Nick Grimshaw talks radio, celebrities and eyebrows at the University of Warwick

Earlier this week BBC Radio 1’s Nick Grimshaw and colleague Liam Conroy hosted a Q&A in the Copper Rooms as part of the University’s Freshers week.

After appearing on the University of Warwick’s student radio station Radio at Warwick (RaW), the Q&A began with questions from Nick’s colleague Liam concerning breaking the industry, what it is like at Radio 1 and celebrity experiences. Presenter Nick Grimshaw is best known for his role on the Radio 1 Breakfast show; however, three weeks ago he transitioned into afternoon radio between 4-7pm.

How it all started

Studying media and business at the University of Liverpool, Nick told the audience that he had always wanted to work for the BBC breakfast show as he considered it the most “free” and “fun” out of the lot – despite not being a morning person.

Enjoying the media side of his course, Nick decided to pursue his passion in the field through media societies, joining both the radio and newspaper society and constantly asking himself “what do I need to do to get to where I want to be”.

Despite being successful within said societies and gaining a work experience with a local record label, Nick revealed that on the academic side, he failed his macroeconomics exam seven times.

“To this day I still don’t know what macro and micro economics are. It was like it was Japanese – I don’t speak this maths language.”

“However, before I left uni I already had a job that I liked. I was working at this record label and managing company in Manchester who had recently signed this at-the-time brand new band called ‘The Killers’”.

Nick shared that this job involved persuading radio companies to play ‘The Killers’, laughing in hindsight at the radio companies who had rejected the now chart-topping group.

“Was there ever a point where you thought you’d just pack it all in?”

In response to the question above, Nick told listeners that he’d actually been fired from his job at the record label after kicking a bin down the stairs. After that, he took a job handing out flyers for a friend who owned a club in London – not quite the sustainable job that his parents were hoping he’d find, having paid for him to go to university. It was at this point that he felt lost in the industry.

“If someone shouts at me my response is that I’m not here to be shouted at. So, I kicked a bin down the stairs. My boss sent me home for the day but after that I just didn’t come back. We’re friends now though.”

The presenter had also felt disheartened by rejection letters sent from multiple media companies. Nick said, however, that rejection is part of the process, particularly in the media industry.

Whilst he shared that he had received several rejection letters from Radio 1 before being offered a role on the team, his colleague Liam had in fact received six.

“My mum actually framed them for me once, as a Christmas present. She was like, ‘I didn’t know what to get you’”, Nick commented.

Quitting his door-to-door job, however, Nick started an internship with MTV in Camden at the age of 21, making sets for the MTV awards and similar events. From there Nick managed to work his way on to a show with DJ Annie Mac, beginning as a five-minute visitor and finishing his time on the show as a co-host.

Nick also revealed that he was “like 50 minutes late” for the interview in which his boss gave him the job on the Breakfast show, having been late as, ironically, he was “sh*t at waking up in the morning”.

However, once on the show, he said that the experience has never stopped feeling surreal.

“The days when I’m like ‘I can’t believe I’m doing this’ are the most average days, when I’m sitting with you [Liam Conroy], Will and Fifi and it’s just genuine fun. Because when you’re with a celebrity – like Rihanna – your brain is just like ‘Rihanna, Rihanna, Rihanna…’”.

Celebrity experiences

Whilst enjoying the high-profile life interviewing celebrities, Nick warned that interviews can be unusual at times, despite the pressure that celebrity Press Relations managers place on them to remain professional and amiable to the press.

“I remember one time we interviewed Rihanna in a portacabin in Wembley after she’d performed ‘Diamonds’ on X-Factor. In that interview, she ate six packets of mini cheddars. She’d never had mini cheddars before and she was like ‘Guys, have you had mini cheddars? F*cking love these. Seriously.’ It was quite hard to edit because all she really talked about was mini cheddars”.

The difficulties continue, according to Nick, when a celebrity has just released a film or piece of music that you are not a fan of. Nick said the following with regards to Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick’s new film ‘A Simple Favour’:

“You can’t be like ‘loved it’ because you didn’t love it… so we decided to play a game with them instead. Anna Kendrick – very lively, lovely and engaging. Blake Lively – not up for it. She was very monosyllabic and honestly quite scary. It was like when you’ve had a row in the car, and it makes you want to jump out of the car… it made me think, ‘am I doing something weird?’ Those kinds of times make it harder to do the radio.”

Whilst Nick shared that he misses the “get-up-and-go” of the Radio 1 Breakfast show, he enjoys the greater listener participation that the afternoon show engages – whether that be listeners calling to tell stories of their mums reusing kitchen roll, or women calling with advice to younger girls not to over-pluck your eyebrows “for fear of being 30 and looking like a member of So Solid Crew”.

Unexpectedly, when asked what his weirdest experience with a caller was, Nick revealed that his most shocking caller to Radio 1 was singer Amy Whinehouse.

“On a night out I’d joked with Amy that she should call in to the show and be our X-Factor correspondent as it was big at the time and I thought it’d be funny having someone as poignant as Amy Whinehouse reviewing someone doing a cover of Take That or something. The producers were like ‘are you sure… she’s crazy… and she’ll swear’ but I was like ‘no it’ll all be fine’. She came on, she was really funny talking about Owen Quick and JLS. We’re just about to end the call and she says ‘Oh yeah and one last thing – Simon Cowell’s a f*cking devil.’ It was like 8:40am on a Sunday.”

Nick also shared details of the first time he met Oscar-winning singer Adele – when she sang backing vocals for one of his friends. According to the presenter, before she rose to fame, Radio 1 had invited her onto the show solely to answer calls for them.

Nick ended the session with a word of advice to those hoping to pursue a career in radio.

“You know you’ve got those friends that make you funnier? Get them to listen to your show. Then it’s literally like you’re just talking to them”.

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