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11th October 2023

Young Again on Radio 4: Kirsty Young is back, thank God

Kirsty Young returns to radio with a new programme, asking some of the world’s most famous figures what they’d do differently if they started over
Young Again on Radio 4: Kirsty Young is back, thank God
Photo: Young Again @ BBC Radio 4

Trigger Warning: This article mentions themes surrounding sexual abuse.

Kirsty Young broadcast her final episode of Desert Island Discs in 2018. After being diagnosed with fibromyalgia, an extreme form of chronic pain, she was told by her doctor that she would have to give up everything in order to survive. That included the job that defined her adult life, presenting a programme that in its 75-year history has become a jewel in the crown of British culture. 

Loyal listeners, including myself, quietly acknowledge Desert Island Discs has since lost some of the spark that Young brought. Young’s successor, Lauren Laverne, is a talented radio host, with her early morning 6 Music programme and leading role in the BBC’s Glastonbury coverage making it no surprise she’s one of the highest-paid presenters at the corporation. The sense of loss after Young’s departure is not down to a lack of skill on Laverne’s part but rather a testament to the talent of Young. 

Kirsty Young’s ability to bring her interviewee to tears or laughter – exploring the trauma, love, fears, and sometimes even history-defining moments of someone’s life – made her an almost magical voice to listen to. Her warm Lanarkshire accent brought comfort and guidance. She built an unparalleled chemistry with her interviewee, whilst remaining strikingly composed and professional. 

Dispirited fans need no longer reminisce. After five years, Kirsty Young returned to the airwaves last week, reminding us of why she was for so long a pillar of British broadcasting. She reappeared briefly last year to oversee coverage of the Queen’s funeral. 

Now she has launched a new programme on Radio 4, Young Again, in which she asks her guests what they’d do differently if they were given a fresh start. What mistakes, if any, did they make? The programme debuts with none other than Linda Evangelista: the Canadian supermodel whose face defined the 90s. 

Kirsty Young strikes in this new podcast. She combines her delicate, investigative tones with a new level of openness and a more casual relationship with her guests than perhaps she dared do on Desert Island Discs. 

Young breaks down any barriers with Evangelista – during their half-hour discussion, one can hear the pair forming a friendship. Admittedly, it’s the first broadcast interview of Evangelista I’ve heard, so whether this is down to Young’s questioning or Evangelista’s openness (“I’m very transparent”, she admits at one point) is not for me to decide. 

“Why did Linda Evangelista marry at age 22?”, Young asks. “Because I’m an idiot,” is the model’s response. The pair burst into laughter. The ability to laugh with Evangelista about this marriage is, of course, extraordinary: in 1987 she married French modelling agency chief Gérald Marie, who was many years later accused by a number of women of rape and sexual assault. 

“I was in a Me Too marriage,” Evangelista tells Young. “Can you tell me more about that?” An excruciating pause follows, and without giving details, I’ll say that Evangelista gives a powerful account of being a young woman in the 90s, whom the entire world once saw as the very definition of perfection. 

If she could tell her younger self to do something differently, what would it be, she is asked: “I’m sorry that I wasn’t helpful to these other women, but I didn’t know.” 

Young breaks any sense of the ‘neutral questioner’ and tells Evangelista she could never be to blame for the vile acts of her ex-husband. Young has the Canadian in tears. “Do you want a tissue? I’ve got tissues,” Young says. The microphone briefly muffles, it is clear some act of solidarity and affection takes place between them. 

All 28 minutes of the interview captivated me. We get an insight into a world sealed off for most people, contained exclusively for the rich, the beautiful, and the powerful. Evangelista discusses her breast cancer diagnosis, the botched cosmetic operation that has left a permanent defect, and the infamous quote that caused so much controversy: “We don’t wake up for less than $10,000 a day.” 

“That genetic good fortune that allowed me to be in this business has also backfired…I have two genetic diseases…It’s just ironic…Genetics have worked against me also.” 

Young sensitively examines Linda Evangelista’s insecurities and imperfections, but also the aspirations and hopes she now has to go forward. Anyone wanting to become an interviewer must surely aspire to be like Kirsty Young. I certainly do.

Kirsty Young is back, thank God.

You can listen to Young Again on Radio 4 and BBC Sounds.

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