It was hurt­ful, In­sult­Ing, re­lent­less. I crIed for three months

The Mail on Sunday - Event - - LAST YEAR THE BBC PUT JO WHILEY ALONGSIDE THE HUGE - In­ter­vIew by

Tsarah oliver

he cu­ri­ous thing about Jo Whi­ley, the vet­eran DJ whose voice is the sound­track to mil­lions of lives, is that she her­self is a sucker for si­lence. Whether she’s lac­ing her train­ers to go for a run or dig­ging in her Northamp­ton­shire gar­den, she doesn’t lis­ten to mu­sic or even fire up a pod­cast. ‘I just like play­ing things to other peo­ple,’ she says. Whi­ley uses these quiet times to empty her head. Given the tu­mul­tuous year she’s had, it’s proved a vi­tal skill. In May, Whi­ley be­came the face of the BBC’s move to mod­ernise Ra­dio 2, the na­tion’s favourite sta­tion. But her new job, as co-host along­side Driv­e­time star Si­mon Mayo on a re­vamped af­ter­noon show, saw her lam­basted by crit­ics and trolled by lis­ten­ers. They ac­cused Whi­ley of be­ing there just to fulfil BBC di­ver­sity tar­gets, de­stroy­ing a much-loved pro­gramme in the process. The mutiny by mid­dle-aged mid­dle Eng­land was aw­ful to be­hold.

‘I have only ever wanted to be judged for my work, not my sex,’ Whi­ley says, talk­ing about the or­deal for the first time. ‘Aside from fam­ily dra­mas, this is the tough­est thing I’ve had to en­dure. There was this wall of re­sis­tance to me from a very vo­cal bunch of peo­ple. It was hurt­ful, in­sult­ing. It made me look at who I am not just as a broad­caster but as a per­son. It made me re­assess ev­ery­thing. It’s too easy to hate these days, to for­get there’s some­one just do­ing their thing, on the re­ceiv­ing end of such hos­til­ity. And it was re­lent­less, ev­ery hour of ev­ery day. No mat­ter how tough and re­silient you are, that chips away at you.’

Whi­ley was on hol­i­day in Corn­wall when the noise fi­nally be­came in­tol­er­a­ble. She had re­cently recorded an es­say for Ra­dio 4’s Woman’s Hour about ca­reers for women in the mu­sic in­dus­try, think­ing about the prospects of the gen­er­a­tion that in­cludes her daugh­ters In­dia, 26, and Coco, ten, with whom she was at that mo­ment enjoying break­fast. But the on­line re­sponse was ‘par­tic­u­larly sav­age’ (her words), with com­men­ta­tors telling her to ‘take a long hard look at your­self’, ‘steam­ing in to a show that was great’, ‘just be­cause you are a woman, be­ing given that’, ‘us­ing your sex to get your new po­si­tion’. ‘In­vari­ably the crit­i­cism was from women,’ she says. ‘It was the most dis­ap­point­ing thing in the world.’

She’d suf­fered a three-month cam­paign of abuse by then. ‘I was tear­ful quite a lot of the time. Some days it was hard to walk out of my front door, let alone present a ra­dio show. I would go on Twit­ter to tell lis­ten­ers about a great in­ter­view com­ing up and be bom­barded with peo­ple be­ing vi­cious.’

But there was some­thing about this new on­slaught that gave her the back­bone to stop ac­cept­ing the judg­ment of oth­ers and start grop­ing for what was left of her self-con­fi­dence.

‘That week in Au­gust was the hard­est. I thought, “I have to leave this be­hind, I have to toughen up and strengthen my re­solve. I am go­ing to carry on and fight for my right to broooaaaaad­cast…” as the Beastie Boys might pos­si­bly have said.’

We both laugh be­cause she’s adapt­ing the lyrics of the Beastie Boys’ 1986 mega hit (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party). There can be few peo­ple of her gen­er­a­tion – she is 53 – who don’t au­to­mat­i­cally smile when they think of that song, and Whi­ley, with her unerring in­stinct for the right mood mu­sic, knows it’ll make her sound more up­beat.

What she’s say­ing is she’ll talk about what hap­pened to her – but she won’t be seen as a vic­tim.

In the past she’s pre­sented both day­time and evening pro­grammes, but most lis­ten­ers as­so­ciate her with the lat­ter. ‘I have a sooth­ing, re­laxed voice for evening and I feel I know my au­di­ence at that time,’ she says. It made her a bizarre choice

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