On ‘s office wall is a card from his mum Gladys that says, ‘Reach for the stars because everything is possible.’ He treasures it as it’s replaced his childhood pinboard where she used to stick sayings like ‘Trust in yourself’ because young Vernon lacked self-belief.And it seems those positive mantras have paid off as his career’s back on the up with his own high-profile show on Radio 2, replacing veteran Ken Bruce in the coveted 9.30am-midday slot from Monday.’I was shocked to the core when I was offered the job.
That’s why I’m getting so anxious,’ says Vernon, who was reduced to tears speaking to on her Radio 2 show about the support he’s received from fans amid the backlash over the departure of much-loved Ken, who stepped down after 31 years earlier this year. ‘People are saying, “This is the biggest radio slot in Europe,” and I’m thinking, “Don’t tell me any more!” The pressure to follow in Ken’s footsteps is immense.
His show was a part of us, it’s in our DNA.’My dad Norman is a lorry driver so we’ve always had Radio 2 on in the background, and when I told him I was doing this show, he said, “Big boots them, my son.” My parents are very good at keeping me grounded so I know it’s a real privilege and an honour to be asked to do this but I’ve been overwhelmed by the positive messages I’ve received.’ Beaconsfield-based Vernon Kay, 49, is set to debut his own high-profile show on BBC Radio 2, replacing veteran Ken Bruce in the coveted 9.30am-midday slot from MondayNot least from his glamorous Strictly Come Dancing host wife Tess Daly, 54, and their daughters Phoebe, 18, and Amber, 13. ‘Tess is over the moon, and so are the girls.
It’s been a nice career progression but this Radio 2 show is something I never, ever expected,’ he says.Does he feel like he’s emerging from Tess’s fabulously successful shadow?’I’ve done a decade of Family Fortunes and all kinds of shows, but the difference is that the majority of stuff I’ve done has only lasted one series, whereas Tess has got 20 series from Strictly – there’s a lot more yin than yang,’ he laughs.’I think it works well because Strictly’s been in our family since before Phoebe was born, so it’s basically our third child – it was with us when we were just a couple.
At the time our career paths mirrored each other. Tess had just come back from New York where she’d been modelling, just as I had been, and gave it up to start working in television. Then she got Strictly which became a juggernaut of a show. And now, to think that on my Radio 2 show it will be me and 8.7 million people listening, it’s unbelievable.’Vernon, 49, has already stepped in for Zoe Ball on the Radio 2 Breakfast Show, having previously presented a Radio 1 show between 2004 and 2012.
But there has been widespread criticism of Radio 2’s recent effort to rejuvenate its line-up, with long-standing presenters such as the late Paul O’Grady, Vanessa Feltz, Craig Charles and Ken Bruce all having left in the past year.Their replacements are all younger, leading to ageism complaints from listeners.
What’s more, over the past year Radio 2 has lost more than half a million listeners, down 3.9 per cent.But it’s the words of Sir Bruce Forsyth, who co-hosted Strictly with Tess, that are providing Vernon with invaluable wisdom.
‘The first time I met Bruce properly, he said, “What you need to realise is that show business is two words. And you have to keep them separate. You do the show and let them do the business.” His first day is actually his mum’s birthday.
Gladys, left, grew up in a council house in Bolton as the twelfth of 13 children, and lost her mother just before her fifth birthday’The details of Ken’s departure are not my business. I’ve not spoken to him yet as I thought I’d let the dust settle first, then we’ll have a chat.
I don’t know him but he came to see me when I was filling in for Zoe and he said, “I saw you in panto.” I said, “If I’d known I could’ve got you in for free.” He was lovely.’The listeners will come back. It’s like their best friend has left and now a new friend has arrived.
I think the BBC just want listeners to stay within the overall BBC family.’I feel like I know them already. I know I’m talking to the generation of my mum and dad, my aunties and even my cousins, Paul and Carl, who cried when I told them I was taking over from Ken. What’s important is that we’re not going to change the music.
We’re not going to change the tone of the show or toto macau come in like a bull in a china shop. People are saying I’m just going to play dance music but the dance music I’ll play is from all generations, from the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and some of the 90s. That’s why it’s perfect for me, as I love it all.
All I want the music to do is drive through the two-and-a-half hours and be punchy and upbeat. It will be music that’s got confidence, that excites and lifts your energy. I want to put a smile on your face.’ When friends get married I say, ‘It will be the toughest thing in the world, but you have to talk to each other’ Talking about a meeting with his new show’s producers, Vernon says, ‘I picked out some tunes and said, “Right, this is my first half hour.” And they said, “Yeah, it sounds really good.” But I’ll be a nervous wreck the night before the first show.
I never sleep when I get really excited. I might even stay in London on that Sunday night to have my own headspace and avoid any worry over delayed trains.’ Vernon and Tess live in a six-bedroom mansion in Buckinghamshire.His first day is actually his mum’s birthday.
Gladys grew up in a council house in Bolton as the twelfth of 13 children, and lost her mother just before her fifth birthday. Vernon and his wife Tess Daly first met in 1999 via a TV music programme called The Phone Zone, which Vernon presented on an early BBC digital channel called UK Play, Pictured in 2020’Tess will be listening in but not in the studio on my first day as we have a rule that I never go to Strictly until things get going,’ he says.
‘But it’s a huge deal that it’s my mum’s birthday. There’s going to be more than just a track dedicated to her – there’s going to be a booth next door for her to watch me!’A big part of the way I feel about myself now is down to my mum.
She’s the first person I phone if I’m doing a live TV show. Two minutes before we go live I always ring my mum because if I don’t tell her I’m on she’ll kill me. I know this sounds stupid, but she likes to check what my hair’s like. I always let her know when I’m on because then she’ll phone my Auntie Irene and they’ll watch, then discuss it afterwards.’Vernon recalls that when his mum used to pick him up from primary school and give him a massive kiss and a hug, he’d say, ‘Oh Mum, you love me too much.’ But now he realises that is what has shaped his own marriage and relationship with his daughters.’My mum’s mum died giving birth and my grandad brought my mum up, so that bond between them was really tight.
When he passed away we saw she’d lost her rock, and we realised how much that relationship meant to her and how we were brought up. Then you pass that on to your own family.’ The listeners will come back.
It’s like their best friend has left and now a new friend has arrived Vernon and Tess will celebrate 20 years of marriage this September and she’s said, ‘It’s as much fun as it sounds being married to Vernon, he’s so positive and upbeat,’ and crucially, ‘We still sit down for dinner and have so much to talk about.’Vernon agrees.’We like to dine out locally and I think that’s important.
Communication and doing things together are vital. When friends of mine get married, I say, “It’s going to be the toughest thing in the world, but you’ve got to talk to each other.” And when the kids come home we try to put our phones on the kitchen counter.
If you’ve got a teenager who’s going through everything teenagers do, sit down with them and watch Love Island, because all life issues come out naturally and get discussed watching that show and you can work out where their values lie.’Vernon has indeed come a long way since he worked at a banana factory at the age of 14 and then in his cousin’s DIY shop in Bolton. With his handsome features and movie star mop of dark hair, you’d think he’d be oozing self-confidence.Yet he’s a sensitive soul who’s prone to wearing his heart on his sleeve.
At school he was so lacking in self-confidence that his teachers let him sit with his coat on ready to go home.’I was a very anxious child. I was a late developer, physically, mentally and socially,’ reveals Vernon, who shot up by 9in at the age of 17 and now stands at 6ft 4in.’I think I still am a bit shy and introverted.
Tess calls me a little Howard Hughes because I like staying in. I don’t like the bright lights and lots of people.’ Vernon has indeed come a long way since he worked at a banana factory at the age of 14 and then in his cousin’s DIY shop in BoltonVernon and Tess love spending family time in the privacy of their countryside home. ‘We’re very similar and both come from down-to-earth Northern backgrounds – Tess is from Derbyshire – and similar careers,’ says Vernon.The couple first met in 1999 via a TV music programme called The Phone Zone, which Vernon presented on an early BBC digital channel called UK Play.
They began dating that Christmas and got engaged the following Christmas.’Tess had just moved back from New York. We went to a Christmas party, courtesy of the BBC, and she didn’t know anyone so we just hung out. We went on to a club and kissed on the balcony.
We had a proper laugh and that was it.’Having the ability to just relax in each other’s company and be yourself is important. We felt really comfortable together, and talked a lot. One thing that attracted me to Tess was that she was already an established woman. She has a great work ethic and had been successful at modelling.
Then she decided it was time for a change and she set this goal of being a TV presenter – and she achieved that. I thought, “There are some similarities here.”‘Vernon says they’re also both hyperactive, even at home. ‘We’re like wasps in a bottle.
I do something, then tick a box too quickly and move on. Tess tells me, “You need to have more gratitude and just enjoy the moment.” And I feel I really can do that now I’m part of the Radio 2 family.’Vernon Kay, weekdays, 9.30am-12pm, on BBC Radio 2 and BBC Sounds from Monday.