“It’s like the first day of school,” noted one of Zoe Ball’s team as her new breakfast show got under way on BBC Radio 2.
And, indeed, like any fresh term, there may have been some new faces, but there were also lots of familiar things about Ball’s debut on the UK’s biggest music radio show.
As Ball herself noted to Music Week before she kicked off at 6.30am, the Radio 2 breakfast show formula was well-established under Terry Wogan and then Chris Evans. Ball is the first female presenter to take on the slot but, despite the wealth of first day introductions (“Hello, my name is Zoe,” were her first words, before playing Aretha Franklin’s Respect), by the end of the show you could have believed she and her team – newsreader Tina Daheley, sports reporter Mike Williams and travel news presenter Richie Anderson – had been doing this for years, such was their easy-going chemistry.
And, of course, in many ways they have. Daheley will be giving any recent Radio 1 refugees comforting flashbacks (“I came out of retirement just for you Zoe,” she quipped). And, demographically, Radio 2’s audience is perfectly placed to have grown up with Ball presenting Live & Kicking (she brought back that show’s Jukebox Jury-style Hit, Miss Or Maybe, today with guest Nadiya Hussain rating Fleur East a ‘hit’ and Westlife and Busted a ‘maybe’) and helming the Radio 1 breakfast show.
Much has changed since those more rock’n’roll days, but Ball’s style remains as breezily engaging as ever. In first day of school terms, she’s more matey head girl than strict head mistress and notably more self-deprecating than Evans (“So far so good – let’s hope it stays that way!” she enthused at one point).
Her style adjusted perfectly whether talking to showtune-singing kids or family-shout-outing adults, and coaxed some fun out of John Cleese, who noted he’d also appeared on the first-ever TV breakfast show, TV-am, which turned out to “a total disaster – but only because it was so intelligent”. “We’ll be keeping it base,” she deadpanned.
Music-wise, the music mix seemed more contemporary – she’s clearly more at ease with today’s pop-dance bangers than the more guitar-centric Evans – while she found time to push new music from Andy Burrows & Matt Haig (“A beautiful record”) and Lizzo, and there were still plenty of Radio 2 classics. Guest-wise, the trailing of Hugh Jackman later in the week and Tom Hiddleston, Saoirse Ronan and Years & Years for the big Friday show suggests there will be no let-up in the A-list appearances. That’s good news for the music industry that found that slot had real impact on their campaigns under Evans.
At the end, fellow newbie Sara Cox phoned in to dispel any tabloid rumours of rivalry between the pair (“Two women who are great pals and both have jobs they love just isn’t a good enough story,” Cox noted, wryly) and the bosses turned up, presumably to offer their congratulations after an assured debut, although the public's verdict is yet to come.
“That was fun,” Ball chirruped as she handed over to Ken Bruce. “You do realise you’re going to have to do it all again tomorrow?” he asked. Unlike school, on this form, that isn’t going to be a problem.