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desert island discs

The lessons learned by Kirsty Young are Lauren Laverne's Desert Island armour

Lauren is stepping into Kirsty’s shoes.

DESERT ISLAND DISCS returned this week after its annual summer break.

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And while Kirsty Young effortlessly navigated Danielle de Niese towards each of her chosen tracks, regular listeners will have found this episode bittersweet; aware that it was the penultimate one to feature the host for the foreseeable future.

Three weeks ago, it was announced that Kirsty would be stepping down from her role as host on Desert Island Discs – the longest-running radio programme in the world – and would be replaced by BBC DJ, Lauren Laverne.

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The news was met with a collective gasp of regret from listeners who sought out the Scottish broadcaster’s dulcet tones once a week as she aided the articulation of her guests’ life stories with well-timed prompts and appropriate moments of silence.

Ostensibly, it is the castaways’ memories punctuated by carefully-chosen musical tracks which make the show, but even the most casual listener quickly learns that it’s Kirsty’s contribution which truly seals the deal.

Desert Island Discs is more than just a weekly radio show or a commuter podcast; it’s an escape; an escape made all the more enticing by Kirsty’s effortless approach to the task at hand.

While empathetic and warm, she rarely – if ever – sidesteps a moment which requires a harsher line of questioning; traits which ultimately secured her the vote of long-time listeners and won her a whole new generation of fans.

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However, having stepped into her predecessor Sue Lawley’s shoes back in October 2006, the broadcaster – who had cut her teeth as a continuity announcer on BBC Radio Scotland in the 80s before moving onto Scottish Television in the 90s and ultimately graduating to the BBC in the noughties – was met with thinly veiled cynicism.

Indeed, writing for The Telegraph shortly after Kirsty was instated, Gillian Reynolds said:

She asks questions with the answers already built in, cuts across what the interviewees are saying, doesn’t pick up what’s being said, seems to attach no significance at all to the choice of records.

Three weeks into her new role on a programme, which at the time of her first episode had been running for 64 years, Gillian said of Kirsty:

It pains me to say this, not least because I forecast the opposite, but she isn’t very good at this programme.

And interestingly, Kirsty herself admitted it took her longer than she anticipated to find her feet.

Speaking to John Bishop, she recalled:

I got loads of stick when the BBC announced I was taking it over…. I knew it was coming but it’s not very nice when you get hit in the face with a concrete slab and that’s what it felt like, but I just thought ‘Keep your head down. Do the job.’

And it paid off.

Given the initial criticism levelled at a broadcaster as well-liked as Kirsty, it’s perhaps no surprise that regular listeners felt an element of trepidation on the part of Lauren Laverne.

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While it’s been stated that Lauren’s role is not permanent and she will simply be filling in for Kirsty for a number of months, it’s hard not to feel nervous for her.

Acknowledging the regard with which Kirsty is held and the esteem in which the programme is held, Lauren said:

It’s a huge honour to be asked to cover one of my favourite programmes on behalf of one of my heroes. As a listener, first and foremost, I know what a special place Desert Island Discs holds in the heart of the British public. So much of that is down to warmth, wit and peerless skill of Kirsty Young. I wish Kirsty better and will do my very best to look after Desert Island Discs until her return.

In two weeks time, the public will hear Lauren take the reigns for the first time, and while many will wish her well, there are some who will struggle to adjust to the change in tone, accent and approach.

Speaking of her own experience of criticism upon taking on Sue Lawley’s role, Kirsty attempted to contextualise the aspersions cast upon her in the earlier months.

Nobody likes change. I mean, I’m a devoted radio listener as much as the next person and I think one of the nicest things about radio is it’s habitual. You turn it on and the same voice is there whether you’re turning on Heart FM or Radio 3 or whatever it is, you turn it on and you think ‘Aw, there they are’ and so I was change and change is not good.

Spoken almost a year before illness forced her to step down, Kirsty provides a potential forecast for a successor she had yet to know would take her place.

And given that the criticism an subsequent analysis was provided by the very individual who went on to become one of the programme’s most-lauded hosts, it should come as some source of comfort to  Lauren as she leans into the DID microphone for the first time.

And while in the words of Kirsty; ‘you never really want to take over a job from someone who had made a good job of it’, Lauren’s career trajectory thus far has proven she’s more than capable of guiding her castaways to their very own desert island.

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