Andy Kershaw: The year my life fell apart

He's been thrown in prison. He's been rejected by his partner. He's lost contact with his children. He's on the run from police. How did such a successful and respected broadcaster fall from grace? Andy Kershaw talks exclusively to Rob Sharp
Click to follow

Sitting in a pub garden, drinking pints of bitter and smoking heavily, the former BBC radio presenter Andy Kershaw shows little physical evidence of the past few, harrowing months. There are still the same trademark bags under his eyes, there is still the same broad Lancashire accent and there is still a measure of biting, black wit. But his behaviour tells a different story. He swings wildly from laughter one minute to spittle-flecked waves of fury the next. At one point he breaks down in tears.

It's a far cry from the character that his fans know and love. As a radio DJ in the Nineties, Kershaw became one of the nation's most respected broadcasters. His shows on BBC Radio 1 provided an outlet for his love of world music, soul, reggae and blues, and this continued when he transferred to Radio 3 in 2000. He married this with successful forays into journalism, reporting for Radio 4's Today programme from the midst of a volcanic eruption in Montserrat in 1996, where he had gone for "a quiet Caribbean holiday", and on 1994's Rwandan genocide. When he moved from London to the Isle of Man in 2006, he continued to host his show there, and helped organise concerts featuring acts such as Robert Plant, The Who, The Kinks, Billy Bragg and Lou Reed.

But over the past year, Kershaw has seen troubled times. He separated from his partner, the restaurateur Juliette Banner, in October 2006 and has been imprisoned three times – and arrested many more – for breaking the terms of a restraining order that forbids him from contacting Banner. After his most recent arrest, in March, he was given a six-month term suspended for two years after pleading guilty, and left the Isle of Man to address his problems.

But after moving to Northamptonshire to stay with his sister, fellow BBC broadcaster Liz Kershaw, he again made contact with Banner and his children. The Isle of Man authorities attempted to issue a warrant for his arrest. Since May, Kershaw says he has "been on the run" with his dog, Buster, living out of a holdall and staying on friends' floors and sofas. He has also been sleeping rough. Fearful of arrest, he has been staying in each place for only the briefest of times, and for a short while was even placed on the Missing Persons Register, at Liz's request.

In this, Kershaw's first interview since he went under the radar to avoid arrest, he talks of his despair, frustration and lack of hope for the future. Now 48, Kershaw describes how he is in the middle of a bitter separation battle and how he feels he has been punished out of all proportion to his various indiscretions during the 17-year relationship with Banner. He insists that while he has always been non-violent towards his family and says he has been banished from his property and has no way of working, because his extensive collection of music is back in his home in the island's west-coast city of Peel. And now, for breaking the terms of his most recent suspended sentence, he faces a year in prison if he returns.

Kershaw claims he has barely seen his children in the past year. "Can you imagine what it was like a week last Saturday, when it was my son's 11th birthday?" he asks. "I had sent him a card. I had scraped together £20 to put in an envelope for him because I've been away from him so long I don't even know what his tastes and interests are. All I could do was send him some money and I don't really have any money. And waiting and waiting for a phone call that never came. How cruel is that?"

He is also critical of his former employers at the BBC, for whom he stopped working in May 2007. "The BBC aren't paying me," he adds. "Not like [former Radio One DJ] Johnny Walker. When Johnny Walker was fingered by the News of the World for cocaine with prostitutes [in April 1999], for his addiction he had to go into rehab in Antigua. When he went into rehab for months, the BBC continued to pay his wage. They haven't done that with me. They have still, very generously, said the door is still open. They said that six months ago."

He talks of his enduring affection for the Isle of Man, of how he played truant from Hulme Grammar School in Oldham in 1975 to travel there for the TT motorcycling event, held there annually. In 2006, worried about the state of schools in Crouch End, north London, where he lived with Banner, the couple bought a £420,000 property in Peel. This, he felt, would be a better environment for his children to grow up in. He and Banner moved to the Isle of Man permanently in April of that year.

"No sooner had we got there, and I hold my hands up about this, Juliette found out that the previous summer, I'd had a fling at the Womad festival with a journalist," he says.

"She found a one-year-old text message on a mobile phone, which alluded to a leg-over in the Reading area. What on earth was going through her mind? She borrowed my mobile. I was in the pub with the removal men, buying them a drink. She went back to the house with the phone, ostensibly to ring the electricity company or something. As soon as she had got back to the house she went through all my old messages. It wasn't even a long-running affair. We had gone to the Isle of Man for a new start," he continues. "I had put my London ways and London life behind me. I had walked away from that life. Otherwise, things were fine."

Kershaw says that Banner moved out on 13 October 2006, taking the children with her. Until the following spring, he says, he was trying to convince his former partner, whom he never married, to return. She refused. He appeared on Radio 4's Desert Island Discs in March 2007 and dedicated the 1973 song "Return of the Grievous Angel", by Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, to Banner, saying she was "the love of my life". (The song features the lyrics: "Twenty thousand roads I went down, down, down/And they all led me straight back home to you.") The following week, he says, he met Banner for a cup of coffee, but she had been unimpressed by his public declaration of commitment. The following day, a note from her appeared in Kershaw's letterbox in Peel, saying that she was not coming back.

By June last year, according to Kershaw, Banner had met her new partner, a Scottish prison officer called Jim Imrie, and had moved in with him near their former family home. "She had set up home with this bloke, a man she barely knew, a stranger to my children, in the next street," he says. "This stranger was playing daddy to my kids around town. And I was supposed to take it with serenity or equanimity? Can you imagine how tough that was? I would go to the supermarket to buy a pint of milk and I would see a stranger walking hand-in-hand with my children. Given the torment I have been through, I think I have behaved with enormous dignity and self-restraint."

Following a series of disagreements between the couple in July 2007, Banner won a restraining order against Kershaw. He claims he was first arrested in August for going to her house on his son's birthday. In October, he was given a three-month suspended sentence and spent six nights in jail for breaching the order a second time, after he tried to force his way into their home. The same month, he was arrested again for "approaching his former partner in a threatening manner", and five days later, was arrested once more for drunkenly shouting abuse to officers inside Peel police station.

The final breach of the order came as Banner and her new partner walked on the beach outside his house. Kershaw claims that all he did was look at her, though his behaviour was deemed to be unlawful, and he was sentenced to three months in prison in January 2008. He was released on 29 February after serving 44 days of his sentence.

"It's a small town," he says. "On 2 November I went digging for lugworms on Peel beach to go fishing. Then, at 11.30am, I walked around to the kiosk at Peel breakwater to get a cup of coffee. The two of them happened to be there. He had just moved in. It was acknowledged in court that I didn't speak to them, didn't make any physical contact. When I was sentenced after Christmas, I ended up doing seven-and-a-half weeks for looking at my ex-partner. That's what it amounted to."

Of his time in prison, he says: "It was Dickensian inside. It would have made Charles Dickens wince. I feel no bitterness or hostility towards the officers in that jail, the majority of whom were very nice and sympathetic. Just about every officer and prisoner said I shouldn't be in there. The majority were in there for drugs offences – a lot of Liverpudlians who had come over there to deal drugs.

"I was there for nine-and-a-half weeks with heroin dealers and men of violence. They realised I was a regular bloke and that I was in there for an enormous injustice. The main problem that I had was the sheer, crushing boredom. I read 32 books in 47 days. Unless you go in there you will not understand how boring it is. You are locked up for 22 hours a day. The place was full of heroin and full of vermin."

On 3 March this year, just three days after his release, Kershaw returned to jail after being arrested near his home for breaching the restraining order once again (he says this time it involved a drunken telephone call). At a court hearing the following day, he pleaded guilty to the charge and was given a one-year jail term, suspended for two years.

But by Kershaw's own account, he has already broken the terms of his sentence, again by making contact with his former partner. "I fucked up on 30 April," he says. "I had been at our Elizabeth's [his sister, Liz] for five to seven weeks. I had written to my children from there every day for that time. I heard nothing back. On 30 April, Elizabeth phoned Juliette and asked why had I not heard anything. I had shown all the letters to Elizabeth first to see if anything in them was controversial or might be upsetting to either the kids, Juliette or Jim. Because we have this young, nutty dog – a Schnauzer called Buster – with a huge personality, I even sent, for the entertainment of the kids, letters ostensibly written by Buster.

"On that day, Elizabeth phoned up and Juliette said she had not shown the kids any of the letters. I hit the roof. I admit I was wrong. I picked up the phone, gave her a rocket and sent her a number of text messages. I shouldn't have done it. The point about all of this is, yes, I have technically broken the law on the Isle of Man with my phone calls and messages. I have technically broken the restraining order and the suspended sentence which I was given on 4 March. That's why I am wanted by the police, although I have now made no contact in four months."

After the most recent episode, he says, he left his sister's home to get some space. "Our Elizabeth, when I went missing, had me listed as a missing person. Silly bugger. Mr Bloody Adventure can go across Africa by himself but she has to alert the police in Northamptonshire that I am missing," he adds. "What a stupid thing to do. She said, 'You have to present yourself at a police station to say that you are all right.'"

I went to Derby central police station. I met a nice police officer and said I was fine. The officer said he had read all about my situation in the papers and had gone through a similar thing and said he really sympathised with me. I said that was really kind. I was worried I was going to be nicked. A couple of days later, I wrote him a thank-you letter and put the address of where I was staying. It said thank you for your concern and sympathy. Thank you for taking me off the Missing Person's Register and thank you for all your advice.

"A day later, I'm sitting in the back yard on a nice afternoon. Two coppers turn up and say they have a warrant for my arrest from the Isle of Man. So that man, whom I had written to, to say thank you, went to his colleagues and said where I was. I went to the police headquarters to be formally charged. When I went there, the two arresting officers, desk sergeants, said the Isle of Man had not completed the warrant request properly. They drove me home, saying they felt sorry for me. They said they had real crime to deal with."

Kershaw stresses that he does not want to aggravate the Isle of Man police, because they might extend the warrant for his arrest nationwide. But he then leans over and shouts into the tape recorder: "The Isle of Man police have got nothing better to do. There are a few Liverpudlian drug dealers who come over, there is odd fight in a nightclub in Douglas on a Friday or Saturday evening and er, that's it. They have nothing better to do than bully me. There is a syndrome in the Isle of Man called the Manx crab. The scenario is that there are a number of crabs in a bucket. And one shows the initiative to climb out. What do the others do? They drag it back in to the bucket. People tell me time and time again that I am a victim of the Manx crab syndrome."

Kershaw's latest attempts to contact Banner through her lawyers have been unsuccessful. He hopes to meet with his own, Liverpool-based QC on 22 September to attempt to take matters forward. The matter of who owns what in his former partnership will be subjected to months of expensive legal wrangling. "It's not a huge issue. It is a tiff. I just want to be home and get my tools of the trade. I am not interested in her. I am in love with another woman [Catherine Turner, a company secretary in the Isle of Man]. If it's cruel on me, and she think that's OK, that's fine. But it is also cruel on those children. I don't care what it does to me. I shouldn't have had flings here, there and everywhere. Of course I shouldn't. And I am accepting the blame. But the response has been hugely out of proportion."