Interview: Edith Bowman

Edith Bowman will be at the launch of the The Ivy on the Square in Edinburgh. Picture: Debra Hurford Brown
Edith Bowman will be at the launch of the The Ivy on the Square in Edinburgh. Picture: Debra Hurford Brown
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With a breakfast radio show, weekly podcast and young family, life’s too short to be negative for Edith Bowman as she helps The Ivy open in Edinburgh

Talk to Edith Bowman and you come away fizzing with ideas: films to see, music to listen to, books to read, all of it “brilliant,” “really, really good” or “really great” and her enthusiasm is as infectious as her throaty laugh. That’s why she’s best live, in the moment, spontaneous, on breakfast radio, fronting festivals, red carpeting film stars at premieres, recording her film music Soundtracking podcasts or hitting the decks DJing at the launch of Edinburgh’s newest eatery, The Ivy on the Square.

Edith Bowman and husband Tom Smith and family out and about in Hampstead, London in 2013.  Picture: Beretta/Sims/REX/Shutterstock

Edith Bowman and husband Tom Smith and family out and about in Hampstead, London in 2013. Picture: Beretta/Sims/REX/Shutterstock

“Live’s always really good because it’s really instant and can be reactive, whereas pre-recorded stuff is a bit of a faff and just takes for ever. I did Isle of Wight [Festival] coverage for Sky Arts live for the first time this year. It’s ‘let’s do it, let’s go live’. It’s the excitement, adrenalin and the atmosphere which you create, I love doing that. I think that’s why I like doing the premieres as well, because it’s like live telly and there’s not enough of that out there.”

As well as loving spontaneity, she’s has a predilection to positivity. She doesn’t waste her time on “crap”.

“Sometimes people say ‘oh, you love everything, you always like it.’ And I say, ‘well, to be honest, I’d rather just not waste ten minutes on the radio saying something’s crap. Why not use that ten minutes to enthuse about something that’s good?’”

What’s good today is LCD Soundsystem’s latest album American Dream. “We just played it on the breakfast show and it was like ‘my God it feels like Christmas has come early’. She’s also loving reading Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City, 2001-2011 by Lizzy Goodman, “totally my era,” Ali Land’s Good Me Bad Me is “fantastic,” and Emma Cline’s The Girls is “really really good.” And new songs from Arcade Fire and Everything Everything are recommended, plus David Lowery’s film, A Ghost Story – “the soundtrack is just exceptional,” she says.

When we talk it’s not even gone 11am and already she’s been on the go since dawn, presenting her breakfast show on Virgin Radio UK which airs every weekday from 6am-10am. After the show she generally has meetings, screenings and interviews then it’s off to pick up her kids Rudy, nine, and Spike, four, from school.

Born in Anstruther, Fife in 1974, Bowman left university in Edinburgh with a degree in Communications Studies at Queen Margaret College and work experience on local radio. From there she defied those who said her Fife accent would never get on the airwaves and went on to forge a career in broadcasting with radio shows on BBC Radio 1, 2, 5, 6 and Scotland. Twenty years on, based in North London and married to indie rocker Tom Smith of Editors, she’s one of the networks’ go-to presenters as well as being music editor at Elle magazine and author of Edith Bowman’s Great British Music Festivals, published in 2015. She’s presented everything from royal weddings to Glastonbury to documentaries on crocodiles in Cambodia and her own documentary Songs To Have Sex To for Sky Arts.

“We had some amazing people on that – Zoe Cormier, the fantastic guerrilla scientist who does shows at Glastonbury and talks about how music is the one thing that connects both sides of your brain. Then we went to Paris to talk to Jane Birkin about the whole Je T’aime thing, and then to my local with a crowd of my mates and talked about songs and intimacy. That was my favourite bit. It was hilarious.”

Bowman’s appeal is her genuine enthusiasm, borne of doing something that she loves. With her easy manner she manages to give the impression that she’s just doing what we’d all do if we were up there with the microphone. We couldn’t. Bowman is modest about the hours of research before the interviews, and the years of hard work it takes to build up her experience. She insists she’s not a critic, but a fan, albeit a knowledgeable one, who is giving an honest reaction. Does she think this is the key to her success?

“Well, I hope so. I never really think about myself really, but I hope I’m no different whether it be on the radio or telly or on a podcast. It’s about being genuine, and approachable and accessible, not talking at people but with people.

“That’s what I strive for anyway, whether it’s doing the TV coverage for TRNSMT [this summer’s T in the Park replacement in Glasgow] or being on the radio, or Soundtracking, it’s that I’m being myself and it’s a conversation. It’s like the LCD Soundsystem track, giving people my genuine reaction, not trying to be muso about it, and not telling them how they should feel or think about stuff. It’s the same with films, I never read reviews to be honest, because I’m not great at being told what to like and because I like to make up my own mind, I like to give people the information so they can make up their own minds about it too.”

Apart from her daily radio show, Bowman manages to combine her passion for music and film in Soundtracking, weekly podcasts on Audioboom. Interviewing the directors, actors, musicians, writers, producers and composers about their relationship with music, she gets up close to the sounds that go with the vision. With a million listeners and a best new podcast nomination at this year’s British Podcast Awards, it made iTunes’ top ten best podcasts last year. Guests have included Luc Besson and Warren Beatty, Danny Boyle talking about the music of Trainspotting, Sofia Coppola on The Beguiled, Baby Driver’s Edgar Wright and A Ghost Story’s David Lowery.

“It’s a bit of a dream job to be honest. It encompasses those two worlds and it’s a never ending conversation. I’ve just done one with Clint Mansell – I’m a massive fan – who did Pi for Darren Aronofsky, and Sarah Bridge who’s a music supervisor [Sense of an Ending, Guerrilla] and it’s nice to show the diversity of what women can do in the film world. And I’ve just interviewed Stanley Tucci. Most people know him for The Hunger Games and The Devil Wears Prada, but he’s just made his fifth feature film, which is amazing actually, called Final Portrait about Giacometti. Then we’ve got Benedict Andrews, who’s directing Sienna Miller in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and his new film is Una with Ben Mendelsohn and Rooney Mara. There’s a bottomless pit of people I want to talk to.

“You know, when people describe me as a film critic, I get a little bit uncomfortable, because I’m not, I’m a film fan, and so for me that’s kind of what I love about doing the shows. It’s a way of me being nosey and asking all the questions I want.

“The best podcasts are the ones that make you smile, make you laugh and you’ve learned something. I love Adam Buxton’s, they make me chuckle down the street. The one with Louis Theroux where they get progressively on a sugar high from drinking energy drinks during it, I was proper belly laughing on the tube on the way home, to the point where it had an infectious reaction on everyone’s frowns around me.”

Did they ask what she was listening to?

“No, there’s no conversation on the tube, don’t be silly.” She laughs.

Catching the tube, doing the school run, going to her local with her mates, Bowman’s life is like anyone else’s, except when it’s not and she’s chatting to Sofia Coppola about The Jesus and Mary Chain in Lost in Translation. Is it hard being in the public eye?

“Even though both our jobs are in the public eye, we don’t see ourselves as a celebrity couple, we just live a normal life and do normal stuff. We’re quite private and don’t do photoshoots in the house kind of stuff or let the kids be photographed. I had this really weird thing, where somebody sent me a Twitter link for something in the Daily Mail where I’d helped a blind man crossing the road and been photographed. Being a human being by helping a man cross the road? That’s not a story. And I’d no idea there was a photographer there. Were they just waiting, or what? It’s horrible. Then my mates just started taking the piss, because one of the comments underneath apparently, just said ‘staged’. Really?” She laughs at the idea. “When I’d just been to a hot yoga class and looked like hell? As if!”

Raised in her parents’ hotel in Anstruther, both Bowman’s work ethic and love of music were inspired by her parents, with Rod Stewart gigs at the Caird Hall in Dundee and listening to her dad’s record collection from Eric Clapton to Fleetwood Mac. Now their daughter rubs shoulders with the likes of Clapton when she recently hosted the Silver Clef Awards for Nordoff Robbins and Eric Clapton presented an award to Phil Collins.

“Two musical icons on the same stage, that was slightly bonkers. But my parents aren’t that impressed by celebrity, and I really love them for that. One night at a concert I was hosting I was going back to the dressing room after it with my mum and dad and Sharleen Spiteri was coming down the stairs. I’ve known her for years and introduced them and my mum just says, ‘Give us a hug, Sharleen.’ There’s never any airs and graces with them. They’re just people people.

“Funny, I was talking about the hotel with Stanley Tucci yesterday,” she says, “because he’s a prolific cook and was really interested in me growing up in this hotel and how crazy it was. I saw how hard my mum and dad worked and we had to work in it too from a young age. It was a big relief for me when they sold up and I saw the colour come back into their faces.”

Bowman still loves to cook, and admits to still spending a lot of time in the kitchen.

“I’m experimenting at the minute,” she says. “I did a really nice sushi night recently with a whole spread of sashimi and rolls. For me it’s about exploring and trying to get the right diet for the kids too. Seafood is best for me, and part of my upbringing.”

Does it make her a nightmare hotel guest, a kind of mystery hotel inspector who’s checking out the thread count and trouser pressing facilities?

“Naw, I’m not one of those. I’m just grateful for a night away where I don’t have to cook or make beds or clean up to be honest. And if they have wifi, that’s a bonus.”

Not that she has much time away, with her broadcasting commitments and plans to write another book. This time around it’s going to be fiction, so has she started it yet?

“Yes, I’ve written the first line of it. I did that about three weeks ago.”

And what is it?

“I can’t tell you that, don’t be daft,” she laughs. “I’m not going to say what it’s about but I know, and I’ve got the title. I just need to actually sit down and have the guts to write it. Because from doing my festivals book I’ve really got an insight into how dedicated writing is and how it’s a massive commitment that takes discipline. I had this romantic notion of going to my little coffee shop and it spewing out of my fingers for three hours as I sat there drinking my coffee of choice, but the reality was far from that. It was written after the kids were in bed between nine at night and one in the morning. So I’d need to have a three month window where that’s all I do, apart from being a mum and a wife. But I’m going to do it, definitely.”

Future plans also include directing or production and there are lots of broadcasting options in discussion.

Before that there’s a holiday with the kids and her parents somewhere sunny, then DJing at The Ivy launch in Edinburgh. “I don’t do a definite playlist beforehand but take loads of stuff then get a sense of the people in the room. There will definitely be some Scottish stuff, some Young Fathers for sure, and I fancy a bit of a Studio 54 vibe. I just want to make sure people get a dance in really. People don’t dance enough!”

So, in the space of a 45 minute chat she’s delivered an explosion of recommendations and enthusiasms – from LCD Soundsystem, Arcade Fire, Everything Everything, Young Fathers, Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City, 2001-2011, Good Me Bad Me, The Girls, A Ghost Story, guerrilla scientist Zoe Cormier, Stanley Tucci’s Final Portrait, Sarah Bridges, Dundee’s Carnival 56 and the forthcoming V&A, to Sienna Miller in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof and Adam Buxton’s podcasts, the Isle of Wight, Glasgow and TRNSMT, hot yoga, dancing and so much, much more.

“Right,” she says. “I’ve gotta go, taking the boys to the Science Museum this afternoon. Have you ever been? Aw wow, you should. It’s amazing!”

Download Edith Bowman’s free podcast Soundtracking from www.edithbowman.com and Audioboom with new shows released every Friday.

The Ivy on the Square opens on Wednesday 20 September, 6 St Andrew Square, Edinburgh EH2 2BD (theivy edinburgh.com)

Listen to Edith Bowman at Breakfast every weekday from 6am-10am on Virgin Radio, virginradio.co.uk