Ra­dio Zoe Ball ver­sus Chris Evans: this is the bat­tle of the break­fast shows

In 1997, it was the Gin­ger Whinger v The Ladette. But who’s go­ing to win this time – Chris Evans or Zoe Ball, asks James Hall

The Daily Telegraph - - Health & Features -

This morn­ing Zoe Ball re­places Chris Evans as the pre­sen­ter of Ra­dio 2’s flag­ship Break­fast Show while Evans pre­pares to take over the same slot at Vir­gin Ra­dio next week. Ra­dio lis­ten­ers – not to men­tion Ball and Evans them­selves – will be for­given for feel­ing a sense of déjà vu at this round of mu­si­cal chairs. The sit­u­a­tion mir­rors the so-called “Bat­tle for Break­fast” that gripped the na­tion over two decades ago when a fresh-faced Ball took over Evans’s for­mer slot on Ra­dio 1’s Break­fast Show as he moved to Vir­gin. The Balls-evans break­fast show ri­valry be­came one of the me­dia sto­ries of 1997, re­sult­ing in news­pa­per spats and a fierce rat­ings bat­tle.

Twenty-two years on, all con­cerned will be hop­ing that hos­til­i­ties won’t be re­peated. It’s un­likely. Now mid­dleaged, Ball and Evans have been BBC sta­ble­mates for many years. And in these days of me­dia plu­ral­ity – pod­casts and smart­phones now jos­tle with ra­dio for peo­ple’s at­ten­tion in the morn­ing – pre­sen­ter clashes don’t at­tract the febrile scru­tiny they once did. But, back then, the static on the air­waves was pal­pa­ble.

Evans fired the first shot. On Jan 16 1997, fol­low­ing a de­ci­sion by Matthew Ban­nis­ter, the con­troller of Ra­dio 1, not to let Evans have Fri­days off to fo­cus on his TFI Fri­day TV show, the pre­sen­ter quit. A pair of Ra­dio 1 evening DJS, Mark Rad­cliffe and Marc “Lard” Ri­ley, re­placed him but only lasted eight months – they were too al­ter­na­tive for such a main­stream slot.

At the time, Zoe Ball was forg­ing an im­pres­sive me­dia ca­reer. With her hard-par­ty­ing “ladette” tag yet to fully emerge, the broad­caster had done a stint pre­sent­ing The Big Break­fast and was co-pre­sent­ing chil­dren’s week­end TV show Live and Kick­ing with Jamie Theak­ston.

Ball, then 26, was driv­ing back to Lon­don from a week in Devon in the au­tumn of 1997 when her agent Peter Pow­ell, him­self a for­mer Ra­dio 1 DJ, tele­phoned. “Peter calls to say, ‘Do you want to do the Ra­dio 1 Break­fast Show with Kevin Green­ing? Be at this ho­tel by six tonight.’ A crash-the-car sce­nario,” Ball told au­thor Si­mon Garfield in The Na­tion’s Favourite, his book about Ra­dio 1. Ner­vous, Ball ar­rived at the ho­tel “in a daze” to meet with Ban­nis­ter, his deputy Andy Parfitt, Pow­ell and Green­ing, a Ra­dio 1 DJ seen as a safe pair of hands.

“It’s hor­ri­ble when you first meet peo­ple you might work with and you’re the new girl, hideously in­tim­i­dat­ing,” Ball re­called. “You have to im­press but also be quite cool. Kevin came in in his biker gear, and the first thing I said to him was, ‘Hello, I’m Zoe. What sort of mu­sic do you like?’ Em­bar­rass­ing.”

Ball signed up for the show, de­spite never hav­ing prop­erly DJ’D, and started in­tense re­hearsals with Green­ing and pro­ducer Bar­rie Kelly. After three pi­lot shows, the team still hadn’t nailed the right tone.

“Then, a few days be­fore we start, we find out that Chris Evans is go­ing to Vir­gin and that he’s go­ing to launch on the same day as us,” Ball said. She’d be go­ing headto-head with the man whose shoes she was tasked with fill­ing.

“My ini­tial re­ac­tion was to laugh, say­ing, ‘I don’t be­lieve this’. Then by lunchtime I was in tears.”

The two were ac­tu­ally friends, know­ing each other from the Lon­don party cir­cuit. They oc­ca­sion­ally got drunk to­gether. But a few days later a story ap­peared in the Mir­ror in which Ball said she hated Evans. Ball said the story was to­tal fab­ri­ca­tion. But it didn’t mat­ter. Hype was reach­ing fever pitch, aided by Kel­logg’s Corn­flakes de­ci­sion to with­draw its spon­sor­ship of Vir­gin’s break­fast show be­cause Evans didn’t fit with its “fam­ily val­ues” im­age.

On the morn­ing of Mon­day Oct 13 1997, Ball and Evans launched their shows si­mul­ta­ne­ously. A bliz­zard of en­ergy, Evans drank a can of Beamish on air at 8am. He quizzed a caller about her breast en­large­ment op­er­a­tion and only played five songs in the first hour due to all the chat and ad breaks.

Ball and Green­ing de­liv­ered a solid show against the odds. They in­ter­viewed the Spice Girls, foot­baller Teddy Sher­ing­ham and the Light­ning

Seeds’ Ian Broudie. Pro­ducer Kelly de­scribed the show as “a dream”.

Both sides held post-show press con­fer­ences. At Vir­gin’s, Evans and Richard Bran­son – then the sta­tion’s owner – sprayed each other with cham­pagne. Ball’s press con­fer­ence

– at the Lang­ham Hilton – was very dif­fer­ent. “There were all these very ag­gres­sive ques­tions, mostly about Chris Evans, very sneery, wait­ing for us to fail,” Ball re­called.

The re­views came in. The Sun­day Times la­belled both shows “inane”. The Mail on Sun­day sug­gested that Ball had based her per­sona “on Loaded’s pin-up babe, rather than on the nice girl we’ve seen pre­sent­ing chil­dren’s TV”.

All that re­ally mat­tered, how­ever, was the next set of lis­ten­ing fig­ures. They showed that Ra­dio 1’s show

had 5.4 mil­lion weekly lis­ten­ers,

‘My ini­tial re­ac­tion was to laugh, say­ing ‘“I don’t be­lieve this”. Then by lunchtime I was in tears.’

up 400,000, while Vir­gin’s had 2.3 mil­lion, up 750,000. Ball and Green­ing re­mained the big­gest. But Evans had added more lis­ten­ers. Both sides claimed vic­tory.

The ri­valry con­tin­ued into 1998. Ball and Green­ing’s light­weight, knock­about show fea­tured a quiz called Shop ’Em or Drop ’Em in which celebri­ties had to dish some gos­sip or drop their pants. There was a char­ac­ter called Ma­jor Holdups, who did traf­fic re­ports in a sergeant ma­jor’s voice, and a fea­ture called Head­line Mak­ers in which they made up puns. There were reg­u­lar con­tro­ver­sies. On one oc­ca­sion, Ball re­ceived an of­fi­cial warn­ing from bosses after us­ing the f-word to de­scribe a gig by her beau Nor­man Cook, aka the DJ Fat­boy Slim. And it was clear from an out­side broad­cast from Ibiza that she was en­joy­ing the is­land’s party life­style to the hilt. She ad­mit­ted last week that things were “quite wild” back then.

Over on Vir­gin, Evans was even more of a loose can­non. His shows were more un­struc­tured, fea­tur­ing lengthy phoneins and opin­ion­ated mono­logues. He took to de­fend­ing friends on air, such as foot­baller Paul Gas­coigne, and was fined a record £75,000 by the Ra­dio Au­thor­ity for broad­cast­ing his sup­port for Ken Liv­ing­stone in the run-up to the may­oral elec­tions.

Odds were even. In 1998 Evans won ra­dio’s high­est hon­our, the Sony Gold award. Ball took over com­pletely from Green­ing in Septem­ber 1998 and the fol­low­ing year won the Sony Gold her­self. She quit the show in 2000 to start a fam­ily with Cook.

Ball and Evans are hugely dif­fer­ent broad­cast­ers to­day. Evans has mel­lowed, and his Ra­dio 2 show – which he left on Christ­mas Eve last year after al­most nine years – was a mix­ture of shout-outs to lis­ten­ers, celebrity in­ter­views and quizzes. Mean­while, Ball’s re­cent Satur­day af­ter­noon Ra­dio 2 show fea­tured per­sonal choices from her record col­lec­tion and spe­cially themed broad­casts, while her ITV chat show in­cluded a book club. The wild days are over. Evans has ar­guably changed the most. His barely con­tained re­bel­lious­ness and in­no­va­tion have been re­placed by some­thing more in­of­fen­sive and main­stream.

Nev­er­the­less, it would be fool­ish to as­sume the ri­valry is over. It’s just that the daily duel be­tween two loud-mouthed and am­bi­tious in­sur­gents is go­ing to be re­placed by the gen­tle joust­ing of rich, mid­dle-aged pro­fes­sion­als.

The Zoe Ball Break­fast Show is on BBC Ra­dio 2 from 6.30am Mon­days to Fri­days. The Chris Evans Break­fast Show launches on Vir­gin Ra­dio on Jan 21

Best of en­e­mies: Chris Evans and Zoe Ball to­day, right, and at the Q Awards in 1997 Red tops: the tabloids went to town on the orig­i­nal Break­fast Show rat­ings war

Break­fast in bed: Evans with Vir­gin boss Richard Bran­son, who signed him in 1997

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.