Sunday, 11.15am, BBC Radio 4 app, the reassuring sound of "By The Sleepy Lagoon" – the opening score to Desert Island Discs. First aired in 1942, Desert Island Discs was an idea the broadcaster Roy Plomley had in his pyjamas one day. It’s a 45-minute programme with one presenter interviewing one famous person about their life and work within the format of a story, and the story is the same every time, every Sunday for 75 years, the same story, but it never gets boring. It goes that the famous person is stranded on a desert island, and they can take with them eight songs – which are played live in the studio in front of the person to evoke a real emotion – a book, and an inanimate luxury item. The castaway is also given the Bible or an equivalent text, and the complete works of Shakespeare.
Since 2006, the presenter has been the journalist Kirsty Young, and she has her interview technique well and truly down, moving her subjects seamlessly from very difficult, personal stories about their lives, to witty anecdotes related to one of their chosen tracks. Young’s predecessor, Sue Lawley, lasted a whopping 18 years and described the job as “one of the best in broadcasting.” Though the show runs every single Sunday, the prestige of being a guest on Desert Island Discs never abates; it is always considered an honour – a lifetime achievement – even for the already very famous. The interview has also proved to be a career-defining moment for many guests, who reveal things to Kirsty that they’ve never revealed in public before.
Choosing 10 from all the amazing women who have featured on the show was difficult, and this is by no means an exhaustive list, but these are the 10 that affected me the most. Listening back to these women’s interviews over the last few days, I realised the one thing that unites them as women in the public eye, is that they have all experienced difficulty in their lives. Some of them grew up isolated and lonely, some of them had very tough home lives, some of them experienced illness, divorce and loss. It’s clear that all of them learned to be who they are, it was never just given to them.