My 2011

A few days ago I did something I don’t normally do. I ploughed through my blog entries, audioboos, videos and YouTube favourites to see what I could recall from this year. The process threw up some surprises – I collated them.

The one which has stuck in my mind has been this chance interview with former Blue Peter Chieftain Biddy Baxter, a lady who belies her advancing years and demonstrated a canny understanding of what my motivation was for speaking to her in the first place.

It’s a moment in 2011 which I’ve thought about a great deal over the past few days. If there was one aspect of this year I’d to remember it by, it’s encompassed in that AudioBoo.

Biddy Baxter reveals the truth about the Blue Peter Badge at the first night of Company at the Southwark Playhouse (mp3)

Speaking to Biddy was a real joy. It summed up the ultimate thrill I sometimes experience, that of chance encounters and the unexpected thrills which can emanate from them.

Despite not being in front of the camera, Biddy Baxter was part of my childhood. Through her spearheading work in children’s entertainment, I felt part of a family, unwittingly participated in a forerunner of social media (writing letters into the show in the desperate hope for a response) and began my love affair with BBC Television Centre and my present employer (it still hasn’t quite sunk in I was part of the team who was team delivered the Corporation newest corporate website, and yet now I do stop to consider it seems only right I did given my obsessive love with the organisation).

The point about this interview with Biddy is that it sums up everything. It acts as a signpost to the past, a marker for the present as well as being something special to hang on to for the future. I remember the excitement I felt when I received a signed letter from Biddy thirty or so years ago. It’s that same excitement you hear in my voice during that interview.

Similar experiences are to be found throughout the year. And as I recall them here and now, I notice I go all dewey-eyed thinking about them.The most obvious is bumping into Graham Norton on a bike ride from Lewisham to Tower Bridge in London.

The reason for the bike ride was simple: I was at that moment in the year feeling incredibly unhappy. Those feelings had been ongoing for sometime and it struck me as the most obvious and cheapest kind of therapy to get on my bike and get some endorphins charging around my body.

The significance of the piece I ended up editing together for the BBC Proms this year as a result of that bike ride may – possibly – be lost on some people. Let me explain (briefly) here.

First off, the many BBC Proms videos I’ve made stem from one week in April 2007 when I was laid up at home as a result of a bicycle accident. Bored out of my mind, I ended up making a small promotional piece for the Proms. I posted it on my blog and – before I knew what was really happening – a number of people were encouraging me to make more. That work became an important part of my career progression and also a creative outlet which brought a great deal of pleasure.

This year, a different medical ailment prompted me this time to turn to my bike. And in doing so I bumped into someone who was at the centre of my first piece of video production (prior to the Proms work). In March 2007, I spent ten days doing work experience on a new independent show for a revamped BBC Two. The show was the Graham Norton Show. I made a video diary about my experiences then (the team incidentally thought I had been an uncover reporter for the News of the World – the cheek!) which is what had spurred me on to do something about the Proms.

So there was a feeling of delicious synchronicity about bumping into Graham Norton that Saturday afternoon. And, now I look back on that video I can also see – with a spot of hindsight thrown in too – how the message I was giving off was pretty clearcut too. Classical music really isn’t difficult. The idea that we have to make something perceived to be difficult (when it really isn’t) more accessible, is ridiculous. There is only so much those of us who adore the genre can do to encourage those who haven’t considered it to consider it. If I haven’t persuaded you by now, then you’re a lost cause. You’re on your own.


It’s a short hop from the BBC Proms to the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. That which I pursued at the Royal Albert Hall ended up falling in my lap (albeit on a considerably smaller scale) courtesy of the OAE.

Presenting the pilot for the OAE Pub Gigs wasn’t necessarily the breeze I had thought it might be, but I did come out of it the other end and – in case you weren’t already aware – that has led on to a fully fledged tour of pubs in the next few months in London. I’m really looking forward to that next year and sharing more about the rather bizarre experience that is .. presenting live events. That is what I would loosely describe as an achievement for 2011, one for which I do rather depend on the likes of Will and Ceri at the orchestra.

While we’re on the subject of achievements – and blowing one’s own trumpet – I can’t let this moment go by without reference to my ‘moment’ on BBC Radio 5 Live (below).

In radio terms, this wasn’t something I was expecting to make it on to Pick of the Week. It wasn’t in itself ground-breaking journalism. Just a simple series of interviews secured on a trip to Amsterdam during The Next Web Conference, sent back to the editor – Jamillah Knowles – in London with a few scripted links recorded by me in Amsterdam to bring the whole thing together. It was one of those moments when – completely sober – I noted how incredibly exciting the process of radio journalism can be. (And I wouldn’t mind doing it again, despite what you read here.)

If I was to take the crude approach to reviewing the year, it would be analysing statistics. And in case you’re wondering, there is no bias towards classical music. Instead, it’s light entertainment. For the third year running I notice that there’s an undeniable almost distressing spike in my blog statistics around about May. This is only down to one thing. Eurovision.

I still find it difficult to understand why it is that anyone would consider coming by my blog around Eurovision time. I’m neither officially engaged in the Eurovision process, nor anywhere near as knowledgeable as some other blogging fans. Consequently, the inevitable feelings of fraudulence bubble up to the surface. And yet, it’s reassuring. Not least because this year was a very special Eurovision year for me. One I suspect won’t be repeated for some years to come.

Latvia in 2003 was my last visit to Eurovision. Back then my lack of experience bled into the at times overly-emotional response to the childhood dream I felt I was experience. After that personally momentous week I’d held off from going back, convinced that I’d stick out like a sore thumb, that I didn’t know enough and that I absolutely didn’t deserve to be there in the press centre with the other fans and journalists.

This year however, with only a few weeks before the final accreditation date for journalists, I managed to secure myself a pass to the press centre. I went to Dusseldorf for only 24 hours and live blogged my experiences, had a similarly thrilling experience in the UK press conference as I had in 2003, before returning home and watched the final on TV in my lounge.

That process garnered the most hits on my blog I’ve ever had. Something I value a great deal. Even now. Despite the fact that the Eurovision is – in the grand scheme of things – a pointless, meaningless piece of instantly forgettable mainstream light entertainment.

That experience – that 24 hours in Dusseldorf – helped me confront some personal demons. I returned to the UK knackered but euphoric. And listening to this piece from the press centre still results in the hairs on the back of my neck standing up on end.

Blue”s press conference with a question from moi (mp3)

And it’s that feeling – that overwhelming feeling of euphoria mixed with almost disbelief – which helps me explain one blog post I’m both proud of and frightened of. One I wrote this year on a tube journey back from work one day. A post which resulted in a number of people at work taking me to one side and asking me, “Are you OK?”

letters and letters

Aside from the sudden and unnerving attention my blog and I was getting, I was absolutely fine. What I explained about Letter from the Den: Plot 74 was that it wasn’t so much a cathartic experience as an unexpectedly reassuring experience. It really was possible to sit down without a page of notes, without an idea of what it was I wanted to achieve and to write. And to enjoy the process. And to divorce myself from the piece when the final full stop had been committed.

The process is something all who enjoy writing should force themselves to do from time to time. It is exhilarating and very, very self-affirming.

As I come to write that difficult end of year review, it is these elements – and no others – which fill me with warmth about 2011. It is these experiences which propel me into 2012 too, moments which make me look forward to the moment Big Ben signals the beginning of a new year with the potential for new opportunities, new experiences and new thrills.

Raise a glass. Pause to consider your own year. Share it, if you so fancy. Otherwise, think about Tomorrow.

Idina Menzel sings Tomorrow on In Tune on @bbcradio3 (mp3)

Best wishes for 2012.

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