Past a paparazzi scrum, down a staircase, and inside a modern sound studio, sits one of Radio 1's hottest DJs. Annie Mac and co-host Nick "Grimmy" Grimshaw are trading jibes. "Tell me who you were in the school play, Annie," says Grimshaw, glancing up from the queue of listeners' text messages streaming down his monitor. The texts relate to a question broadcast earlier in the show. "Oh, I only did serious theatre, darling," his colleague wryly responds.
Mac, born Annie MacManus in Dublin in 1978, has presented the Sunday evening show Switch – Radio 1's flagship for new music, aimed at teenagers – for just over a year. On a typical broadcast, Mac and her 24-year-old sidekick Grimshaw might interview Agyness Deyn, or the Jonas Brothers and the cast of High School Musical. They play teen-friendly artists like Fall Out Boy, McFly and Lily Allen. The formula seems to be working; Switch's audience sits at one million and rising. "She's always fun, always having a laugh," says Mac's producer for the show, Megan Carver, "People think of her as an older sister."
Accessible and fun she may be, but Annie Mac's role at Radio 1 is a two- hander. While she's got the ear of the kids on Sunday night, on Fridays she's a dance music aficionado who fronts Mash Up, a show that pulls in half a million fans of techno, electro and house.
Mac's reputation as Radio 1's safest pair of hands helped select her as maternity cover for Sara Cox's Saturday Radio 1 morning breakfast show this year. In 2008, Annie Mac became the role model for girls with ambitions on getting into music broadcasting.
Several days after her Sunday show, Mac arrives for the interview wearing a hooded overcoat, graphic-adorned top, a smattering of jewellery, and minimal make-up. Her Irish brogue has faded, but she grew up in Dundrum, a suburb of Dublin, the youngest of four children to Rosie, a teacher, and Dave, a businessman. Her passion for music began at 17 when she moved to Belfast to study English at Queen's University.
"I fell in love with records, music and radio – and Radio 1 – when I was at university, none of which I knew existed where I grew up in the south of Ireland," she says. "When I discovered it I thought yeah, that's what I want." Her ambition drove her at the age of 20 to Farnborough College of Technology to study for a masters in radio. "It was such a mad place," Mac continues. "I was getting really fat drinking lager, and after a while I got really bored. The culture was very different to Ireland, and there was no sense of community." When her brother formed a band, the Crimea, Mac supported them as a DJ. Following him to the capital a year later, Mac initially worked in minor roles at small stations including the Student Broadcast Network, interviewing bands at venues like Camden's Barfly. A live DJing gig, at Camden nightclub The Underworld, followed.
Mac constantly arranged meetings with executive producers who might give her a chance. At BBC London she answered phones, and in February 2002 met Radio 1 producer, Rhys Hughes, who offered her a two-week placement; a vacancy as assistant producer on the Steve Lamacq show came up and she was in the family.
She started recording idents – short ads – for Radio 1 and suggested to senior figures at Radio 1 that she might understudy during DJs' holidays. In July 2004, she was given Mash Up, her first full-time show.
On Switch, which she began in October 2007, Mac and Grimshaw, himself a staple of the under-25 celebrity circuit in London, play off each other perfectly. How long can Mac go on maintaining credibility among clubbers, teens and the mainstream audience that tuned in to Sara Cox's weekend slot? She admits she was concerned that covering Cox's show this year could alienate her more hard-core dance music fans: "It was a big worry. I haven't got a problem with mainstream music, but I felt it made my Friday nights less believable."
Switch, she explains, focuses on new music, and she's allowed to be irreverent about the tracks she plays. Despite her ambivalence toward mainstream chart fodder, Annie Mac, voice of the kids, is the consummate professional. She lives in a newly-purchased flat in West London. "I think my priorities have changed," she concludes confidently.
"I have stopped doing things that I think I should and I am doing things because I want to. I feel secure enough to be able to say say no. It's only the last two years I have wanted to do that. Since I've started saying no I am really happy with my life." Don't be deceived, though. We'll be hearing a lot more of Annie Mac.