Vaughan Williams wins first 'Desert Island Discs' vote

'The Lark Ascending' tops poll of 25,000 would-be castaways for special edition of Radio 4 show

Choosing your Desert Island Discs has long been a celebrity rite of passage, a privilege reserved for the likes of Sir Paul McCartney, Vera Lynn or Margaret Thatcher. Until now.

This weekend, in an open vote, members of the public were allowed to give their verdict on the eight discs they would chose as castaways. Ralph Vaughan Williams's The Lark Ascending was chosen in a special edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme yesterday as the track Britons would most like to take to the fictional remote island.

Unlike the celebrity guests' top eight, revealed earlier this month, which were all classical tracks, the public's choices were more eclectic, with rockers Pink Floyd making it to number five with "Comfortably Numb". There were, though, some similarities, with Elgar and Vaughan Williams featuring in both charts.

Commenting on the choices, presenter Kirsty Young remarked: "The choices of listeners do chime with the choices of castaways. They're reflective. They're not what I'd call jolly."

Elgar's "Enigma Variations" was second choice, followed by Beethoven's Symphony No 9 in D minor: Choral. The choral piece has been the most popular choice by castaways on the show after being chosen by 97 of them, including Martin Sheen and Paulo Coelho, but was ranked only third by listeners. Meanwhile, Edith Piaf's "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien", which was the most popular non-classical track of castaways, did not even make the public's top eight.

More than 25,000 people submitted nearly 250,000 tracks to the Radio 4 website after they were invited to follow in the footsteps of celebrities and choose the eight discs they would take to a desert island. The entries included everything from spoken word to rap, jazz, opera and pop.

Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" came in fourth, followed by "Comfortably Numb" by Pink Floyd, Sir Edward Elgar's Cello Concerto in E minor, George Frideric Handel's The Messiah and Gustav Holst's The Planets.

Music critic Miranda Sawyer, a guest on the show, was heard sniggering at the choice of Pink Floyd. Referring to the track's length – more than six minutes – she said: "I think it was slightly chosen for value for money... you get a lot for your bucks here. I have to say it leaves me unmoved."

Six of the top eight were from English artists (plus the "German-British" Handel), despite there being no stipulation on nationality. Another of the show's guests, presenter Paul Gambaccini, remarked that "the voters are obviously not black" thanks to the lack of black artists in the top eight. Kirsty Young responded: "This is a slice of Radio 4 listeners and we can see that."

The Beatles were the most commonly chosen artist or group, followed by Bob Dylan, Ludwig van Beethoven, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Pink Floyd, J S Bach, The Rolling Stones and Sir Edward Elgar.

The most popular aria was Puccini's "Nessun Dorma" from Turandot followed "Au Fond du Temple Saint" from by Georges Bizet's 1863 opera The Pearl Fishers.

The two most popular non-music requests were Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas and a cricket commentary that has become legendary. The "leg over" cricket commentary features Jonathan Agnew and Brian Johnston breaking down in laughter after "Aggers" described how Ian Botham had knocked over his stumps.

"One Day Like This", by Elbow, was the most popular piece of music from the last decade. The programme has been on air since 1942, making it the longest-running factual show in the history of radio.