Posted in Books on Monday 28 February 2011
I have really enjoyed reading radio/TV presenter Chris Evans' two autobiographies, It's Not What You Think and Memoirs of a Fruitcake.
First off, let's be clear, I have always liked Chris and enjoyed his broadcasting, but I wouldn't consider myself a die-hard fan as such. I am also a bit of a radio anorak, interested in the stations and some of the people behind them. So my interest in his books was more from an observer's viewpoint than a all-accepting fan.
Chris' first book, It's Not What You Think, charts his early life and includes the death of his father from cancer, when Chris was just 13. Chris doesn't have many memories of his father but recounts a story of him and his dad in the car one morning listening to the car radio. His dad wasn't keen on what they were listening to and said something about the show being a load of rubbish.
I wonder how his dad would have felt if he had lived to see his son take over the UK's most listened to breakfast show on BBC Radio 2 in January 2010? The proudest dad in the world, no doubt.
Throughout reading his exploits I wondered if such a loss at an early age had made Chris behave the way he was.
It was telling how, when working for a newsagent at a very young age, Chris was the only one to want to get up even earlier than the paper delivery boys and become the controller - it meant a bit more money and he could stay indoors in the dry! It seemed so simple to Chris. An early indication of both his drive for success and willingness to get up earlier than everyone else!
The first book also walks through exactly how Chris first got in to radio and some surprising early mistakes he made - including accidentally wiping the only cassette tape of an interview with Bob Geldof made at around the time of Live Aid. Whoops.
His second book, Memoirs of a Fruitcake, covers 2000-2010 (or thereabouts) and details, with raw honesty in places, Chris' relationship with alcohol during his time at Virgin Radio. He freely admits the drink nearly killed him and he says that he probably owes his life to his ability to say no to drugs that were offered to him at the time. He had more money than he knew what to do with and it seems he was having trouble motivating himself to produce the best radio possible (why need he bother trying to be great at his job when he had all the money he could ever need?)
This was the time when Chris was most reckless with money and his own body. At times Chris behaved rather like a spoilt child and he is candid enough to admit this, acknowledging the many times where, quite simply, he got it all wrong.
He recounts his relationship, marriage and eventual break up with singer/actress Billie Piper with great tenderness and indeed still counts her as a great friend. Their shot-gun marriage and disappearance to Los Angeles and the outrageous house they bought is typical of Chris' do-first, think-later attitude to life that shaped the first 30-or-so years of his life.
However, even through the darkest times when he was drinking heavily, Chris' greatest asset comes through - his almost irritatingly persistent positiveness. Positiveness that he could drink himself stupid every night and still be conscious to put together a radio programme the next morning. Positiveness that getting together with Billie would do each of them a lot of good (it did). Positiveness that despite losing millions of pounds by not selling shares at the right time, he could still find a way back to doing what he really loves - radio. You get the idea.
There are mentions of his dad during his story, none more poignant than when his wife Tash (Natasha) was expecting their child Noah. He is eaten up with guilt about not being there for Jade, his now grown-up daughter. He admits that when he became a father for the first time, 20 or so years ago, he simply wasn't ready for that level of responsibility. And this had been on his mind ever since (quote from page 282):
But why is it that despite knowing exactly what we need to do to fix a situation we still allow it to keep us awake at night rather than sorting it out?
At thirteen I'd had my own dad taken away from me when he died. Knowing how painful that was, and how deeply his loss hurt, it killed me inside to think that Jade had been needlessly fatherless for her whole life. Yet I continued to drag my feet.
But maybe this was precisely the issue, maybe it was losing my dad that had caused me to fireproof myself against the devastating pain associated with the loss of real, unconditional love. This is the only reason what can possibly explain why I had put myself through years of illogical, irrational self-destruction when on the face of it, things were going so well. Every time I got close to anything or anyone that I might lose one day, I chose to leave before it - or they - left me. All the great jobs, all the great women. And most importantly, my daughter.
Chris gives an interesting insiders viewpoint of the Russell Brand/Jonathan Ross events about which I blogged at the time. He was working on the BBC Radio 2 Drive time programme and his move to the breakfast show to take over from Terry Wogan had already been planned. However, this event meant his move had to be put on hold because it was felt there should be some stability in the Radio 2 schedules. Chris did make use of his free mornings however, writing his first book. Chris laments the loss of Lesley Douglas, the then controller of Radio 2, who resigned taking responsibility for the event saying she had overseen the clearance of the broadcast. Lesley had been the one, perhaps above all others, who had given Chris another chance to shine at Radio 2 and so Chris felt particularly bad that Lesley felt she had to go.
His second book ends very recently in 2010. He seems to have made it. He has a beautiful wife, a fabulous young son, he has got back in touch with his older daughter Jade, he has managed to acquire his favourite car a Ferrari 250 GTO, he has arguably the top job in UK radio and the listening figures for his Radio 2 breakfast show are better than anyone had dared to predict. So life couldn't be much better for the ginger one.
Let's hope he doesn't mess it up again!
Chris Evans' two books are a great read, even if you're not a particular fan of his. His up and down life is told with refreshing straight-forwardness.