Radio 1 DJ Phil Taggart Goes National

Graduating from the Steps to Work scheme to John Peel's former slot on Radio 1 has been a 'dream come true' for the Omagh-born broadcaster

There can't be a broadcaster on air who wouldn't like a shot at the late-night BBC Radio 1 slot previously occupied by John Peel; playing whatever music you want for two hours each evening, without having to worry about pop charts, playlists or getting up early. But for Omagh-born DJ Phil Taggart, the dream has become a reality.

The 25-year-old former bassist in County Tyrone band Colenso Parade, who was once unemployed for so long the government forced him onto a Steps to Work scheme, has taken over the Ten til Midnight Show alongside MTV's Alice Levine.

Taggart's DEL training seems to have paid off. The Social Security initiative tutored the young music fan in media techniques, and led to him getting a gig 'making the tea' on Radio Ulster's long-running alternative music programme, Across the Line.

'Three weeks into the placement and presenter Rigsy took three weeks off to get his tonsils out, and I was asked to fill in,' Taggart explains. 'I had no ambition to be a presenter - I couldn't comprehend how someone could confidently vocalise how they felt about music to a whole nation without freaking out - but I ended up loving it.'

Next on the career ladder was a stint on Radio 1's Introducing show. After a year again 'making the tea', Taggart was asked into the presenter's chair, but progress was halted when Introducing's Northern Ireland strand was controversially cancelled. 'I thought I was leaving the station after it was axed, so I was gutted,' he admits. 'Thankfully, I was wrong.'

Instead, the BBC offered the fledgling host stand-in slots for the likes of Huw Stephens, Sara Cox and Gemma Cairney on Radio 1, which taught him about presenting entertainment content.

'It was like a PE teacher trying to teach maths,' Taggart laughs. 'But the jobs were coming in so frequently that I decided to up sticks and move to London. After a few months here, I was offered the 10pm slot. Dream come true.' (Indeed, when CultureNorthernIreland catches up with Taggart, he's prepping a Ten til Midnight interview with none other than Quentin Tarantino.)

Taggart describes the "Peel" slot as his favourite on Radio 1, and is only too aware of the challenge ahead. 'I've been listening to the likes of Peel and Mary Anne Hobbs since I was a kid,' he says, 'so to be asked to co-host that slot is huge. It comes with a bit of pressure, but I feel confident that me and Alice will do a good job.'

Having already hit it off with his co-host ('She's genuinely lovely, very hard-working and most importantly a total laugh'), Taggart intends to showcase the best in new music. The Independent reported that the duo's appointment is part of a BBC drive to lower the average age of Radio 1 listeners to the 15-to-29 bracket.

'It doesn't matter what age you are,' Taggart contends. 'You will definitely find at least a few tracks you like on each show. Though if you are hoping for a ZZ Top special you can re-tune your radio to another station.'

Peel's output was renowned for its eclecticism. Like many of us, Taggart tuned in religiously to have his youthful music tastes moulded by the late maverick. 'I would sit and listen to him segue between the newest indie band to some dark, jungle drum-and-bass track and back again to a contemplative singer-songwriter, and think, "This sounds completely insane, but I love it."'

However, he's realistic about how much of a similar effect he can have. 'I think Peel was a bit of a once-in-a-lifetime,' he says. 'I would be stupid to think I could ever even half-match the legacy he left.'

That's not to say Taggart isn't ambitious. 'There's no point doing something if you don't want to be the best at it,' he remarks. 'I still listen to lots of radio to try and get better.' The DJ also acknowledges the importance of having an appealing personality.

'I was asked to present in the first place because of my enthusiasm for music and the fact I am a little bit of a messer. I wouldn't say it was so much talent as it is sculpting what I love into a coherent package for radio. I reckon I am just a hard-working messer who loves music and got a break.'

And not even the Marmite-like Northern Ireland brogue seems set to hold him back, with Taggart joining an ever-growing horde of Ulster-accented personalities on the airwaves.

'Lots of people have tweeted saying they think the Northern Irish accent is sexy,' he marvels. 'Are they mad? I think it's as sexy as Ann Widdecombe in a Catwoman outfit. But horses for courses; people seem to like it. James Nesbitt's doing alright for himself, and his accent makes me think of horrific trips to the orthodontist in Coleraine.'

A sense of humour certainly seems essential in the circles Taggart now moves in. A recent story in the News Letter claimed that the Omagh man had 'pipped Chris Moyles to the post' for the Ten til Midnight job.

'That stuff in the papers is a laugh,' Taggart shrugs. 'I don't pay attention to headlines like that. It's a waste of time. I have no idea what's going on in anyone else's life or behind the curtains at the BBC. If you start to obsess about that sort of thing, you're going to end up having an aneurysm.'

And speaking of behind the curtains at the BBC, was Taggart at all reticent about taking a Radio 1 DJ job, considering the flak the corporation has been attracting in the wake of of the Jimmy Savile abuse scandal? One word: 'No.'

As for Colenso Parade, who have continued without him, is the Radio 1 man retiring the bass guitar completely, or does he intend to be the Keanu Reeves of British broadcasting?

'I always said once I left Colenso Parade that I was done playing in bands,' Taggart says. 'I can't see it happening again, but I really do miss playing on stage with my three best mates. It's a schmaltzy thing to say, but anyone who has played in a band knows exactly what I mean. I get a similar thrill to doing the radio, but I really miss playing music.'

Phil Taggart and Alice Levine present Ten til Midnight on BBC Radio 1 from Monday to Thursday.

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