Desert Island Discs

Desert Island Discs

United Kingdom

Desert Island Discs was created by Roy Plomley in 1942, and the format is simple: a guest is invited by Kirsty Young to choose the eight records they would take with them to a desert island


Jackie Kay  

Kirsty Young's castaway is the poet and writer Jackie Kay. Born in Edinburgh in 1961 to a Scottish mother and a Nigerian father, she was adopted as a baby by a white Scottish couple, Helen and John Kay, and grew up in Bishopbriggs, Glasgow. Her father worked for the Communist Party and her mother was the Scottish secretary for CND. She began to write seriously at the age of 17 when recovering from a moped accident, and while reading English at the University of Stirling she became a feminist and politically active in the arena of gay and lesbian rights and racial equality. Her first book of poetry, the partly autobiographical The Adoption Papers, was published in 1991 and won the Saltire Society Scottish First Book Award. She won the 1994 Somerset Maugham Award for Other Lovers, the Guardian Fiction Prize for Trumpet and in 2010 published Red Dust Road, an account of her search for her biological parents. She is now Professor of Creative Writing at Newcastle University and Chancellor of Salford University and was appointed Makar - Scotland's Poet Laureate - in March 2016. Producer: Cathy Drysdale.

Dr Robert Langer  

Kirsty Young's castaway is the scientist Dr Robert Langer. Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he is the most cited engineer in history, and was awarded the prestigious US medals of both Science and of Technology and Innovation. A pioneer of many new technologies including controlled release drug delivery systems and nanotechnology, Langer is also regarded as the founder of tissue engineering in regenerative medicine where synthetic structures are used to provide the scaffolding on which new skin, muscle, bone and potentially entire organs can be grown. Born in Albany, New York, in 1948, Langer's interest in science was kindled by the Gilbert chemistry, microscope and building sets he was given as birthday presents by his parents. He studied chemical engineering at Cornell University before getting his Doctor of Science from MIT in 1974. His enthusiasm wasn't fired up by the many job offers from oil companies he received, preferring to apply to work in the medical sector. After many unsuccessful applications, he was hired by Dr Judah Folkman, a surgeon at Harvard, who tasked Langer with isolating a compound to restrict blood vessel growth in order to stop a tumour from growing. His work at the interface of medicine and engineering led to him being awarded the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering in 2015. He attributes his success to "a combination of stubbornness, risk taking, perhaps being reasonably smart and wanting to do good". Producer: Christine Pawlowsky.

Stephen Hough  

Kirsty Young's castaway is the concert pianist and composer Stephen Hough. He discovered he liked playing the piano when he went to visit his aunt's house and could pick out more than one hundred nursery rhymes on her piano. After much pestering, his parents bought him a cheap second hand piano from an antique shop. He went on to become one of the youngest students at the Royal Northern College of Music before winning a scholarship to The Juilliard School in New York. His career began in 1983 after winning the Naumberg Piano Competition. He divides his time between New York and London and performs all over the world. He also has a prolific recording career and has won many awards for his discs. Producer: Sarah Taylor.

Christiane Amanpour  

Kirsty Young's castaway is the journalist and broadcaster Christiane Amanpour. Her career as a reporter was forged in some of the world's most hostile environments from Bosnia to Rwanda and Iraq to Israel. From the early '90s onwards she was so ubiquitous on screen that her peers in the press pack coined the darkly comic phrase "where there's a war, there's Amanpour." Born to an Iranian father and a British mother, she initially wanted to be a doctor, but the Revolution in Iran in 1979 galvanised her political consciousness and she turned to journalism. Her first major assignment was in Saudi Arabia where she covered the 1990 invasion of Kuwait. She describes her time in Bosnia as a life-changing experience which made her determined to tell the stories of ordinary people caught up in the chaos of conflict. During her career she has interviewed some of the biggest names on the world stage from Bill Clinton and Tony Blair to Robert Mugabe and Colonel Gaddafi. The winner of 11 Emmy Awards, she now anchors her own nightly television show on CNN although she can be whisked away at a moment's notice to cover major disasters around the globe. She has borne witness to some of history's worst atrocities but what gets her through is her eternal optimism and the courage and dignity of humanity. Producer: Paula McGinley.

Joyce DiDonato  

Kirsty Young's castaway is the mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato. Winner of two Grammy Awards, she is best known for her interpretations of Handel, Mozart and Rossini operas. Born into a Catholic family in Kansas, she was the second-youngest of seven children. Her love of music was awakened by watching her late father directing the local church choir. Her first ambition was to become a music teacher, but watching a televised performance of Don Giovanni during her third year at college ignited her interest in opera. After acceptance onto Houston Grand Opera's young artist programme, she overhauled her technique and went on to win second place in 1998's Operalia competition. Her first big role came in 2002 singing Rosina in The Barber of Seville in Paris and she made her debut at New York's Metropolitan Opera in 2005 at the age of 36. Since then her star has shone brightly and she has performed across the operatic spectrum, from contemporary works, such as Jake Heggie's Dead Man Walking to Strauss and Handel. Producer: Cathy Drysdale.

Nadiya Hussain  

Kirsty Young's castaway is the baker and winner of The Great British Bake Off in 2015, Nadiya Hussain. One of six children born to Bangladeshi parents in Luton, it was her father - a restaurateur - who encouraged her to cook. Having grown up in a culture where dessert wasn't common, her love of baking was awakened by her Year Ten home economics teacher. She had an arranged marriage to Abdal in her early twenties and stayed at home to bring up their three children until her husband encouraged her to apply for the Bake Off. She was selected and over 15 million viewers watched her beat her fellow finalists Tamal and Ian. Since winning Bake Off, Nadiya has been writing a column for the Times Magazine and has published her first cook book. She also has further books and a TV programme in the pipeline. Producer: Cathy Drysdale.

Michael Heath  

Kirsty Young's castaway is the cartoonist Michael Heath. He's been working for newspapers and magazines for sixty years and sold his first drawing to the Melody Maker in the 1950s. For the past twenty five years he's been the cartoon editor of The Spectator magazine. Born in London in 1935, his early schooling was interrupted by the Second World War and by the age of twelve he was still unable to read and write. Both his parents drew professionally and after one unhappy year at art college, Michael left to pursue a freelance career as a cartoonist. During his prolific career, Michael has created many cartoon strips including 'Great Bores of Today' which ran for nearly thirty years in Private Eye and 'The Regulars' which was centred on his Soho drinking crowd who included the writer Jeffrey Barnard and the artists Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud. Producer: Sarah Taylor.

Jilly Cooper  

Kirsty Young's castaway is the writer Jilly Cooper. Her long writing career spans newspaper columns for the Sunday Times and the Mail on Sunday, non-fiction books on class, marriage and animals in war and novels that sell in their millions. Her romances set in the late seventies - including 'Bella', 'Harriett', 'Imogen' and 'Prudence' - were followed by 'Riders' in 1985, the first of her Rutshire Chronicles. Set mainly in the Cotswolds, they are racy and raunchy page-turners exposing the scandalous - and often hilarious - goings on among the British upper classes. Born in 1937 in Essex, she was brought up in Yorkshire and enjoyed a happy childhood surrounded by dogs and ponies. At boarding school she earned the nickname, 'the unholy terror' and having failed to get into Oxford and being sacked from a number of jobs for her inability to type, she turned to journalism before publishing her first book, 'How to Stay Married' in 1969. She married Leo Cooper in 1961 and, unable to have children of their own, the couple adopted Felix and Emily in the late 1960s. The couple were married for 52 years before his death in 2013. Producer: Cathy Drysdale.

Professor Dame Ann Dowling  

Kirsty Young's castaway is the engineer and international expert on aircraft noise reduction, Professor Dame Ann Dowling. The first female president of the Royal Academy of Engineering, one of her passions is encouraging more young people, particularly women to choose engineering as a career. In 1998 she became the first female professor of Engineering at Cambridge University and went on to be the first female head of the Department. As a child she was fascinated with how things worked, taking her bike apart aged six, and even dismantling the electric lights in her dolls house. Later, an over enthusiastic session with her chemistry set caused the conservatory curtains to briefly catch fire. A passion for aeroplanes led her down the path of aeroacoustics and aircraft noise reduction alongside her hobby of flying airplanes. She was awarded the DBE for services to science in 2007 and was appointed to the Order of Merit in 2016. Producer: Sarah Taylor.

Levi Roots  

Kirsty Young's castaway is the entrepreneur, Levi Roots. His business success began following an appearance on BBC Two's Dragon's Den in 2007. With guitar in hand, he sang about his 'Reggae reggae sauce' which he had been selling for years at London's Notting Hill Carnival. Both Peter Jones and Richard Farleigh invested in the business and within six weeks, his sauce was bottled and on supermarket shelves. Recipe books, TV shows and a restaurant, or 'rastaurant' followed. He is the youngest of five children born in Jamaica. When he was four, his parents went to build a new life in the UK. Each year one of his siblings came to join the family in Britain. When Levi was 10, he left his much loved grandmother behind, never to see her again. Unable to read or write when he started school, he caught up quickly. He became a Rastafarian as a teenager. Following school, he became an apprentice engineer but left that to pursue a career in music. In his late twenties, he went to prison for five years. His time inside would prove to be a turning point for him. Music continued to play an important part in his life and he was nominated for a Best Reggae Act MOBO award in 1998. A father of eight, he lives in Brixton, London. Producer: Cathy Drysdale.

Nicole Farhi  

Kirsty Young's castaway is the designer and sculptor Nicole Farhi. Born into a Turkish family in France, Nicole's interest in fashion was present from an early age. As a child, she used to design clothes for her paper dolls; as a teenager, she was taken to couture shows in Paris by her stylish aunts. Aged eighteen, she enrolled in fashion school in Paris and began selling her design sketches to earn a little pocket money, thus setting out on a career as a freelance designer. In the early 1970s, she met the British entrepreneur Stephen Marks who was just starting the retail chain French Connection where she became chief designer, and it was he who encouraged her to set up her eponymous label in 1982. Her fashion empire would eventually extend to New York, London and Tokyo before being sold in 2010, and Nicole herself left the business in 2012. Since retiring from fashion, Nicole Farhi has dedicated herself to her other passion - sculpture. She sculpts predominantly in clay and then casts her works in different materials including glass, bronze and concrete. She has been married to the playwright Sir David Hare since 1992. Producer: Christine Pawlowsky.

Matthew Barzun  

Kirsty Young's castaway is the US Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Matthew Barzun. Born in New York City as the second of four children to Roger Barzun, a lawyer, and his wife Serita Winthrop, he was brought up in the small Massachusetts town of Lincoln. He followed in the family tradition and read History and Literature of America at Harvard University, taking a break for a year to work as a teaching assistant in Cape Town. After graduating he worked for an internet start-up company in San Francisco, where he became chief strategy officer. He left in 2004 after getting involved with fundraising for John Kerry's failed presidential campaign. He was in the audience for Barak Obama's, 'there are no red or blue States, just a United States' speech in 2004 and subsequently went to work for him, fundraising for Obama's 2008 bid for the White House. When President Obama won, he appointed Matthew as Ambassador to Sweden only to recall him to take up the role of National Finance Chair for the 2012 re-election campaign. Matthew is credited with developing a 'low dollar' model of funding, where many pay a few dollars for tickets to political events. In July 2013, he was nominated as the new Ambassador to the UK by President Obama, a post he took up in August 2013 and which ends in January 2017. Producer: Cathy Drysdale.

Sara Khan  

Kirsty Young's castaway is Sara Khan. A British Muslim human rights activist, she's the director of Inspire, a counter-extremism and women's rights organisation which she co-founded in 2009. Born in Bradford in 1980 to Pakistani parents, she decided to wear the veil when she was thirteen changing her mind eighteen years later. She studied Pharmacy at the University of Manchester but never felt she was fulfilling her potential, and set up Inspire in her home. She has been at the heart of various campaigns to raise awareness of her cause from Jihad Against Violence to #MakingAStand which encouraged women in particular to stand up against extremism. In 2009 she was listed in the Equality and Human Rights Commission Muslim Women's Power List and in 2015 was included in BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour Power List. She is currently sitting on the Department for Education's Due Diligence and Counter-Extremism Expert Reference Group and on the Government's Community Engagement Forum. Producer: Cathy Drysdale.

Barrie Rutter  

Kirsty Young's castaway is the actor and theatre director Barrie Rutter. He is the founder and artistic director of the touring theatre company Northern Broadsides. There was nothing in his background to suggest he'd spend his life on stage. He was brought up by his father, who worked nights unloading fish in Hull. There were no books in his childhood home and he discovered his passion for theatre whilst at secondary school with the help of his English teacher who spotted his talent for performing. His first role was as the Mayor in Gogol's, 'The Government Inspector'. He was a member of the National Youth Theatre where he appeared with Helen Mirren and went on to study at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. After a career in the National Theatre and the RSC, in 1992 he founded Northern Broadsides which stages Shakespeare plays, other classical works and new writing with the aim of presenting "Northern voices, doing classical work in non-velvet spaces". Producer: Sarah Taylor.

Warwick Davis  

Kirsty Young's castaway is the actor Warwick Davis. His career began thanks to his grandmother who heard a radio advert calling for short people to be in the latest of George Lucas's Star Wars films. He played his first role as an Ewok in Star Wars when he was 11 years old and found himself on set with his childhood heroes. Since then he's worked on all the Harry Potter films, appeared in TV sitcoms, documentaries, horror movies, quiz shows and Christmas pantomimes. Born with Spondyloepiphyseal Dysplasia Congenita (SED), a rare disorder of bone growth which results in dwarfism, the view of his doctors was that he'd be wheelchair bound and unlikely to live beyond his teens. Now in his mid-forties, he is married with two children of his own. Producer: Sarah Taylor.

David Nott  

Kirsty Young's castaway is the surgeon, David Nott. He works across three London hospitals performing general, vascular, trauma & reconstructive surgery. In addition, for the past two decades, he's spent several weeks every year working in conflict zones around the world for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Born in Carmarthen, Wales, he was brought up by his grandparents until he was four while his parents finished their training - his Welsh mother became a nurse, his Indo-Burmese father an orthopaedic surgeon. He studied medicine at St Andrews University and completed his medical and surgical training in Manchester and Liverpool before becoming a consultant general and vascular surgeon working in London. He first volunteered to go into a war zone in 1993 when he travelled to Sarajevo. Since then he has worked in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Chad, Haiti, Yemen, Nepa, Gaza and Syria. In 2016 he and his wife, Elly, set up the David Nott Foundation, a charity which funds the training of local doctors to work in conflict zones and hostile environments. Producer: Cathy Drysdale.

Professor Louise Richardson  

Kirsty Young's castaway is the political scientist and Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University Professor Louise Richardson. She was born in Ireland, is one of seven children and has gone on to have an international career as an academic with a particular expertise in terrorism. She has been consulted by many politicians for her knowledge and insight. After many years as a Harvard Professor, she came to Britain to be the first female Vice-Chancellor of St. Andrews University. Since January 2016, she has been the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University and is the first woman to hold the post. Producer: Sarah Taylor.

Berry Gordy  

Kirsty Young's castaway is the producer Berry Gordy. He founded the Motown record label and his musical empire made worldwide stars of Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross & The Supremes, The Jackson 5 and Marvin Gaye. The second youngest of eight children, he was brought up in Detroit. He left school at sixteen to become a Featherweight boxer, and served as a soldier in the Korean war before making music his career. His first foray into the music business was a jazz record store in Detroit but he was out of step with popular taste and he became bankrupt. It was whilst working on a a car production line that he came up with the idea of setting up a record label. The combination of his song-writing skills and entrepreneurial spirit took Motown music to the top of the charts on both sides of the Atlantic and to the centre of American culture during a pivotal moment in America's civil rights history. He was friends with Dr Martin Luther King and recorded some of his speeches on the Motown label. Producer: Sarah Taylor.

Inga Beale  

Kirsty Young's castaway this week is the business woman, Inga Beale. She has been the CEO of Lloyd's of London since January 2014 and was the first woman to hold the post in the 325 years since the insurer was founded in 1688. She is the middle child of a Norwegian mother and an English father and grew up in Newbury, Berkshire. Her career in insurance began in London in the early 1980s, but she tired of the predominantly male culture of the industry and left the City in 1989 to go travelling for a year. On her return she worked for the Prudential and then for GE Solutions, the insurance arm of General Electrics, where the work took her abroad. She left GE in 2006 to turn around a failing Swiss company, before joining the Zurich Insurance Group. Her last role before joining Lloyd's as CEO in 2014 was as chief executive of Canopius, a privately held Lloyd's insurer. In 2015, she topped a power list of the world's leading 100 LGBT executives. She is openly bisexual after coming out in 2008 and has been married to her husband since 2013. Producer: Cathy Drysdale.

Tom Hanks  

Kirsty Young's castaway is Tom Hanks. From 'Big' to 'Sleepless in Seattle', 'Captain Phillips' to 'Apollo 13', his long and distinguished film-making career has brought him multiple awards and many plaudits. He's the recipient of eight Emmys, one Bafta and four Golden Globes and was the youngest ever actor to be given a lifetime achievement award by the American Film institute. The voice of Woody in the 'Toy Story' films, he won the first of his two Oscars in 1993 for Philadelphia and again the following year for Forrest Gump. His parents split up when he was 5 and he went to live with his father. By the age of 10 he'd lived in ten different houses in five different cities. He loved school and developed a passion for history which is reflected in the film he made with Steven Spielberg, 'Saving Private Ryan' and the TV mini-series 'Band of Brothers' and 'The Pacific' which he also produced. His latest film is 'Hologram for The King'. He is married to the actor & producer, Rita Wilson. Producer: Cathy Drysdale The podcast version of this programme is an extended version of the broadcast interview.

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