Katie Derham has been the face of the BBC Proms for just over a week, so you can forgive the staff of the Royal Albert Hall restaurant for having no idea who she is when we arrive without a booking, and for politely telling us to shove off.
Never mind that she has been reading the news on ITV for the past 12 years. But Derham is no diva, and is just as happy to sit in an unlit corridor with a paper cup of tea and a cupcake as we discuss her surprise career move.
Earlier this year, Derham was headhunted by the BBC to work across Radio 3 and television: she is presenting most of this summer's Proms and in the autumn will become a regular host of Radio 3's afternoon slot. The appointment has been broadly welcomed by Radio 3's notoriously conservative listeners, but some could be justified in viewing it with suspicion: Derham does not have a music degree, traditionally a minimum requirement – albeit unofficial – for the station's presenters, and most of her radio experience has been on Classic FM, Radio 3's populist rival, for which she has worked for eight years.
The balance between populism and elitism on Radio 3 has tipped in favour of the former under controller Roger Wright, who has recently borrowed Classic FM formulas such as a chart of the nation's favourite opera arias. Some may see Derham's ap- pointment as a further step in the direction of increasing Radio 3's 1.2 per cent audience share.
"They are two very different stations," she says, "they have a different role. Classic FM does what it does well: it takes the view that shorter pieces work for the audience that it's got. But I also think Radio 3 does what it does well. We can't pretend to be Radio 1 Xtra – but we can have jazz, world music, and folk music, as a way to bring more people in. And don't forget that Radio 3 doesn't just do music – it does speech, drama, and contextualises the music, and that really interests me."
Derham does have a background in music, having played the piano and violin from the age of five. Her degree, from Cambridge, was in economics, but she continued to play in orchestras throughout university. In 2008 she took part in Maestro, the BBC reality show in which eight personalities battled to become a conductor, and next month she will appear in First Love, a new series for Sky Arts, for which she picked up her violin again after nearly 20 years and performed in a string quartet. She enjoyed the experience so much that she has joined an orchestra in Sussex, where she lives with her husband and two young daughters.
"One shouldn't be 'ghettoised' into being a classical music lover," she says. "I do love classical music. But come on, it's not what I dance to at a wedding, It's not necessarily what I listen to when I'm driving the kids to school."
She is an enthusiastic amateur, keen to change the perception of classical music as being "uncool", but does not have much time for preciousness from classical music fans, particularly when it comes to the thorny question of clapping between movements. "If you are spontaneously driven to applaud somebody then great," she says, " I say lighten up!" The argument against clapping between movements is that it disrupts a work's cohesion, but Derham hints that it has more to do with musical snobbery. "There has been something of an invisible moat between performers and audiences, and anything that can bridge that moat is a good thing. The Proms is a democratic festival: you can come in from the park in your shorts and listen to Shostakovich. If a person who may never have been to a concert before wants to clap because they love the music, I say clap, and anyone who has got a problem with it should get out more."
Derham's attitude was similarly robust when, some years ago, several journalists attacked newsreaders for being paid a lot to look pretty in front of a camera. It's depressing to discover that, if you tap Katy Derham into Google, it suggests you add the word "legs". "There's a lot written about female presenters that would never be written about male presenters. It can be frustrating," she says. Much has been written, too, about Derham's clothes and she was once described as dressing like a dominatrix. "I enjoy dressing up as much as the next person. But a lot of what is written is nonsense. It's all so subjective: one person's authority figure is another person's vacuous bimbo."
After we meet, Derham heads off to see her old ITN friends, and she admits that turning her back on live news has been a wrench. "When a big story breaks, I still get a pang, and I wish I were there. There's nothing like the excitement of a newsroom. But this was too good an offer to refuse."Reuse content