It is touching that the new boss of Britain's most popular radio station is as starstruck as any of her listeners. A little while ago, Lesley Douglas, whose appointment as the controller of Radio 2 has just been announced, met Bruce Springsteen. More than met him - he kissed her, twice. "You'd be amazed at how excited she was," I am told. "She told everyone she spoke to for days afterwards."
Then, her staff had to endure her excited tales of late-night boozing with Steve Van Zandt, former guitarist in Springsteen's E-Street Band. "She is a music fan before anything," says a Radio 2 source, cheerfully amused at the childhood excitement still evident in the eyes of his new boss.
But Douglas, who can be almost as mushy about Paul Weller, U2, Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra, is no lightweight. She has been at Radio 2 since 1985, the past six years as deputy to the outgoing controller, Jim Moir, a former head of TV light entertainment. Together, they have turned the station around. When Moir arrived, in 1996, the station played lots of music by James Last and the Cliff Adam Singers, and its presenter roster included an 87-year-old man who had been presenting the same show since 1959. In Moir's own diagnosis, it was suitable only for "aunts, mum and dad and certainly granny".
Of course, aunts, mums, dads and grannies deserve radio programmes (and they still have them in corners of Radio 2's schedule), but they can be a nightmare for network controllers. Their nasty habits - particularly that one they have right at the end, when they get so old that they have to be put in a wooden box - are very bad news for ratings. It is brutal to say it, but as they drop off the top, they need to be replaced at the bottom (ask Martin Newland, the new Daily Telegraph editor).
So, Moir and Douglas set themselves a task. They wanted to give thirtysomethings "permission to listen". Steve Wright was the first in, a safe-ish choice but one who opened the way for the likes of Stuart Maconie, Mark Lamarr and the man who has, to my mind, become the best music presenter on radio: Jonathan Ross. And Radio 2 could soon be welcoming the brilliant Mark and Lard.
Moir is a brilliant front man for the amazing transformation, and he willingly received most of the plaudits. But those who observed the two working side by side say that Douglas was the chief executive to Moir's chairman of the board. Or, to use a different metaphor, favoured by one Radio 2 veteran who has dealt with them both: "Jim loaded the rifle, and Lesley fired the bullets." Ask Jimmy Young, finally and belatedly removed from the station last year, whom he most dislikes, Moir or Douglas, and he'd be hard pressed to choose.
But despite Douglas's having presided over some nasty but necessary decisions, her appointment has gone down well with staff. "Just what's needed," I'm told. One big name at Radio 2 is "very happy - the case for continuity was very strong". She is "good at handling presenters". Douglas has none of the bouncy showbiz manner of her predecessor, none of his eye-bulging chutzpah, but that may be in her favour. "She is far less of a showman, but far easier company one on one," I'm told. Moir is not a man who relishes delivering bad news, and he has an unfortunate habit of disappearing behind pillars in corridors rather than coming face to face with a difficult conversation.
Despite her undoubted talents, Douglas is lucky to have got the job. The BBC - rather like newspapers - shows a curious reluctance to bump deputies up into bosses. The corporation, so often (and sometimes rightly) compared to the Civil Service, is ultra-sensitive to accusations that it operates on a system of Buggins' turn. But, equally, it would be vandalism to risk wrecking a station that is doing so well. More of the same will do very nicely, thank you, when Radio2 is bringing in 13 million listeners a week - a fifth of them aged 15-34 - and has been voted UK station of the year three times in the past four years.
A final thought, and one that probably won't have occurred to either of them: Douglas's appointment may owe just a little to Andrew Gilligan. Had the BBC not been so preoccupied with its future, and so keen not to be distracted, it might have sought to rock the boat at Radio 2 and eschewed the steady-as-she-goes candidate. But sometimes the obvious decision is the right one.Reuse content