If I had to give you a run down of my ‘typical day’, I wouldn’t be able to – and that’s just as I like it! My ideal day would be about seventy hours long, to fit everything in.
When you don’t know what’s going to come around the corner, it’s vital to be healthy and to have some kind of structure in place. For instance, I have recently instituted a siesta so I get two productive periods in one day.
Mornings start with me heading up to the Riverside Studios at Hammersmith where I present a breakfast show twice a week. Two hours with a microphone and a CD player – it was pretty daunting at first, but now I’ve learned to relax and chat to my listener as though they’re in the next room – which sometimes they are as apparently the chefs in the restaurant downstairs are big fans. The studio overlooks the Thames, and whenever I feel sorry for myself for having to get up early, a rower inevitably goes past and reminds me how lucky I am to be in a comfy studio.
On Thursdays, I go to the Early Bird Speakers Club. Their meetings start at seven o’clock, and it’s a great way to hone my skills as a speaker, and to learn from others. There are speakers of all levels, but I honestly learn something from everyone. It’s a great club and very welcoming to new members.
I’ll spend the middle of the morning having a swim at the Lansdowne Club. This smart private members establishment is outwardly imposing, but once through the door it’s friendly and you feel thoroughly looked after. They have a 25 yard pool, and it is actually cheaper for my partner and I to be members there than it was for us to be with LA Fitness. I have congenital heart disease, so it’s important for me to keep fit, and swimming allows me proper, quality thinking time without any distractions. Upstairs, the Lansdowne has a library, a billiard room (though no one has been murdered with a blunt instrument in either as far as I know) and a business centre. I’ll spend the rest of the morning chasing clients and new business, before heading off for a substantial lunch and a siesta.
In the afternoons, I’ll do some writing and catch up on emails, and maybe have a meeting with one of my clients. I coach public speaking, mostly to people who get paid for it. One of my clients was flown out to New York to deliver a speech at a book launch, another is an Olympic gold medal winning athlete. I worked for five years as an agent for JLA, the UK’s largest speaker agency, and have been a professional writer in TV, radio and print since 1999, so I offer a range of services from coming up with topical and industry-specific jokes to advising on marketing material. My line is that what I do sits somewhere between gag writing and therapy. I understand the pressures on a speaker, but I know the marketplace too, and if there’s a trick to good speaking, it is being able to take the audience’s point of view without getting self conscious. There’s nothing better than a challenge: my latest client regularly gets paid £10,000 for a speech, so I’ll be interested to find out what I can bring to the party.
When it’s exam time, I go I to schools to coach revision and exam techniques. There are a few simple tricks to making revision more interesting, efficient and enjoyable, and it’s a privilege to see students’ eyes light up when they grasp a concept and realise how it’s going to help them. I think it’s really important to do this coaching in state schools, because I know it’s the kind of thing that private schools have got nailed. I went to a pretty average comprehensive, and looking back I’m surprised that it wasn’t more ambitious, and didn’t push me harder.
If I’ve got a stand up gig in the evening, I’ll try to call my family en route. I have a check list of the people I love who I make sure I contact on a regular basis. This might look contrived, but it’s better to do that than to let a fortnight slip by without catching up on the latest gossip from home. My aunt Thelma is unfailingly upbeat, and my grandmother, Peg, can be relied upon for an anecdote from her busy life. My mum has to relay all of my news to my dad, who’s deaf and so can’t use the phone – but we make up for it by having an annual weekend away together. We’re both ex-boy scouts, so pitching tents, lighting camp fires and drinking red wine are second nature.
Stand up is fun: if the crowd is paying, I pull out my best bits and give them a night worth the money. If they’re not paying, I play about with new material, ad libbing and picking up on what’s happened in the news. There is no safety net, but despite the showbiz slang, very few comedians have actually died on stage. In the early days, I rolled with the punches: bad gigs are inevitable, the only bad gig really is one you don’t learn from. I’m always gutted when I perform badly in front of a paying audience, but on free nights, I have the confidence of a man who can comfortably afford to give a money back guarantee.
I think it was Noël Coward who said ‘work is more fun than fun,’ but I cherish the evenings I spend at home with a bottle of red and an interesting movie and my partner of fifteen years. Whenever we leave a party I always think ‘Thank goodness I’m leaving with you.’ I try to cook healthy food, but once in a while it’s a treat to stick a pizza in the oven and relax. We live on a narrow boat, which requires some maintenance, but moving between moorings is delightful in the summer, particularly when friends come over and we make a day of it. Cooking for friends is very satisfying.
My life feels busy, but balanced. Recently I took a day off to help a disabled friend move flat, which I couldn’t have done if I was still in my nine to five job. Whatever the days fling at me, I fall asleep and wake up next to the most amazing person who in so many ways makes everything I do possible.