Russ Kane: 'It's time to hang up my wings'

For 20 years, Russ Kane has got up early to be Capital Radio's Flying Eye. But his wife's death from cancer has made him rethink his life, he tells Clare Dwyer Hogg
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The Independent Online

"It's a plane, by the way. It's never been a helicopter. Never!" Russ Kane - Capital Radio's Eye in the Sky - is emphatic. We're in the offices of Max Clifford, his new agent, and he's explaining that he never, ever, went up in a helicopter to give Londoners traffic news. "We never said it was a helicopter. It's never been a helicopter. Everywhere I go, it's, 'Oh, you and your helicopter.' It's an aeroplane. Twin-engine aeroplane. Always has been. A helicopter? Mass hysteria. Hallucinations, it's a government experiment putting stuff in the water."

"It's a plane, by the way. It's never been a helicopter. Never!" Russ Kane - Capital Radio's Eye in the Sky - is emphatic. We're in the offices of Max Clifford, his new agent, and he's explaining that he never, ever, went up in a helicopter to give Londoners traffic news. "We never said it was a helicopter. It's never been a helicopter. Everywhere I go, it's, 'Oh, you and your helicopter.' It's an aeroplane. Twin-engine aeroplane. Always has been. A helicopter? Mass hysteria. Hallucinations, it's a government experiment putting stuff in the water."

It doesn't take an intuitive listener to surmise that, for Kane, his method of transport is a bit of an issue. He runs his fingers through his hair - albeit carefully - and shakes his head. "Who knows?"

He is still marvelling at the fact that, for 20 years, he has been associated erroneously with an aircraft with which he has no history whatsoever, when his mobile rings. He grabs his jacket pocket with multiple apologies. "Hello, darling. I'm just in the middle of an interview - can I possibly speak to you this afternoon?" A long silence follows before he continues, quieter now. "You've only just heard? Oh, we don't want to talk about that now. I'll speak to you later" He rounds up the conversation, but as he puts the phone away, there's a flicker of something across his face. The caller was a friend who has only just found out about the death of Kane's wife, from cancer, in April. "She's very upset," he says quietly. I suggest he calls her back. "No, I don't want to. It's not going to be a short conversation, and that's very rude to you. Now, where were we?"

Sally Kane's death four months ago is still an incredibly painful subject for Kane. Despite becoming a "pin-up girl" for Breast Cancer Care when she found out she was first diagnosed and raising thousands of pounds for the charity, hers was a particularly virulent strain of cancer. When the cancer moved from her breast to her liver there was little anyone could do. "It's a disgusting, filthy, horrible disease," he says. "Of course, I'm a little biased, but she looked fabulous throughout. She was so beautiful, you know, and she was articulate, and now she's gone."

The conversation leaves an indelible impression in the room. Despite all his polish and professionalism, Kane's grief is still palpable. It has also informed his decision to leave his job as the Flying Eye next month after two decades; he is now a single parent bringing up five-year-old twins. "I don't get home from Stapleton until eight o'clock at night. I literally run up the stairs panting and they're just having the last page of their story read to them, or they're asleep, and it's not right. It's not what I want to do."

So will giving up his job as Flying Eye mean he has the whole day free now? A foolish question. "No! I did the traffic news and then I went off and did whatever work I was doing that day. I've always kept everything going - all my writing which grew and grew and grew, and running companies and all the stuff that I still do." He laughs again, as if the notion that all he does is be the Flying Eye is the funniest thing he's heard. "I always described it as my paper-round before I went to school. That's how I thought of it. I didn't want to do it at all," he says. "I hate early mornings and I hate flying."

So the story that he won the job as part of a competition is not altogether true, then? "Mmmm-hmmm." David Briggs - Kane's predecessor as Flying Eye, who went on to create Who Wants to be a Millionaire? - made the story up. The real story is that a friend of Kane's (the younger brother of John and David Suchet, no less) happened to be in charge of finding the new Flying Eye. Purely as a favour (he was completely uninterested), Kane went for the audition. "One thing I didn't learn - and ignorance is bliss - is that they had auditioned 500 people," he remembers. "Every time they narrowed it down, they took them up in the plane and they were sick. It's a very unpleasant environment. They couldn't find anyone who could talk and think, and not vomit. It never occurred to me to be sick."

So the job wasn't entirely in Kane's game plan. But then his career path wasn't necessarily one he was presented as an option at school. After five years doing law ("I was London's worst lawyer, absolutely rubbish"), he was offered a job in an advertising agency in New York. He snapped it up and that's when things became interesting. "I ended up on Madison Avenue in New York. It was fantastic - a big, slick agency, and New York in the Seventies; it was absolutely crazy. That whole era of Burt Reynolds, Boogie Nights..." He had, he says, "lapels that you could fly with - you could leap off the building with those lapels and soar!" When he returned to London, he was ready to take on anything.

After Kane leaves Capital Radio, he will turn his attentions to the creative wing of the Alison-Mitchell agency, which does advertising for clients in the City. "I don't think of that as work, really. It's nice, I enjoy it. I mean, I'm not going to do it five days a week... I don't know what it is, but the City freaks me."

Remarkably for a man who has a clear idea of what to do with his time post-Flying Eye - as well as working in the advertising agency, he's doing a panto, working for a Spanish radio station and involved with several charities - he has absolutely no sense of direction in a geographical sense. He won't drive in London. "I always get lost and I can't stop," he says. "The other day I parked in Bloomsbury and got the Central line back and I was happy. Bloomsbury. I'm safe there." Ironically, the only way he was able to do his "paper-round" job was by imagining London in squares, like the A- Z map. "You really don't know where you are in the sky," he says, wafting a manicured hand. "Very disorientating."

He doesn't look like the sort of man who could become disorientated. On the surface, at least, since his wife's death Kane is adept at keeping everything on track. At the very least, he is keeping himself busy. He's planning to write another book (he and his late wife co-wrote Shouting at the Moon, about her illness) and has just been approached to do more acting - television this time, not just the panto he does for two months every year around Christmas. Hence his new alignment with the publicist Max Clifford. Kane is happy with his choice of representation. "Max is a very dear friend and a very sympathetic guy," he says. "I trust him and I feel very comfortable here."

If you have felt comfortable soaring over London in a tiny plane every morning for 20 years, you can probably feel comfortable anywhere.

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