For Christmas, from his Nan, Greg James got a book token. With a picture of the Gruffalo on the front. He’s just cashed it in – buying his own book. Six copies of it in fact, much to the surprise of the woman behind the counter at Waterstone’s. Greg used a fake name for the order but fooled nobody because, at the moment, Greg is pretty much the most famous DJ on the planet.
His first book, Kid Normal, is a break from a career that has seen him rise from hospital radio DJ in Norwich to an award-winning weekly podcast with newsreader Chris Smith and the coveted drivetime slot on Radio 1. No stranger to the headlines (after dating Ellie Goulding), his weekly chart show attracted attention all over the world earlier this year when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge ended up as co-hosts.
In an age when radio is about more than ‘listeners’ – it’s online as well – it helps that he has definitely NOT got a ‘face for the radio’. Today he’s in a lumberjack shirt but with no sign of much lumber; he’s been too busy running five triathlons in five days for Sports Relief. Greg and Chris Smith, his co-presenter, friend and now cowriter, are settling into a day of interviews to promote their book. Chris has even brought his own light (provided by his photographer wife) to brighten up their social media filming. Interviewing them is easy, although Greg admits: “To be honest if no one was talking to us about this book we’d probably just stay here and talk to each other about it.’”
Chris remembers how the idea for the book came about. “My son was going off to a club to play football. He was really reluctant because everyone else was really good. You know that feeling you have when you are a kid – everyone else has a ‘thing’ but what’s my ‘thing’? I just got the title in my head – Kid Normal – and this idea that it’s an ordinary kid who just gets sent to a school with superpowers. As soon as Greg and I first talked about it, we spent every spare second working on the idea – in pubs, Whats Apping ideas for hours. Then writing up the story.”
They remain the best of friends throughout a process that has had to compete with lots of schedules. At the heart of their relationship is a shared love of words, whether it’s Harry Potter or Bertie Wooster. These days the battle is not to spend all day reading social media. To combat the ever-increasing demands of Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, Greg has had to move his charging point so he doesn’t look at his phone in the middle of the night. Chris pops his devices in a basket at the top of the stairs.
They’ve just come from doing an assembly at Chris’s son’s school where they got 400 pupils to come up with their own superheroes. “Not boring ones like ‘I want to be able to fly’; more like ‘I want soup to spray out from my wrists’ and ‘I blow chocolate out of my ears’. That was Cadburyman.”
Greg doesn’t have kids himself but loves to hang with his nephew and niece and he’s passionate that this book is for anyone who finds it funny. “I’m a bit obsessed with this,” Greg says. “It is a children’s book but the podcast we do is a good example: the BBC says, ‘Well 15-year-olds don’t like that so don’t talk about it.’ And I want to say, ‘How do you you know? When I was 15 I liked Midsomer Murders as well as Blue Peter and The Fast Show and Jeeves and Wooster.’ Don’t patronise. Keep doing fart jokes and ‘Oh here’s Mr Poo-head’ but you don’t have to do that all the whole time!” Chris pipes in ... “Although our second book – Mr Poo-head – is out next summer and it will sell a million.” “But our souls would die,” cries Greg. “We’d be able to buy very expensive coffins,” laughs Chris.
Greg and Chris both share an all-time favourite guest. Michael Palin. The pair do a ‘What would Michael Palin do?’ test. “For the book’s launch party we did think about whether we should invite some knobs who might get us mentioned in the Evening Standard but we applied the ‘What would Michael Palin do?’ test and it came out as a resounding ‘Let’s just invite our friends and family’. After all, those are the people we’ve bored to death talking about it all. Seems only fair.”
Kid Normal by Greg James and Chris Smith is published by BLOOMSBURY, £6.99.