Already a mainstay of the station – he has worked at Radio 1 straight from university – James sounded thrilled to be on air at 6.33am but never nervous or overawed.
“There’s a lot in today’s show, I’ve been preparing it for 20 years,” he said.
Ahead of the show in an interview, James pledged to avoid the sort of shtick favoured by other Breakfast presenters (Shaun Keaveny, perhaps).
“One thing I’m definitely not going to do is ever mention [how tired I am] on the show,” said James. “I don’t want people listening to my show, who have probably been up for longer than I will have been, to hear some bloke being paid really well moaning about being tired. I think that would be bad.”
Before long, that radio enthusiasm was pretty infectious.
“It’s even more fun than I thought it would be,” he told comedian Joe Lycett, a special guest for the launch who was manning the phones for any excited listeners who could tear themselves away from social media.
Listener interaction and socials look set to be part of the show’s recipe (the “fun” quote was deemed worthy of a Tweet), as James attempts to successfully emulate his Drivetime slot.
“It’s a safe place to confess things and be weird – and we’re not going to change that,” he said.
The first show featured unremarkable audio snippets scoured from celebrities (Anne-Marie, an actor in Stranger Things, someone from Love Island) on Instagram Stories and elsewhere. But it’s the sort of silly, shareable content that James and the Radio 1 digital team will likely make hay with online.
James handed over the airwaves for the start by allowing a listener to pick the first song – Avicii’s Levels. Florence + The Machine’s Shake It Out was a signal of the show’s fresh start.
Big up @GregJames on his first #R1Breakfast show! ????— Columbia Records UK (@ColumbiaUK) August 20, 2018
What better way to start it than with @CalvinHarris calling in to talk about his... garden?! If you're wondering how Calvin's watermelons are doing, look no further... ???? pic.twitter.com/M6GGDE6z4x
Smashed it dude— Josh Franceschi (@joshmeatsix) August 20, 2018
‘I love radio more than anything, it is the best thing,” said James. “It’s a privilege to share it with you.”
A quiz with a listener seemed a bit more confused as questions revolved around “yesterday’s news”, although the stories were being aired in this morning’s bulletin. Heavily trailed over a Game Of Thrones sound bed, there was also the chance for a listener to phone Calvin Harris in a segment inevitably titled Game of Phones - although it was plainly set up to make Harris' new single with Sam Smith the show's first Tune Of The Week.
Elsewhere in the show, there were the sort of stunts that could have appeared in any Breakfast Show of the last 30 years – an appearance by Blackpool Zoo’s Wallace the lion and the Red Arrows. A listener did wonder how that would translate to radio – it later emerged the pilots would be on bicycles.
In terms of the music, there were few risks: Ariana Grande, Duke Dumont, French Montana, Drake, James Hype (feat. Kelli-Leigh) and Benny Blanco feat. Khalid & Halsey (“Benny Blanco’s a really interesting bloke… he’s written some enormous pop hits”). Head of programmes at the station, Aled Haydn Jones, has suggested James’ passion for bands will shine through and the first show did feature classic Coldplay, Foals and Arctic Monkeys. Chris Martin also sent in a new song for the occasion, which turned out to be a 41-second welcome to the new presenter.
Inevitably, there were less successful moments on the opening show. Radio 1Xtra’s Dotty – co-host on Sounds Like Friday Night – guested on a slightly forced listener segment, Unpopular Opinions, which sounds destined to be quietly dropped.
But the handover has been easier than usual with James swapping jobs in Drivetime with Grimshaw. In the run-up the pair recreated hide & seek on social media to underline the amicable nature of the changes at the network.
“I’m not sure I’ll be arsed to do six years but let’s see how it goes,” wrote James on Instagram. “In the meantime, have a well earned break lovely man."
So far the reaction from listeners and critics has been overwhelmingly positive.
James' arrival comes at a time of intense competition for Breakfast radio and big changes on BBC Radio 6 Music. On his first outing, he made it look easy, though it remains to be seen if he can maintain the enthusiasm for the 6.30am starts.