Jo Whiley: I actually ASKED to leave Radio 1
After 17 years, Jo Whiley was replaced by a younger DJ, but she insists… it wasn”t ageism – I actually ASKED to leave Radio 1
1:39 AM on 13th May 2011
When Jo Whiley gave birth to her daughter Coco, the Scissor Sisters sent a set of baby clothes adorned with skull and crossbones, along with a tiny pink guitar and a CD of nursery rock anthems.
Perhaps they were hoping she would grow up to become like her mother — an influential radio DJ with an ability to spot music’s next big thing.
It demonstrates the affection in which Whiley is held.
Glamour: Jo Whiley shows off her great figure in a strapless pink dress and bright red heelsJoW095v1.tif
Jay Z sang at her home and Madonna co-hosted her show. Bono told her he adored her, and Chris Martin halted a Coldplay concert to sing Happy Birthday to her on the phone.
So it came as a shock when Radio 1 announced in 2009 that Jo was bowing out from the station where, over her 17-year reign, she helped launch so many stars, from Lily Allen to the Arctic Monkeys and Adele.
There were outcries of ageism as 45-year-old Jo appeared to be yet another BBC star to be replaced by someone younger, with Fearne Cotton, then 27, taking over her weekday show.
But Jo, who joined Radio 2 last month to present a new evening show three nights a week, is keen to set the record straight. ‘People thought it was ageism, but it’s just not true,’ she insists.
She has four children with her music executive husband Steve Morton — 19-year-old India, Jude, nine, Cassius, seven and two-year-old Coco — and says ‘It was my choice to go from Radio 1 to 2.
There was no way I could have stayed doing that job every day for another ten years, so switching to weekends on Radio 1 for a while suited me.
‘Then eventually Radio 2 made an offer of a show where I could play more or less what I liked — how could I refuse
Family life: Joe Whiley pictured at her parents home with her sister Frances
“Now I’m broadcasting to loads of people who were listening to me on Radio 1 ten years ago.’
At Radio 1 Jo attracted six million listeners who liked her intelligent, no-nonsense manner which cut out unnecessary chat between her cool playlists.
She stole the show when she wore a short, black Stella McCartney dress to the NME awards this year, showing toned legs and a slim figure that was the envy of women half her age.
But writer Julie Burchill attacked Jo for having ‘all the charisma of a thrice-used tea bag’.
In particular she criticised her for saying that she teaches her daughter that ‘simple things, such as having great nails, speak volumes about you’.
Ms Whiley was unfazed. Her style appears effortless and her time is actually spent juggling her career around the demands of her family.
She has a strong sense of family born out of the fact that her sister Frances suffers from a congenital syndrome called Cri du Chat.
There are many complex symptoms, including having no sense of danger, which means Frances will never live by herself.
Now 42, Frances, who was unable to speak until she was ten, suffers from loss of control and obsessive behaviour.
In the spotlight: Jo attending The South Bank Show Awards at the Dorchester in 2010 in a little black dress
‘Family is really important to me. Frances will remain a child for ever and still lives with Mum and Dad, so my parents’ responsibilities to her — and mine — continue for as long as we live,’ explains Jo.
The family moved from Northampton to the Althorp estate, home of Earl Spencer, brother of Princess Diana, where her parents ran the village shop for 25 years.
‘Mum and Dad were always at the heart of the community. This was important as Frances would get into all kinds of scrapes,’ recalls Jo.
Because the community she grew up in was so important to her, Jo is judging the smart Urban Stage & Future Minds Exhibition — a showcase of ideas and innovations that will shape lives of city communities.
‘Even now, Mum goes to church every Sunday and Frances goes round to our friends, David and Elaine, for a cup of tea and to give my parents a bit of a break.
After the initial shock of having Frances and trying to work out how to cope, Mum wanted to help others so she set up a toy library in Northampton for kids with special needs and I’d go and stay there with them all day.’
Jo and her parents, Martin and Christine, have always gone to great lengths to include Frances in everything they do.
Now, Frances and Jo DJ together at the nightclub their mum has set up called the Rockin’ Roadrunner in Northampton, in association with Mencap.
Meanwhile, Jo organises Little Noise charity gigs for which she has used her DJ pulling power to get U2, Coldplay, Tom Jones, Noel Gallagher, Adele and Amy Winehouse to take part.
Yummy mummy: Jo with her son in 2007 for the Gala Screening of Doctor Who at the Mayfair Hotel in London
‘Frances is a great DJ and people love her. I’ve also introduced her to quite a few musicians. It was wonderful to see her rush up to Will Young after my radio show and say: “Are you Will Young Are you really”
When Jo married Steve, Frances was chief bridesmaid and stole the show by barging up the aisle between the couple then sitting next to the vicar as he conducted the service.
Little wonder that she was jealous when Jo gave birth to her first child, India.
‘Frances had enjoyed all of our attention but then there was this baby more helpless than her so naturally she’d get jealous and would occasionally lash out at India,’ recalls Jo.
‘But it’s been incredible to see the difference in Frances over the large time span I’ve had my children.
Now, with Coco, she’s so caring she just wouldn’t harm her and if she feels she might snap, she will say: “Please can you take Coco away”’
Jo is herself a carrier of the Cri du Chat gene and was tested during each of her pregnancies.
‘Given my age and family history I have always been tested in the early stages of pregnancy and received genetic counselling.
“Thankfully I’ve never had to make the decision, but if I’m honest I would have considered not proceeding with a pregnancy if the baby was affected.’
The smart Urban Stage & Future Minds Exhibition is at London’s Southbank until Monday.
Go to news.thesmart.co.uk. Jo Whiley’s Radio 2 show is every Monday to Wednesday from 8pm-9.30pm.