Sir Jimmy Young: You Ask The Questions

(Such as: so Mrs Thatcher called you her favourite broadcaster - were you close to her? And how does the prospect of retirement grab you?)

Sir Jimmy Young, 82, was born in Gloucestershire. During the Second World War, he worked as a PT instructor for the Royal Air Force in India. In 1955, he became the first British recording artist to have two successive UK No 1 hit records, with "Unchained Melody" and "The Man from Laramie". He was one of the broadcasters who launched BBC Radio 1 in 1967, before moving to Radio 2 where, for 29 years, his weekday show regularly attracted audiences of five million. In 2002, he reluctantly left Radio 2, despite a strong listeners' campaign, and even a House of Commons motion, to keep him on the air. That year, he was knighted for his services to broadcasting. He lives in London with his third wife and writes a weekly newspaper column.

Of all the British prime ministers you have interviewed, which ones would you most like to invite to your home for dinner?
Bob Steyn, Brighton

I would invite two: Margaret Thatcher and Ted Heath. We wouldn't eat much dinner, but we'd have a very animated conversation. I'd choose them mainly because they don't like each other very much.

You were Margaret Thatcher's favourite broadcaster. Exactly how close was your relationship with the Iron Lady?
Barbara Jeffrey, Southampton

I have never been able to find the source of the claim that I was Margaret Thatcher's favourite broadcaster. The papers always say that she was on the programme 14 times, which is correct, but it was over the course of 21 years. I don't know her personally at all. I've never met her socially. And I never chatted to her after the show. I never chatted to anyone before or after the show. They would come in and sit down, we'd do the interview, they'd get up and go out - that was it.

Is it true that you ran away from home at the age of 16? If so, why? Were you hoping to get into the music business at the time?
Neil Lloyd, by e-mail

The scenario was this: my mother and father, who hadn't been getting along for years, divorced in 1939. I was 17 at the time, so I left home. I went to stay with some friends, and one morning I heard Mr Chamberlain declare war on Mr Hitler. I thought they would call me up in the end anyway, so I advanced my age by 18 days (that was on 3 September - I wasn't 18 until 21 September) and joined the RAF.

I was posted to India for four years and stationed in Karachi for two. Karachi had both a thriving dance-band and a concert party. I sang with the band and met a guy, Pip Norman, who had been in the music business before the war. He had an agent, and said to me: "When all this is over, I'll introduce you," which he did. The agent, Lillian Aza, was a charming lady and she sent me to audition for the BBC. Afterwards, I got a letter saying: "Mr Young has no future in broadcasting."

Is there anyone you really wish you had been able to interview?
Mike Billen, by e-mail

Yes, I would have loved to have interviewed Winston Churchill. For one reason, really: I would have liked to ask the question, and get the answer, which is attributed to his grandson. His grandson went into his office and asked him: "Are you the greatest man in the world?" To which Churchill replied: "Yes, now bugger off!" I would have loved to have got that quote out of him.

What do you make of John Humphrys's interviewing style?
Luke Blacker, by e-mail

I never listen to the radio, so I've never heard John Humphrys interviewing anybody. I like peace in my private life. I've never been one for background noise or background music.

What songs would you like played at your funeral?
Gilly Stephenson, Monmouth

I never think about my funeral music, because I shan't be there to hear it anyway. I don't particularly have any favourite songs.

In 1955, apparently, you were the second biggest-selling artist of the year. What was it that made you more popular than your chart rivals, such as Liberace?
Edna Smith, Barking

I don't know, really. It is true that I sold more records in this country in 1955 than Liberace did, but he outdid me when it came to the frilly shirts and the sparkly jackets. You either have it or you don't, I suppose. I had always wanted to sing professionally, ever since I was a kid. I was discovered when I had a job playing piano and singing in a club. A senior BBC radio producer saw me and organised my first broadcast. However, I outgrew singing years ago. I haven't sung professionally in 40 years, perhaps more. I have no intention of bringing out a Christmas record.

What is the secret of your seemingly eternal youth?
Clare Hayes, by e-mail

I am fortunate to have worked in jobs that I've thoroughly enjoyed and for which I've never lost my enthusiasm. Working with a young research team and having a young wife may also have something to do with it. I don't have any diet secrets. I eat a sandwich at lunchtime and a main meal in the evening, that is all.

Is it true that an astrologer foretold your career in radio?
Henry Oddy, Kettering

In a way, yes. In February 1960, an astrologer, Katina Theodossiou, forecast that my future lay in interviewing people, not singing, which had been my career until then. I wanted to go into that line of work, but there was no sign that I would be able to at the time. That is the only time I have ever been to an astrologer. I didn't have any work and was at a very low ebb. I was collecting sleeping pills. My friend said: "Don't be so bloody silly - go and see this woman and see what she has to say!" So I did.

How bad were the withdrawal symptoms after you left Radio 2?
Ollie Evans, London

They weren't as bad as I'd expected, because I'd known for such a long time what was going to happen. I finished on 20 December and went away to my place in Florida for a while. I received several offers of work from other radio stations, but I haven't taken them up because I've been very busy doing other things. One of these days I might go back on the radio, but not for the moment.

Does the word "retirement" bring you out in a cold sweat?
Caroline McKay, Hull

I shall never retire, because I enjoy working. I am not a hobby person - I've never had one.

Do you use your catchphrases at home? Do you say "Bye for now" when you leave the house in the mornings?
Verity Dickinson, London

No, I don't. It is possible that I may say "Bye for now" as I go out the door from time to time, but not deliberately. One thing I would never say is "Ta-ta for now". I have never said it. When I die, if anyone heads my obituary "Ta-ta for now", they will be at the top of my haunting list.

The autobiography 'Forever Young' is published in hardback by Hodder and Stoughton (£18.99). 'An Audience with Jimmy Young' tours to the Theatre Royal, Norwich (3 November); Town Hall, Reading (6 November); and Drum Theatre, Canterbury (14 November)

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