Phil Gayle returns to city to host BBC WM’s breakfast programme
The much-travelled DJ and newsreader tells Graham Young he will be glad of home comforts while sharing breakfast with Birmingham listeners.
When Phil Gayle was busy launching his radio career at BRMB in the late 1980s, he remembers having a visitor to his overnight show who was keen to learn the ropes of broadcasting.
Two decades later, Phil is set to become the holiday relief for that very same man... BBC WM’s loquacious breakfast host, Phil Upton.
How their paths have varied during the intervening years.
Phil, as in Upton, has spent his entire career in his home city, earning the tag ‘Mr Birmingham’ as he moved on from Matthew Boulton College to Birmingham Poly to BRMB to Heart to the BBC almost three years ago.
Phil, as in Gayle, has been the more mercurial of the two, never staying in one place for too long and happily experiencing many different parts of the country.
Much of his career has been spent in London where, he argues, you have to make your media name if you want to become nationally known.
But he has also worked further north, too, from Stoke to Preston and from Manchester to Newcastle.
He has gone from DJ to newsreader, most notably at the dawn of The Big Breakfast on Channel 4 and more recently on London Today and London Tonight where he doubled up as a reporter.
In between, Phil spent six years working in IT recruitment in Manchester, fronted the daily TV show Crimewatch Today and even had a go at Dancing On Ice in 2007, losing out to Ulrika Jonsson in the week two skate-off.
But radio is his first love and, after circulating his freelance details, he cannot wait to reconnect with Birmingham via BBC WM, where the likes of Daz Hale (ex-postman), Ed Doolan (teacher), Carl Chinn (historian) and Danny Kelly (car salesman/chef) illustrate there is more than one route to the airwaves.
“I’m a city bloke who loves urban sprawl,” says Phil. “And BBC WM has always been on my radar, so to come here to work suits me down to the ground.
“I’ll be able to stay with my parents and be at work in ten minutes.”
Starting on air at 6.30am, from next Monday, will not be a problem for Phil, who does not even drink the broadcasters’ traditional stimulant, coffee.
“I have a utilitarian view that if you have to be at work for 5am, you’re there.
“The only time I would find difficult is 3.30am to 4am, because that’s neither early nor late.”
Having observed Birmingham from afar for so long, what is Phil’s impression of it now?
“I like the fact that it is never afraid to have a go,” he says.
“The city living, too, though I don’t think all of the infrastructure is quite there yet.
“It’s good that Birmingham has a Big City Plan, but I don’t think it makes enough of itself. For some reason, the city punches under its weight nationally. It is the second city for population, but Manchester makes a bigger impact on the cultural landscape.”
Still single at 45, Phil is one of three brothers who have all done well for themselves.
After leaving school to become an apprentice mechanic, older brother Andrew, aged 47, ventured out on his own to launch a Mercedes and BMW servicing garage in Smethwick.
Six years younger than Phil is Mike Gayle, the still Birmingham-based author of a string of ‘lad lit’ books including My Legendary Girlfriend.
Phil has acted as a sounding board for his brother’s ideas and Mr Commitment is his favourite.
Given that their parents, Joe and Evelyn, came over from Jamaica in the late 1950s, what was it about them that has so clearly inspired their children in a world where black boys are said to be disadvantaged?
“When you uproot yourself in search of a better life, I think you pass that on to your children,” says Phil.
“If you can stay off drugs and out of jail, then everything else is a bonus.
“Our parents always believed in education... dad went from being a wheeltapper on the railways to lecturing at Bournville College of Further Education and mum was a nurse.
“Our parents used to say to us that we could do anything if we wanted to, worked hard and put our minds to it.
“They were very supportive, even when we thought we couldn’t do our homework, and even when I dropped out of a civil engineering degree after a few weeks at Salford University where I was bored having conversations about concrete.
“I didn’t know what to do and did some rubbish jobs like working in pubs and being a binman, but then my mum said that as I liked sports and science why didn’t I combine the two.
“I went to Liverpool Poly and studied sports science and was on a full grant.
“I think it’s sinful now that students have to go into debt. It’s wrong.”
All of the brothers went to Woodhouse Primary in Quinton and Lordswood Boys’ School on the Hagley Road, but where does Phil go next – and will he apply himself according to brother Mike’s latest book, The To Do List?
“I’ll just come to Birmingham and then try to do the best job for WM I can,” he says. “The road ahead is shorter than the one behind, but I haven’t got a car now... I ditched it when I went to live in Sydney for a year and you don’t really need one in London.
“I have no regrets, but anything I haven’t done that I want to do I will have a go at. I’m still relatively young. There’s still time.
“I’m also writing my own first novel, which is about a boy band getting together again after 20 years, and being asked to do a screenplay or two would be nice.
“I don’t live my life by lists because I like to live my life by living, but I do quite fancy living in New York for a while.”