Life

Radio 2’s Sara Cox: It’s lovely that Steve Wright is in my new novel

The Teatime broadcaster talks about featuring her radio pals in her latest book.

Sara Cox’s latest book, Way Back, is available now
Sara Cox’s latest book, Way Back, is available now (Guy Levy/Guy Levy)

Bubbly broadcaster Sara Cox felt a wave of emotion when recording a particular passage of the audiobook of her second novel, Way Back, in which a car radio is playing Steve Wright’s Sunday Love Songs.

“It was a bit of an emotional ambush when I got to the Steve Wright’s love songs bit,” says the Radio 2 Teatime presenter, who had featured a nod to her much-loved colleague, who died in February, in the book.

“But obviously I will never change it. It’s lovely that’s it’s in there. It was really nice that he’s in there.”

It was Cox, 49, who choked back tears when she paid a moving tribute on her radio show soon after his death was announced.

“We were all really shocked. It was a real shaker. Nobody was expecting it at all. You just want to handle it as best you can because you want to support the listeners as well. You’ve got to remain in control, while at the same time obviously showing your emotion because you are genuinely shocked and really sad. And you can still feel it in the building a little bit.”

Fellow presenter Jeremy Vine also features in a cameo radio chat during a car journey in the same book. She tried comically to emulate his voice in the audio book. “I listen to Jeremy every day and he’s a good mate as well and I thought it (the accent) would be easy, but it’s impossible.”

It’s clear her Radio 2 family mean a lot to her, as she shows in the acknowledgements.

“When I occasionally arrive at the studio, pale and subdued after a solitary morning wrestling with words, your hilarious input and funny tales never fail to put a whacking big smile on my face,” she writes.

Her personality also seeps into Way Back, which centres on a working-class northern woman, Josie, who has lived a largely middle-class life in a leafy part of north London with her wealthy, charming husband, James, who spouts snobbish stereotypes about the North, which she used to find funny.

After 23 years, their marriage has come to its natural end, they both agree. Even their daughter Chloe is fine about it.

It’s a thoughtful, witty family drama with complex issues, in which Josie, who is approaching middle age, attempts to come to terms with the premature death of her father, aged 38, in a car crash, and her mother Sandra’s refusal to discuss it – or memories of him – with her daughter.

In the novel, Josie stumbles upon the old family farm in Lancashire where she spent her childhood and decides that to confront her future, she needs to move back.

The notion of moving back to her own roots is one that has been swirling around Cox’s mind for a while, she says, admitting that some of her protagonist’s thoughts mirror her own.

“I’d love to get a little place, to be out and have a little smallholding, but I don’t know if I can quite persuade my Hampstead-born husband to move up north. That might be a push.”

Despite all her ‘ladette’ partying in the Nineties with her pal Zoe Ball, Cox is never more at home than in the countryside.

Her first book, Till The Cows Come Home, was a gentle, poignant early autobiography in which she paid homage to her childhood, largely growing up on her father’s cattle farm just outside Bolton, surrounded by dogs, cows, horses and lots of ‘cack’.

Today, her fix of that world comes in the form of her horse, Nelly, who she rides regularly when she’s not working.

“My teacher, Elaine, is amazing. I say, ‘I need therapy to distract me from my terrible night’s sleep and let me concentrate on trotting over some poles without thinking about anything else’, which she does. It’s brilliant.

“Nelly’s really my escape and I’ve got the dogs (she has three) that take a bit of exercising and looking after – the cats and the tortoises not so much.”

She continues: “I guess the older you get, the further you can feel away from the place where you were raised. And more and more as I get older, I wonder about when I will get around to having a little farm or a little smallholding. That’s been my dream for years.”

Strong women feature throughout the book – Josie, who moves back north to start a new life, her loyal best friend, Fay, and her mother, Sandra.

“I like writing strong women who support each other and are cheerleaders for each other, because I’m lucky, I’ve got a few women like that in my life.

“I want women in my stories to be supported by their friends, and to make new friends who value them and see them as the awesome people that they are.”

Cox came into broadcasting from modelling, with work that took her on assignments to Milan, South Korea and New York. She presented Channel 4’s The Girlie Show in 1996, and had stints on The Big Breakfast, a decade at Radio 1, and now works at Radio 2.

Juggling family – she has three children, Lola, 19, from her first marriage, and Isaac, 16, and 14-year-old Renee with her advertising executive husband, Ben Cyzer – and work, including her Teatime Radio 2 show, which has just celebrated its fifth birthday, another series of the BBC2 book show, Between The Covers, returning in October, horse-riding and a third novel on the cards, it’s a wonder she fits it all in.

“It comes in waves. I’ve had a few quiet weeks and now things are getting busy again – but I love being busy.”

Cox turns 50 later this year, but said she had a massive ‘not 50th’ birthday party last year, so 50 won’t feel like a milestone, and in any case, she’s not worried about ageing, she says.

“I feel like it’s a privilege to age because I’ve lost people who were way too young to go and who have left behind young kids. Thank God for ageing.”

Way Back by Sara Cox is published by Coronet, priced £16.99. Available now