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Saying Goodbye to Steve Wright

It’s a different style of Blog today. I‘d intended to write about spring gardens, seed sowing, the therapeutic effects of gardening – but instead I’m taking time out to write about the passing of a man I never met, never knew on a personal level, yet has affected me more than I’d care to admit.

Steve Wright
Steve Wright - BBC Website

Yesterday we heard the sad news that BBC Radio 2 icon Steve Wright died at the age of 69.  Like many people I thought ‘this can’t be, he was only on the radio 2 days ago’ – as though that was some sort of protection, a talisman against what for all of us will one day be the inevitable.

Steve Wright’s Sunday Love Songs was as much part of my weekend as long lies and lazy breakfasts. His afternoon show proved not only a true companion, but a life-line for many. The soundtrack to our lives for a generation. Steve was credited with introducing ‘Zoo Radio’ – that multi-personality, zany and seemingly anarchic style of presenting. But anyone who’s ever worked in Radio will tell you it’s one of the hardest styles to pull-off. Steve made it sound effortless, not because it was easy, but  because he was hard working, a consummate professional and a stickler for detail. He was dropped from the afternoon show, basically because radio bosses are often idiots. I can say that now I’m no longer part of the industry!  

I’d worked in radio for almost 30 years, my very tenuous link to Steve Wright was for many-moons I was Bobbie Pryor’s (Travel News) counterpart at BBC Scotland. We would chat constantly, pinging messages back and forth with whatever was making us laugh that day. She talked about Steve often, and always with great fondness. Yesterday hearing Bobbie break down as she read the travel was heartbreaking.

Radio creates an intimacy with its audience in a way television will never match. Sit down in front of the T.V and it’s easy to spend the evening channel hopping, then head off to bed because ‘telly’s shite’ and there’s nothing the 400+ channels on offer can entice us with. But with radio, once we tune in, we’re staying for the duration! The term ‘Loyal Listeners’ is not a throwaway line. It’s a fact. And every word Steve Wright uttered, you felt as though he was talking to you – and you alone.

He was a rare talent, one that I fear will be lost with this  generation. I’ve seen presenters come and go, we all have; minor celebrities, reality T.V stars, you name it, if they’re popular, with a huge social media following then radio bosses often think it’s a cracking idea to stick them in front a mic and give them a show. Sadly, it seldom works.

There have long been articles and discussions about the collective, public grief surrounding a celebrity. As a journalist I covered the death of Princess Diana, and was shocked to see so many people utterly distraught at her passing – yet here I am, almost thirty years later feeling the same about Wrighty – a man I never knew. But I knew his voice. His voice was as sincere and as recognisable as a member of my own family. And because of that, I felt I knew him. The intimacy of the voice is powerful. Late night calls to lovers, early stages of a romance on the phone for hours – these relationships are forged by instinctively knowing someone through their voice. And that’s what radio does – when it’s done well.

Last Sunday Steve played a Dusty Springfield track. At the end he said ‘I always thought Dusty sounded like my Aunty Eileen’. That throw-a-way line had me in stitches. Most people would have said it the other way around – but his version had Aunty Eileen as the star, with Dusty being the imitator. But more than that, those few words immediately transported me back to 1960s London, to a house where a young, wide-eyed boy was surrounded by family, and in the middle was Eileen, with that voice to die for, belting out a killer tune. I could even picture what she was wearing. It was one of the finest examples I'd heard of ‘painting a picture on radio’. This is something we all got drummed into us in the early days of our training, it’s a skill that few can muster, but alas, like many things is a dying art.

As I say, there are enough online articles which cover the psychology and reasoning around celebrity grief without me putting my amateur slant on it – the truth is I really don’t know why Steve Wright’s death has resonated the way it has done. All I know is that for many of us we feel as though we’ve lost a friend and the world will be a poorer place without him.     

Night Night Wrighty – No G xx    

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