-hour show, he and guests - who have included Pete Townshend, Vic Reeves, Dean Koontz and Paul Greengrass, director of United 93 - discuss the latest films, plays, books and music releases. There is no prescribed playlist. Instead, Wright tries to match tracks to whatever has just been discussed.

He is keen to do more radio and is learning to "drive the desk", although he admits that at present he is "still wearing L-plates". Indeed, he is a curious mix of confidence and vulnerability. Halfway through the interview, Wright asks, "Mind if I smoke?", then quickly adds that he is seeing a hypnotist the following day to help him to quit. "I did five years stopping, and then started again at Christmas in an act of lunacy. I hate it." After the interview, he asks if we mind not using a picture of him with a cigarette in his hand, as part of his new post-smoking persona.

As a boy in Croydon, Wright wanted to become an actor, and came close to achieving this ambition, starring in children's films and adverts for Rowntrees Fruit Gums. But following an avant-garde English and drama course at Exeter University - "wandering around with sticks that we had to make our friends, and doing classes in black karate" - he realised that he hated actors.

After six fruitless months looking for work, his father suggested that he stick some CVs through letterboxes in Godalming, Surrey, where his family by then lived. He received one reply, from the Surrey Mail. "I was the world's least determined journalist, purely accidental," he admits. Despite this initial lack of direction, he soon buckled down to a decade of hardcore showbiz journalism, first on The Sun, later on the Mirror, under Piers Morgan. He confesses: "I'm not the world's most sociable person, and yet I went to every showbiz party for 10 years. And that takes its toll."

At the Mirror, Wright became close to the "City Slicker" Anil Bhoyrul, and when the latter stood trial last year, he wrote a letter to the court defending his friend's good character. "When my marriage went down the Swanee, Anil Bhoyrul found me somewhere to live and threw me a lifeline. He's a smashing bloke," Wright says. "Without commenting too much about the case, I have a slight feeling that they were hung out to dry."

Wright admits that he stayed at the Mirror a year too long. "I was sick of it during the last 12 months. By the time I left, I had given up all hope of doing anything in television." His departure to join the internet start-up company coincided with the dotcom bust, although the site went on to become the UK's most successful teen portal, sold earlier this month to Sky for £12m. But within a week of starting his new job, Wright received a phone call out of the blue asking whether he would be interested in hosting his own chat show on Five. By the end of the day, he had handed in his notice, and The Wright Stuff was born.

He has remained loyal to Five ever since. "Chris Evans gave me very good advice. He said, 'Whatever you do, don't leave The Wright Stuff. You've got a show named after you that's doing well. What on earth could you do that would beat that?' He's right."

Moving to Channel 4, where Kevin Lygo, who hired him at Five, is now director of programmes, "doesn't seem to make much sense... to try to win back an audience I already have". A move to ITV is even less likely. "ITV would be primarily interested, if their current daytime output is anything to judge by, in more humiliation and degradation. My ambition would be to liven people up and raise awareness; it wouldn't be picking on people because they're fat or ugly or having extramarital affairs."

While Wright believes that Dawn Airey's launch of Five as the home of "football, films and porn" was misguided, he is a staunch defender of the channel in its current incarnation. "Since Kevin Lygo arrived, and subsequently Dan Chambers, there's been a full-on attempt to make quality programming on a shoestring budget. To see Five so firmly spanking BBC2 on the arts with Tim Marlow, and to see Five emulated by BBC2 with Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen going round art galleries, is a huge compliment," says Wright.

He is proud of the fact that his total editorial team at Five consists of just eight people, and enjoys the freedom that gives him. "I don't feel I have a job. I would turn up for nothing. To be able to do what you want and say what you like on national television, with no restrictions, is a fantastic exercise."

He tries to run the programme along Fleet Street lines, "because they're the only lines I know how to run anything along". But he insists that he wouldn't be tempted to return to print journalism, apart from as a columnist, preferably on a quality newspaper rather than the tabloids that were his training ground.

A low point in an otherwise charmed career at Five came when Wright inadvertently named John Leslie as the anonymous man accused of rape in Ulrika Jonsson's autobiography. "I just blundered like a fool," says Wright, who has always denied naming Leslie deliberately. "The most difficult thing was The Mail on Sunday running stories on an almost weekly basis saying that I was going to be sued for £12m, when I only had about £120 in my bank account at the time." In the end, the threatened legal action never actually happened, and Wright and Leslie remain friends.

When Tony Blair appeared on the show as part of a pre-general election charm offensive, his spin doctor Dave Hill tried to stop Wright from asking whether Ken Livingstone should apologise for comparing a Jewish reporter from the London Evening Standard to a Nazi concentration camp guard. Incensed, Wright persuaded his mother to call in and confront the Prime Minister on the topic. "God bless my mum, she phoned up and she was as sweet as anything. This just goes to show how spin doctors can get it wrong. Tony was absolutely cool with it. He said, 'Yes, I believe that he should apologise.'"

It is not a tactic to which Jeremy Paxman or John Humphrys are ever likely to resort, but Wright is a self-professed "man of the people". "I think a journalist's job is to make even the most complicated subjects very easy to understand. Do we want to obfuscate everything and have an intellectual elite and a dim-witted proletariat? "Or do we want everybody to understand, so that we have all got a chance of having a discussion together? I really can't understand why anybody would opt for the former."

Matthew Wright presents The Weekender live from the Cambridge Folk Festival on Radio 2 on Friday at 10pm

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
politicsIs David Cameron trying to prove he's down with the kids?
Dominique Alderweireld, also known as Dodo de Saumure, is the owner of a string of brothels in Belgium
newsPhilip Sweeney gets the inside track on France's trial of the year
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Cumberbatch was speaking on US television when he made the comment (Getty)
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge, Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus of Blink-182 pictured in 2011.
musicBassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker say Tom Delonge is 'disrespectful and ungrateful'
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'
tvBroadchurch series 2, episode 4, review - contains spoilers
cyclingDisgraced cycling star says people will soon forgive his actions
Britain's Prince Philip attends a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in London
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran will play three sell-out gigs at Wembley Stadium in July
Lena Dunham posing for an official portrait at Sundance 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Analyst Programmer (Filemaker Pro/ SQL) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days, pension, private medical : Ashdown Group: A highly...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm - London

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

Sauce Recruitment: Financial Accountant -Home Entertainment

£200 - £250 per day: Sauce Recruitment: 6 month contract (Initially)A global e...

Sauce Recruitment: Financial Accountant -Home Entertainment

£200 - £250 per day: Sauce Recruitment: 6 month contract (Initially)A global e...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea