My Life In Media: James Whale

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The Independent Online

James Whale, 57, is a radio host and television presenter who hit the headlines earlier this month after being sacked from Talksport Radio, where he'd worked for 13 years, for breaching Ofcom broadcasting rules by endorsing the Conservative London mayoral candidate Boris Johnson. The outspoken Whale made his reputation as a late-night shock jock at Newcastle's Metro Radio. Since leaving Talksport he has launched a website ( and joined the shopping channel Bid TV as a presenter. His autobiography, Almost a Celebrity, is out in paperback in October. He lives in London, where he enjoys gardening and archery. Whale and his wife Melinda have been married for 40 years and have two sons, James, 39, and Peter, 37.

What inspired you to embark on a career in the media?

I love radio. Like everybody else I'd always wanted to work on Radio 1, but my real inspiration came when I visited Topshop on Regent's Street and got a job with their in-house radio station.

When you were 15 years old, which newspaper did your family get, and did you read it?

I think, if my memory serves me correctly, I was 15 in 1964 and I mainly read the Daily Sketch, the Mirror and The Daily Telegraph. My dad was a publican so we always had pretty much every paper out on the bar.

And what were your favourite TV and radio programmes?

Obviously I was and still am a massive radio fan. I think I started by listening to Tony Blackburn on pirate radio, and today I listen to a lot of Chris Moyles and Steve Wright. Interestingly, Chris did work experience with me many years ago. On TV at the moment I can't get enough of NCIS and I'm a big fan of The Bill. I'd love to appear in it.

Describe your job

I'd have to describe it as having spent a lifetime chatting over the garden fence. From my first job at Harrods as a buyer to my new job as a presenter with Bid TV, and all the radio and television jobs in between, I've been a communicator. What's more, my job has always been extremely varied. For instance, at one point in the Seventies I'd be doing work as an actor in Doctor Who or Z-Cars, recording commercial voiceovers and working for Metro Radio all in the same week.

What's the first media you turn to in the mornings?

I do the newspaper reviews with Eamonn Holmes on Sunrise every week so I always make sure to turn on Sky News every morning to keep informed.

Do you consult any media sources during the day?

If I'm out and about I'll listen to [London station] LBC Radio for their rolling news and regular traffic updates.

What is the best thing about your job?

Without a doubt it is the connection I have with my listeners. I'm lucky enough to be able to connect with people easily and I find it very rewarding.

And the worst?

The amount of driving I have to do between jobs.

How do you feel you influence the media?

I hope that I am respected for speaking my mind.

What's the proudest achievement in your working life?

I'm proud that I've talked about important issues on my show like testicular cancer, and that I launched the James Whale Fund for Kidney Cancer. I'm also honoured that many of my listeners feel they have a bond with me.

And what's your most embarrassing moment?

There is nothing in my entire career that I can look back on and wish hadn't happened. Leaving Talksport the way I did wasn't an embarrassment or a low point but a changing point. But I do think that people took what I said about Boris in the wrong way. I have always said fairly outrageous things so I don't really understand why this has been such a catalyst. What I will say is that I'm still waiting for Boris to offer me a job. Ken Livingstone had something like 70 media advisors, whereas Boris only needs me. I'm ideal. For the last 30 years I've known what the ordinary man or woman in the street thinks.

What is your Sunday paper? And do you have a favourite magazine?

I try to get them all. While I might have an extreme view that is shared by one newspaper to the left or the right, I like to balance them out.

Name the one career ambition you want to realise before you retire

To be a regular panellist on Question Time.

What would you do if you didn't work in the media?

I think I'd have quite liked to have been a politician. Nigel Farage of UKIP asked me last week if I'd like to be considered as a prospective parliamentary candidate for them. I said I wasn't interested at the moment but perhaps in the future.

Who in the media do you most admire and why?

I really admire Sir David Frost and his interviewing technique, especially when he did That Was The Week That Was. Nowadays I think political interviewers, like [Jeremy] Paxman, have all become too friendly with politicians. Political interviews on television are like American wrestling shows: they pretend to be all argumentative but actually it is all rehearsed beforehand as politicians are too scared to answer tough questions.

The CV

1970 Joins Topshop Radio.

1974 Heads to Newcastle to work for Metro Radio and host one of the first late-night phone-in shows.

1980 Hosts the BBC Radio Derby breakfast show.

1989 Moves over to TV with The James Whale Radio Show on ITV.

1995 Is hired in the late-night slot at Talksport.

2006 After suffering from cancer he set up the James Whale Fund for Kidney Cancer.

2007 Publishes his autobiography, Almost a Celebrity: a Lifetime of Night-Time.

2008 Fired from Talksport for breaching Ofcom regulations, but returns to television as a presenter for Bid TV.