Rachel Johnson’s Difficult Women podcast, Global Radio

Let me say this up front. I am an unalloyed Rachel Johnson fan. Like most of the Johnson family, she is an adornment to our national life, even if she sometimes puts her foot in it. Her recent memoir of her time in Change UK and the LibDems, Rake’s Progress: My Political Midlife Crisis, was a brilliantly written and very amusing page turner. If it hadn’t been published right at the start of Covid, it would have troubled the bestseller charts.

At roughly the same time, she started presenting a weekly show on LBC, which in turn has led to her launching a podcast of her own, in which she interviews a series of so-called ‘difficult women’. Quite why Global Radio didn’t call it Rachel Johnson’s ‘Bloody Difficult Women’ is a moot point, given that’s what Ken Clarke had called Theresa May, and where the phrase originated from. Had I been her, I would have insisted on it.

In Johnson’s first outing she interviewed former Supreme Court judge Brenda Hale. She followed this up with an interview with Sasha Swire, wife of former Tory MP Sir Hugo Swire. These diaries were quite incendiary and yet Lady Swire chose not to do any interviews, so taken aback was she by the reaction, especially within the Conservative Party. I tried to persuade Swire to do an interview with me at the time the book was published, but lamentably failed. Rachel Johnson clearly has more persuasive powers and so it was that I sat down to listen to the two of them chat away about David Cameron’s double entendres and how Sasha herself would have been a much better MP than her husband.

I have to say it was a brilliant listen. Rachel doesn’t really do interviews, she does conversations, and as a listener you feel as if you are eavesdropping on a private chat, rather than a studio based interview. And that’s what good podcasts interviews are all about. She got Sasha to open up without appearing to try. All in all, it was a job really well done. And I will make sure I listen to the rest of the series.

Richard Sefton State of Mind

State of Mind with Richard Sefton podcast

Mental health podcasts are two a penny, and it’s difficult to break through without a major media backer. However, this new podcast, State of Mind, has had an impressive start. Richard Sefton is a MIND counsellor and has an engaging manner. He’s a great conversationalist, but more importantly a good listener. Most of his guests (I was his guinea pig on a pilot episode) are well known to one degree or another, and he takes a very light approach to the interviews. He’s talked to Beverley Knight, Jemma Forte and Jamie Lee Grace, among others. In fact, his podcasts are not really interviews, they’re opportunities for his guests to talk about themselves and their career. Sometimes you feel there ought to be a little more mental health input, but someone Sefton keeps you listening, even when it’s a bit gushy.

The standout episode so far was with the haemophiliac campaigner, Mark Ward. This podcast was two hours long, but it is very worth listening to. His life story is one you’ll never have heard the likes of before. As a child, he acquired blood infected with HIV and has lived with the condition for the last forty years, with medics constantly predicting his imminent demise. He lays bare the effect on his personal life, relationships and career, and it makes for difficult and traumatic listening at times.

On occasion, Sefton doesn’t speak for ten or fifteen minutes, leaving the listener transfixed by what Ward is saying. Quite how he’s retained a level head and an equilibrium of thought is something few will be able to comprehend. At the end of the two hours, you’re left feeling emotionally exhausted and wondering how on earth he’s reached the age of fifty. This podcast episode is possibly the best bit of audio I have heard in 2021 so far. It deserves an award of its own.