It’s funny how things work out.
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“Yay!” says Sara today, giving the air a mini punch.
The cosy 5-7pm slot was freed up when current host Simon Mayo quit after eight years in the hot seat.
“You can write: ‘At this point she did a cartwheel across the room.’ Honestly I cannot tell you how happy I am. It’s quite weird cos this has always been the goal, building towards daytime on Radio 2, and now I’m like: ‘Crikey, I’ve got it!’ I’ve landed on the magical lily pad after lots and lots of stepping stones.”
When the BBC revealed in October that it was to be Zoë Ball rather than bookies’ favourite Sara who would be replacing the departing Chris Evans on radio’s most coveted show, it was met with widespread surprise.
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Sara, 44, had been providing Chris’ holiday cover for 10 weeks of the year, proving a hit with the listeners, who fell in love with her natural wit, quirkiness and warmth. Surely she was a shoo-in for the job with Chris off to Virgin Radio? Sara says not.
“I knew in my heart of hearts and in my brain that I wasn’t getting Breakfast,” she says.
“Because without getting all ‘man and boy’, I’ve worked in radio for so long, and one of the first rules is that the stand-in never gets the gig. You never get given holiday relief with a view to getting the show. That’s genuinely not a thing.
“So everyone was getting excited for me, and I had a really tricky couple of weeks where I was managing people’s expectations, including a nice chap in Ikea at Wembley who popped out from a shelving unit and said: ‘The job’s yours, Coxy!’”
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While speculation raged as to who had got the job, Sara tried to carry on as normal with her own nightly Radio 2 show. It wasn’t always easy.
“I was on air every night having to d**k about so I couldn’t hide or go off to an exotic island and escape the press. The only way I could get through all that was to joke about it.
“But hand on heart, I never thought it was going to be me. So I wasn’t disappointed and I wasn’t surprised, but the more you explain, the more people think: ‘Ah, she doth protest too much!’ So you can’t really win.
“It’s work, it’s business. And the way it’s turned out is that I’ve got this teatime show and I’ll be a much nicer person than I would’ve been on Breakfast.”
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She’s referring to the gruelling hours that go hand in hand with hosting the early morning show.
“Breakfast is an amazing gig, but it’s all very well swanning in for a couple of weeks covering for Chris. When that alarm goes off at 4.15am, make no mistake, for that first few seconds you’re like: ‘Christ, it’s dark outside!’
“Zoë will be brilliant at it – you can’t say no to a job like that. She’d have been mad to say no. And now I feel a bit like in Braveheart where Mel Gibson is going: ‘Hold, hold, hold…’ I was essentially doing that, and then: ‘Yes, it’s the afternoon show!”
Much has been made of the supposed rivalry between Sara and Zoë, with some reports dubbing them “former best friends”.
Back in the ’90s they were the closest of mates, hanging out at the Met Bar (where else?), the poster girls for Cool Britannia and darlings of the tabloid press.
They worked hard – Zoë was host of Radio 1 Breakfast while Sara had made her name on Channel 4’s The Girlie Show – and partied harder. Sara would later succeed Zoë on Radio 1’s flagship show, but the friendship waned once children started to appear on the scene.
“We drifted insomuch as Zoë lives in Brighton and I live in north London, and even my friends who I could throw a stone from my front doorstep and hit their house I don’t bloody see for weeks,” says Sara.
“So there’s nothing gone wrong – there’s definitely never been a cross word with me and Zoë – but you’ve got to nurture friendships. We’re both busy and we’ve both got kids, and if you don’t put the time in with friendships then they do fade a little bit.
“But the roots are still there. It’s still there at its core. In the middle of the night I would drop everything and do anything that Zoë needed from me. She will always be a friend, but she’s got her best friends and I’ve got mine.”
Those hedonistic days in the ’90s could never have lasted, she says. Everyone eventually settles down and moves on.
“There was just a time, a moment in time where I was with my ex-husband [DJ Jon Carter], she was with Norman [Cook] and the four of us partied together before we had kids. And then of course Woody [Zoë and Norman’s eldest] came along.
“It was through that prism of partying in the ’90s to early Noughties and it was a really fun time. But that’s the thing about those moments – they are just that. It’s not something that lasts for decades.
“But there’s never been any falling out. She was texting me when all that s**tstorm with Breakfast was going on, like: ‘Hi, former best friend!’
“We were like: ‘Hope you’re OK, babe. What a load of balls this is.’ No pun intended. So we were fine, and I always knew we would be. There’s never ever been bad feeling.”
It would be hard to imagine Sara falling out with anyone. She’s constantly and effortlessly funny, completely engaging, slightly kooky, endearingly clumsy (she nearly pulls an entire computer off a desk when her fold-away bike somehow becomes entangled with the cables) and immensely likeable. It’s the little details she adds to anecdotes that make them amusing, the entertaining tangents she spins off on and her self-deprecating humour that make her such a joy to talk to.
These days she lives quietly with advertising exec husband Ben Cyzer, who she describes as her “bezzie” – they’ve been together for more than 12 years, marrying in 2013.
“I don’t talk about him much because it cringes me out. I instantly start sweating when I get asked about Ben.”
She laughs and pretends to fan herself down.
“It must be because he makes me so hot.”
Meeting Ben changed everything for Sara.
“My life and my career as a whole got instantly better and more settled in a positive way the minute I got with Ben,” she says. “And you can honestly track it from there.
“My work got better and I became more happy and confident and more sorted as a person. And then you add on to that getting a bit older and growing up a bit and boom shakalaka, here I am. It’s no small part that Ben’s a good influence – not a boring influence by the way – but he just makes me very happy.”
Now the children are older (Lola, Sara’s daughter with Jon is 14, while Isaac and Renee are 10 and eight) Sara says she’s hit a sweet spot and describes this time as “glorious”.
“For women with careers, the moment all their children are legally obliged to be at school it lifts that guilt. Heaven forbid, you might even go to the gym or for a coffee with a friend!
“But they are awesome. They’re at a great age, they’re funny, they’re doing well at school and they’re popular because they’re nice kids. They’re pretty mega.
“I mean, I’d never be one of those mums who goes [she adopts a plummy voice]: ‘Oh, we’re more best friends than mother and daughter, we even go clubbing together,’ because that’s my actual worst nightmare.
I’m definitely Mum, but having said that we can hang out and chat.
“And me and Ben are good partners. There’s none of this s**t about ‘babysitting’. He doesn’t babysit his kids – he looks after them because he is their dad and we’re a partnership.”
She’s candid about the reality of life after leaving Radio 1 Breakfast back in 2003 and returning to work following her first maternity leave in 2005 to find herself without a big weekday show at the station. She presented weekend afternoons for the next three years, and then from 2008 filled in for various presenters without securing a show to call her own.
“You know that squirrelly creature at the start of Ice Age trying to cling on to that acorn? I’ve felt a bit like that with my career at times. Will not let go!
“You have to sit tight with this job. When you have success and it flattens a little bit and the fizz goes out of your career for a while and then you manage to get it back, it gives you humility.
“What kept my career going was Radio 1 letting me [stay] on while I was trying to transition over to Radio 2 [from 2013]. So I’ve got Radio 1 to thank for keeping the faith in me, and also Fearne Cotton for having a second child [Sara filled in on Fearne’s morning show]. So it’s Fearne’s ovaries that I really need to create a small shrine to.”
The precarious nature of freelance life coupled with her working class background growing up in Bolton means Sara struggles to “relax” when it comes to work.
“I live in the sort of house now I’d never have dreamed of owning. It’s not a palace, but I was brought up in council houses and above pubs, and I really remember where I came from.
“When you’ve seen your parents try to make ends meet, that sticks with you. So I do find it hard to take my foot off the pedal cos it could all end tomorrow.
“When you’re freelance it can be feast or famine.
My agent and Ben are always telling me I can relax a bit more now, but I’m like: ‘But a voiceover has come in to advertise support tights. And it’s £40! I’ll get £40!’ And everyone’s like: ‘No, Sara, relax! You’ve got three TV shows, a radio show and a book. You’re all right!’
“So, yeah, when you’ve had dry spells you really appreciate the good times.”
Has she had to battle to be taken seriously? Does she think her career has suffered because of past reputation?
“Yeah. I’ve joked in the past that I’ve spent the second decade of my career apologising for the first. There’s a certain lifespan of going to premieres in low-cut dresses and falling out of celebrity bars after midnight, and that is in your 20s. If you’re still doing it in your 30s, fine, I ain’t judging. But you’re not going to get me falling out of anywhere now. I do still fall out of places, just not any places where there’s going to be paparazzi. Places like my friends’ houses.”
It was The Great Pottery Throw Down that she reckons helped people see her in a new light. The charming reality programme became one of BBC2’s highest rating shows over its two series in 2015 and 2017, although, bafflingly, bosses have confirmed it won’t be returning for a third.
“It did me a huge favour because people were suddenly like: ‘Oh, yeah, she’s kind of funny and she’s warm and nice,’ which, without blowing my own trumpet, I’d been doing on the radio the whole time. Maybe a bit silly but never cruel or unthinking.”
That led to getting BBC2’s Love In The Countryside as well as Britain’s Favourite Dogs, which she co-hosted with Ben Fogle, who Sara quips must have the most understanding wife in the world.
“He’s like: ‘I’m just going to swim to this island and fight a hippo and then canoe it back!’ And she’s like: ‘All right, Ben. Eye roll.’”
Both those shows return this year. But radio is Sara’s true love (“telly is my bit on the side”) and she’s proud to be part of this new dawn for Radio 2, which has faced criticism in the past for its lack of female presenters.
“It feels like a new chapter for Radio 2 and it was a long time coming,” she says. “But they treat people really nicely here and I think it was difficult for them to move someone off a very successful show just because of their gender.
“But I’m completely thrilled – a woman at the helm of two of the biggest shows on the station. It’s a big statement and positive for young women coming up through the ranks.
“But also, I don’t think I’ve got the job because I’ve got a uterus,” she adds. “I think I’ve got the job because I’m a good broadcaster and I’ve been mithering them, begging for a job for years.”
Is she a feminist?
“Yes! I’m not a big fan of when women say: ‘Ooh, there are strange connotations with feminism so I don’t know if I am one.’ Look, love, just be a bloody feminist. Why would you say you’re not a feminist?
“A while back I did have a moment of wondering, well, am I allowed to be a feminist cos I used to have my cleavage out on The Girlie Show shouting w****r at the camera? But I found reading Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman a few years ago really helpful. She makes you say it out loud: ‘I am a feminist.’
“I think I was in the bath when I read that bit. ‘Are you all right in there, love?’ ‘Yes, thanks. I’m just being a feminist in the bath.’”
She went out for “a flat white and a good old chinwag” with Simon Mayo recently and says it felt right that he was “handing over the baton.”
It’s been no secret that Simon was unhappy with the introduction of co-host Jo Whiley last May, and listeners despaired over the lack of chemistry between the two of them. Sara diplomatically claims she “wasn’t really aware” of the difficulties.
“To keep radio fresh and not to rest on your laurels, sometimes you try and switch things up a bit and…” she breaks off. “Jo Whiley is a really good broadcaster. She’s amazing with a music show, so I’m really excited that she’ll be doing that again from 7pm. And Simon has loads going on. He will be grand.”
The new show is going to be all about the listeners, she says.
No showbiz guests “trying to flog stuff”, just Sara and a cup of tea and “possibly a prosecco” if it’s a Friday.
“Radio is a beautiful way to broadcast and communicate with people, and we’re going to have a really fun, funny time together for those two hours. That’s what I’m interested in – the text from Sue who’s busy making doilies or Jenny who’s just been for a six-mile run in the dark. Those are the people. Listeners are more funny and interesting than any of the DJs could ever be.”
She jokes that she and Zoë might get together for a final hurrah before the hard work kicks in.
“I texted her and suggested before our first shows, let’s go out like the old days. Y’know, the
night before? She was like: ‘Really?’”
“Er, no, that’s a joke Zoë. We’re definitely, definitely not going out the night before the new shows.”
- Favourite platform? Twitter. Great for interaction with listeners, great for lols.
- Funniest person on Twitter? Joe Lycett (@Joelycett) is lolsome. Amanda Abbington (@Chimpsinsocks) has made me spit my tea out.
- Best on Insta? DJ Fat Tony (@dj_fattony_).
- Last DM? To Hannah Beckerman telling her that her book made me weep.
- Are you on Facebook? I haven’t been on it in years.
- How do you take the perfect selfie? Boobs in, belly out. Or is it the other way round?
- Listen to Sara’s new BBC Radio 2 show weekdays, 5-7pm, from tomorrow.
- Make-up: Aimee Adams using Bare Minerals
- Hair: Jay Zhang using Origins
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