Chris Moyles: Mister Big

Chris Moyles is a brilliant broadcaster, the saviour of Radio 1, a comedian, a best-selling author, and, in fact, a genius. Or so he says. But can he win over the readers of The Independent? Portrait by Trevor Ray Hart
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The Independent Online

What can I say? I am old enough to know better – by loads, alas – yet listen to Chris Moyles on Radio 1 in the mornings. Of course, I affect to listen to the Today programme on Radio 4, but I don't really. I know there are those who think Moyles is just a gobby oik, but I don't. I think he is very funny. He makes me laugh in a way that, say, Thought For The Day rarely does, although that's not to take anything way from Jonathan Sacks, who may well be right when he says "god's forgiveness empowers us to take risks". I listen mostly with my teenage son, who got me into the show in the first place. I ask my son what makes Chris so funny. He says: "He's just a funny guy, I suppose." And that may, in fact, be it. He's smart, my boy. You know, the genes and all that.

So, I meet Christopher Moyles at a café in Piccadilly. As it happens, and as he later confesses, his name isn't actually Christopher Moyles. Really, I say. I had absolutely no idea. "My real name was really boring, so I changed it." What was it? "Spangles Muldoon." So, in that case, I meet Spangles Muldoon (yeah, right) in a café in London's West End, and he is already there when I arrive, having the photographs done. He is quite fat with doleful eyes and a head like a hairy baked potato. He is worried the pictures are making him look "gormless" rather than "moodily thoughtful". I try to reassure him. "Moodily thoughtful," I say. "Definitely."

He eyes me up warily. He is suspicious, possibly because I'm not 20 and not from Zoo or Nuts or Loaded. His people took some convincing, too. I was told that Chris – maybe only his mother still calls him Spangles – thinks it's a waste of time doing interviews if the interviewer doesn't get it. I get it, I say. I listen most mornings. I know Chris likes Vera Wang scent and little Molton Brown soaps and unperfumed deodorant. I know all of Chris's on-air gang: Rachel; Aled; Dom; Comedy Dave; Carrie and sometimes Longman, who phones in from his sandwich shop in Leeds. They are his gang, but I kind of feel they are my gang, too. What more can I add? I get it, OK?

Still, the interview is on, off, on, off and then on again, but only if the PR from Radio 1 can be present. What is Chris, I am minded to ask, a big ninny? Chris later says: "If it was up to me I wouldn't do interviews ever." So why did you finally agree? Because you have your difficult second book – The Difficult Second Book – to sell and interviews sell books, right? No, wrong. "It's actually not about selling books," he says. "It's actually about people reading this and thinking: he's all right. Most people who read The Independent probably think I'm scum and if they read this and go: 'He seems all right', and they then listen to the show and like it, well, great." He might wish to be liked more than he'd ever dare let on. He might even be more sensitive than he'd ever dare let on. The big ninny.

We settle at a table, order coffee. Are we are over the First Difficult Ten Minutes? Not sure yet. He doesn't seem especially interested in any of my questions, which is weird, as they are very good questions. What upsets you? "Dunno... um... dunno... um... war, famine, poverty... I'm upset Molton Brown don't make little soaps anymore." He looks to the sugar bowl and asks: "How do they make sugar cubes?" He has one of those minds that go all over the shop, which is partly what makes his chitter chatter on radio so brilliant, or at least so brilliantly random. Your mind works fast, right? "It does. I'm very creative but the downside to my genius is that I'll forget a question half-way though an answer." Yes, he will call himself a "genius". He is also "an f-ing brilliant broadcaster" and, of course, "the saviour of Radio 1". Monstrous vanity? Or deliberately provocative bravado? Hard to know; hard to know what is id and what is ego. But all this is by the by; how do you make sugar cubes?

I suggest that maybe there is a sugar cube making machine. "You're right," he says, with considerably more animation than he's shown thus far. "There'll be a machine." The conversation then goes as follows:

Me: "What I don't understand is how they grow seedless grapes."

Him: "What about croutons? Why do they have a sell-by-date? It's only stale bread."

Me: "Why is the fluff in the tumble drier always grey, no matter the colour of the wash?"

Him: "Why did kamikaze pilots wear helmets? That's a good one. Why do 24-hour shops have locks on? Those signs in shop windows saying no dogs except guide dogs: who are they for?"

Me: "Spangles Muldoon, there is a Christmas book in this."

Him: "There is!"

I think we're off now. He even smiles and you know what? He has the cutest smile ever; it's enchanting, like a silly, stubbled baby's. He says he smiles a lot on radio but, of course, no one ever sees that. Would people think you less of a scumbag, if they could? "There are people who think I'm horrible and rude and nasty, but I don't think I am. I'm actually only trying to be funny, and if you get my sense of humour you are going to laugh." He adds that those who slag him off tend to be the ones who have never heard the show. "I've always said that if you listen to the show for a week – if you start listening on Monday morning and can get to Friday at 10 o'clock – we've got you, you'll listen again." He was most recently in trouble for commenting on air that he didn't want a particular ringtone because it was "gay". I think Stonewall even came out with placards. Totally daft. Since taking over the breakfast show in 2002 he has increased its audience by more than 1.75 million listeners, from six-and-a-half to eight million. There is nothing "gay" about that.

I don't know if we'll ever get to that Christmas book, though. I'm not sure there is another book in Chris. His first, The Gospel According To Chris Moyles, which was largely autobiographical, did well. No, I stand corrected. It did "phenomenally well. It sold 400,000. I'm a best-selling author." However, The Difficult Second Book does seem to be stretching it a bit. There are even chapters on how difficult it is to write The Difficult Second Book, and how many words to go? There are some nice parts, though. I liked the bit about Chris growing up without much money, so what games he had were usually cheaper versions of the original: 4-in-a-row instead of Connect; a Texas Instruments Computer instead of a ZX Spectrum. I tell him I once heard Johnny Vegas say that he knew the Operation game he received for Christmas one year was second hand because instead of all the little bones, there were matchsticks. Chris looks touched. "Ah, bless." he says. He seems quite moved. I think he can be sweet.

Anyway, Chris Moyles was born Spangles Muldoon in Leeds, in 1974, to a postman father and an Irish mother, both of whom he adores. "I love the fact they are still married and very happy." He was never exactly a high-flier at school. "I think I was bright but I wasn't massively intelligent. I enjoyed school until I got to high school and then I just got bored of it all; that's my memory of school, just wanting to get out. I was easily distracted, which I still am now." What would your reports say: "Must try harder, is easily distracted, but very good looking and will be a model one day. I know I'm a teacher and it's wrong, but I have to say he is very attractive." I laugh.

All he ever wanted to do, more or less, was be on the radio. He had his first experience at 12, when he entered a local radio phone-in competition. He didn't win, so he called again, entranced by the idea his words were being broadcast to people's homes. "How cool was that?" So it was hospital radio, then a stint as the in-store DJ at Topshop in Leeds, where he got a 15 per cent discount on clothes. "It was the early Nineties, so I bought a lot of silk shirts and waistcoats." Did you look snappy? "No." Via a variety of local stations, he eventually made it to Capital and then Radio 1. I tell him I think he has the same gift that Chris Evans had. That is, when he's on air, he makes it sound like the most fun place in the universe to be. He is both pleased and not pleased by the comparison.

"I hope that if your son is 15 and thinks the show is funny, he'll still think that when he is 22. I don't want to be just a blip. There was that period when Chris Evans was the best DJ in this country and now people look back and go: it was of its time. Was it? If the circumstances in his life had been better, he might still be doing it. And when was Wogan's time on the radio? He's doing the best he's ever done. Wogan doesn't get the press and all that and the awards but what he does is get eight-and-a-half million people finding him a must every day and who have done for years ... I can smell chips. I'm distracted. What time is it? England kick off against Japan in the women's football at one."

When I ask him what he most fears, he says spiders and "flies that make the same noises wasps make. What is all that about? That's not right. That's evil." But he probably fears being a flash in the pan more. He admires Jonathan Ross greatly. "He's f-ing brilliant and he's not a blip. He'll still be around in 20 years." We also like Simon Amstell and Never Mind the Buzzcocks. We loved it when Preston walked out. "Do these people ever get embarrassed?" he asks. "Did Preston wake up the next day and go, 'Oh God, I made a tit of myself last night? I took myself way too seriously.' Or does he stand by it. I don't know." As for the faux rock star that is Donny Tourette, "I can't be the only one who wants to say: give it up. You tried it, it ain't happening, get a job."

Chris's forays into television have not been especially distinguished, with Five's Live With Chris Moyles proving something of a flop in the ratings, but I truly don't think he's that bothered. Radio is his thing "and I love my f-ing job!" Do you love being famous? It's OK, he says, can't complain, although trying to shop in Morrisons is a pain. "I get irritated because I'm only doing what everyone else is doing in Morrisons, but you get a lot of: 'what are you doing here?' I find that really bizarre. The other night it was a pain. Sophie [Waite, his girlfriend and a TV producer] and I went to get bread and milk and some breakfasty things and I ended up so distracted I just got a trolley of chips. I'm like, let's just get out of here." He loves Sophie a lot, he says. He might even love her as much as his Vera Wang scent. "It's all I wear. I used to mix and match but then you don't have a smell." What's your favourite ladies' scent? "Do you know what, I can't believe I know the answer to that question, but I do. I like Lovely by Sarah Jessica Parker." "Oh", I say, I almost forgot. "I bought you a gift."

I have bought him a gift and it's a bottle of unperformed deodorant (Mitchum). I bought him this because he's always complaining, on his show, how scarce unperformed deodorant is. He seems pleased to have it. "God bless you," he says, "but it's roll on. Men don't use roll-on." They use spray? But that's so bad for the environment! "Who gives a shit," he says. "I'll be dead when it all goes tits up anyway." He's always pushing it, that Spangles Muldoon, but what would be the point of God's forgiveness, if it didn't empower us to take risks?

'The Difficult Second Book', by Chris Moyles, is published on 4 October. Ebury Press, £17.99. To buy the book for a special price, with free p&p, call Independent Books Direct on 08700 798 897. The Chris Moyles Show is on Radio 1, 7am-10am every weekday