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Music

Lauren Laverne's five favourite Desert Island Discs episodes

Much adored BBC radio presenter Lauren Laverne began her multifaceted career aged just 16 as the lead singer and guitarist of the Sunderland Britpop band Kenickie, who formed in 1994. The band achieved moderate success, which was highlighted by their debut album, At The Club, reaching the top ten on the UK Albums Chart. The band remained together until 1998, releasing one further album in 1998’s Get In. Still, Laverne’s biggest success as a young singer came with her vocal collaboration on Mint Royale’s single ‘Don’t Falter’, which reached number 15 on the UK Singles Chart.

In the early 2000s, Laverne briefly sat in for BBC Radio 1’s Steve Lamacq as a presenter before beginning a more permanent role on XFM London in 2002, where she co-hosted a Saturday morning show with Mark Webster. She maintained links to the BBC, occasionally standing in for Radio 6 DJs. Eventually, Laverne took over XFM’s prime-time slot from Zoë Ball at the start of 2004 and swiftly won the Best Newcomer prize at the Commercial Radio Awards in 2004.

The saying “a face fit for radio” doesn’t apply to Laverne. Over the years, she has taken on modelling roles and appeared on numerous television shows, both as a presenter and a guest. Her quick wit saw her become a regular feature of panel shows, including Never Mind the Buzzcocks, Mock the Week and Have I Got News For You. She has also been a regular presenter for televised coverage of music-related events such as Glastonbury Festival, the BRIT Awards and the British Comedy Awards. 

Since 2008, Laverne has taken on a more steady position with BBC Radio 6 and now helms the station’s breakfast show. In 2018, she took over the duty of interviewing for BBC Radio 4’s much-adored long-running feature, Desert Island Discs. The feature was previously hosted by Kirsty Young, but she was sadly forced to step down from her duties while receiving treatment for her fibromyalgia illness.

Before taking on the new role of quizzing celebrities about their favourite music, the BBC asked Laverne to pick out some of her favourite episodes of the beloved Radio 4 feature over the years. As Lauren explained: “These are five episodes I love rather than my all-time top five as no diehard fan could make such a choice.”

Lauren Laverne’s five favourite Desert Island Discs episodes:

Dr Bill Frankland

In 2015, esteemed allergist and immunologist Dr Bill Frankland took to the interviewee’s chair to pick out some of his favourite pieces of music and discuss his long life. During the interview, Frankland picked out Robert Schumann’s ‘Fantasie’ in C Major as his castaway favourite. He chose The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe as his book and a pair of binoculars as his luxury item. 

Frankland passed away in 2020, aged 108. Prior to his death, he became one of the oldest active scientists working a number of years into his 100s. He is famous for his pioneering work in pollen allergy studies. He popularised pollen count as a part of weather forecasting for the British public and voiced his concerns over the damaging effects of overly sterile living environments and increased cases of allergic reaction to penicillin. 

Laverne: “His fascinating life felt a bit like the story of the 20th Century itself – a story of war, also one of scientific progress and a great deal of personal bravery, modestly told. It’s a truly inspiring listen that I go back to regularly.”

Kenneth Williams

In 1987, the British comedy actor famed for his roles in the various Carry On films, Kenneth Williams, was interviewed by Michael Parkinson. Williams’ favourite disc was Ludwig van Beethoven’s ‘Violin Sonata No. 5’ in F major, Op. 24 ‘Spring’ – 1st movement. He chose The Golden Treasury by Francis Palgrave as his book and a crate of cologne as his luxury item. 

As well as his performances in the Carry On films, Williams took on a host of television and radio comedy roles. He was no stranger to BBC Radio 4 when he joined Parkinson in 1987, as he had been a mainstay of the station’s comedy panel show Just a Minute from its second series in 1968 until his death in 1988. 

Laverne: “This episode prompted me to read Voltaire’s Candide, though obviously I read the entire book in Kenneth Williams’s voice in my head (I have to say it was none the worse for it). It was moving to hear Williams alluding to his struggle with depression (quoting Voltaire on the meaning of life: ‘We must cultivate our garden’), and I felt as if I was in the barber’s shop where he grew up as he described it. Such a vivid and wonderful conversation.”

Betty Driver

British actress Betty Driver appeared on Desert Island Discs in 2011 with Kirsty Young. Driver’s favourite disc was Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B Flat Minor. She chose Rebecca by Dame Daphne Du Maurier as her book and Eau de Soir perfume by Sisley as her luxury item. 

Driver was known best for her role as Betty Williams on ITV’s long-running sit-com Coronation Street. Her other notable roles included roles in musical films such as Boots! Boots! (1934) and Sir Carol Reed’s Penny Paradise. Like Kenneth Williams, Driver appeared on Desert Island Discs just in time. Sadly, she passed away just nine months later, in October 2011, aged 91.

Laverne: “Everything about this episode is fabulous, especially Betty herself. Recorded as she hit 80 years in showbiz, she remained as effervescent and hardworking as ever. Ever wondered how best to style out being driven offstage by an actual hail of pies? This programme has the answer, plus many other things you didn’t know you needed to know, but do.”

Steve McQueen

Steve McQueen, the British film director (not the American actor from The Great Escape) was interviewed by Kirsty Young for Desert Island Discs in 2014. During the interview, McQueen identified his favourite disc as Miles Davis’ ‘Blue In Green’ from the iconic album, Kind Of Blue. He chose The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin as his book and sagely took a compass to the desert island as a luxury item. 

Steve McQueen is best known as the Academy Award-winning director of the 2013 blockbuster 12 Years A Slave, his compelling and vital cinematic adaption of Solomon Northup’s 1853 slave narrative memoir. He has also directed several other critically acclaimed pictures, including Hunger (2008), Shame (2011) and  Windows (2018). On the side of screenwriting and directing, McQueen is also an accomplished visual artist. 

Laverne: “One of those episodes I wanted to pause and take notes from. This was a thrilling insight into a mind just bursting with ideas. His music choices are equally sensational – and nobody has ever described Prince more perfectly than ‘it was as if James Brown and The Beatles had a baby’.”

Victoria Wood

In 2007, Kirsty Young welcomed comedy actress Victoria Wood to the studio to discuss her favourite music. Wood picked out ‘What A Fool Believes’ by The Doobie Brothers as her favourite disc. She then chose A big book by Charles Dickens for her book and a bumper book of Sudoku with blank pages and pens as her luxury item(s).

Wood was known best for her work as a comedy writer and actor; she used her talent for satire, often highlighting the social class system in numerous comedy sketch shows and sitcoms over her 40-year career. In 1986, she won a BAFTA TV Award for her sketch series, Victoria Wood: As Seen on TV. She subsequently won a further three BAFTA Awards and wrote and co-starred in the hit sitcom Dinnerladies. Sadly, Wood passed away in 2016, aged 61, after a short battle with oesophageal cancer.

Laverne: “This is the kind of conversation that you would send in a private email to someone you care about, saying, ‘I think you need to hear this’. I shared it with a number of friends who have struggled with eating disorders, and some who grew up in difficult circumstances that mirrored Victoria Wood’s. Deeply affecting, honest and revealing – about her enormous talent and artistic process as well as her personal story.”