Radio 1 DJ Annie Nightingale tells John Wright why the Beatles were grateful to her and how she almost become a nun
Annie Nightingale MBE, 78, is a radio and television broadcaster who found fame as BBC Radio 1’s first female DJ and is now its longestserving presenter. She has a weekly show on Radio 1 and 1Xtra, is a guest presenter on BBC 6 Music and has written two autobiographies, Chase The Fade and
Wicked Speed. She has travelled the world making music documentaries and is a regular DJ at clubs and festivals across Britain and Europe. She lives in London.
Did your childhood affect your attitude to money?
Hugely. As a family in postwar London, we had very little. My father used to say: “Money is the root of all evil.” He was a reluctant businessman, inheriting my grandfather’s wallpaper company.
I was at a convent until I was 11. My pocket money went on rosaries and pictures of Jesus and Mary. I was dragged away when I showed signs of wanting to become a nun. I won a scholarship to a girls’ public school, Lady Eleanor Holles. My parents could never have afforded the fees. Tellingly, the only O level I failed was economics. I had one glorious year as a student in the West End and then was under pressure to get a job.
What were your first jobs?
Holiday jobs such as waitressing or as a filing clerk at the Milk Marketing Board. At C&A, the Topshop of its time, I earned less in commission than any other salesgirl selling clothes ever. I couldn’t say “This cocktail gown really suits you” when it clearly didn’t!
My favourite job was working in a record shop. But I didn’t know how to re-order the top 10, so I got fired.
I wanted to become a journalist after seeing Roman Holiday, but not for the money. In my first job as a newspaper reporter in Brighton I was paid about £4 a week.
Are you a saver or a spender?
I have learnt not to be a big spender, though I will have the odd splurge.
Does money make you happy?
A certain amount gives you freedom to turn down commercial offers that damage one’s reputation. There is no question of saying yes if it compromises your integrity.
Have you done any lucrative television adverts?
I did one for British Gas. It was never shown for some reason, but I bought an ill-fated Fiat with what I earned. This was while presenting the BBC television show The Old Grey Whistle
Test as sole anchor for five years, plus two Radio 1 shows every week and writing a newspaper column.
What has been your worst financial decision?
There’s a row of houses on the beach at Hove. They were derelict with broken windows. I fell madly in love with one, but got talked out of buying. They’re now known as Millionaires’ Row and worth about £4m each. Paul Mccartney stayed there. I believe Adele owned one. They take a lot of poundings from storms, so need huge upkeep. I’m happy in London.
And your worst purchase?
Cars. My friends were full of advice about what second-hand car to buy and they were all rubbish. So I bought a brand-new Fiat. It let me down on several occasions. Now I use minicabs.
What’s your biggest expense?
Shoes: Louboutins, Prada, Isabel Marant, Chanel, Louis Vuitton. Mostly uselessly decorative – they live in boxes. I get them out and walk them round the room, then put them back. They’re like works of art to me.
What money advice would you give DJS starting out?
It’s so hard to get paid! Everyone wants you to work for nothing, or a pittance. If you can get an agent or manager you trust, that could help. But you can end up handing over a lot of what you earn in commissions.
If you can get paid upfront for gigs, do so. Otherwise people can disappear into the night after you’ve played.
It’s very hard to make money at the bottom of the pile. Everyone’s a DJ nowadays. At the top you can earn 50 million bucks a year. But you need expensive equipment to practise on, so that’s a worthwhile investment.
Showbiz is about hard work and dedication, not lucky breaks. Hang in there, don’t take no for an answer.
What’s the hardest lesson you’ve learnt about money?
If you get money, hang on to it or safely invest. That line about a fool and his money are soon parted is true. Personal relationships have proven expensive for me. I was unbelievably naive – I’ve learnt a little, but could do with being a lot wiser.
Have you ever been ripped off ?
Name anyone in showbiz who hasn’t. You need a very healthy attitude of suspicion to protect you from those too-good-to-be-true offers.
What is the oddest thing that has happened to you concerning money?
I once stopped the minicab I was in to get some cash. When the person in front of me at the ATM left, I saw a huge amount of cash sticking out of the cash dispenser, possibly thousands. I took the money into the bank, gave it to a teller and got back into the cab. The driver thought I was mad not to grab the money, but I couldn’t do it.
Have you ever gambled?
I once made enough money out of a fruit machine on holiday, aged 11, for a weekend’s worth of riding lessons.
I have a very good record in the Grand National, but it’s only ever a quid each way. Now I pick about eight horses and post my predictions online. You can’t make money this way; I just enjoy the thrill of the race.
Have songs you’ve played on air influenced their success?
I’ve given first plays to Daft Punk, LCD Soundsystem, The Police. George Harrison once said to me: “You’ve been very good to us.” Me? Good to them? The Beatles changed millions of people’s lives, including mine. I feel so fortunate having a job I love doing and feel sad when I hear people saying “I hate my job”. Annie Nightingale can be heard on BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra on Wednesdays from 1am to 3am
One of Annie Nightingale’s indulgences is shoes. ‘They’re like works of art to me’
Annie Nightingale at home in Brighton in 1964 with the album With the Beatles