I started working at Xfm in late September 2011. My work experience was due to last two weeks; allowing me a brief but intense insight into life on a London Breakfast Show. On 21 December 2012, 16 months later, my work experience finally finished. I'd had no time off and not much sleep. I had also listened to an awful lot of Kasabian (my God, so much Kasabian). It was an ambitious start to a career in radio and I came out the other side much the same as I went in. I had no job; I was still a bumbling idiot. I'd begun by making instant coffee incorrectly, and ended on stage, at O2 Academy Brixton, in front of 5,000 people. It was a dramatic journey. And now I find myself looking back a bizarre year and a half, and asking "what do I do now?"
I was actually quite shy when I started. I think it's almost impossible to not be shy when you first start working somewhere. I mainly spoke to the cleaners and the builders. One builder in particular, Tom, took an interest in my short lived career. He'd constantly offer me advice like "stay in there mate" and "don't let them win!"
Tom may well have gotten me through that first month or so. Although, I doubt that's true.
I was working on the Danny Wallace Breakfast Show. Breakfast shows are the best to work on for two reasons;
1) PR companies will send you almost anything. The best freebie we were ever sent was a lightsaber - saying this, we only received one which annoying meant we couldn't fight each other.
2) You get to meet all the big celebrities. In my first week we had Kirsten Dunst on the show. She misheard heard Danny's English accent and thought he was saying "c**t" rather than "aunt." I came out of the studio almost shaking.
The lovely thing about working anywhere is the people. I clicked with the breakfast team almost right away (and by right away I mean, once I finally relaxed) and this spread throughout the whole Xfm crew. They're all very nice people who actually seem to enjoy their jobs. It's weird. I don't know if it's because you can ashamedly admit your adoration for The Cure, or because they get sent so many free crisps, but there's something about it. We'd often frequent the bars of the West End, and they'd never let me buy a beer. This was genuinely a godsend as I was commuting in from Essex and not getting my expenses paid, so I couldn't have bought a round even if they'd let me.
Due to a severe lack of numbers I ended up helping out at Xfm for a lot longer than I thought I would. The weeks drew into months, and I had to visit the bank of Dad in order to fund it. I can't express how crucial a small visit to a Wetherspoons with my mum and dad was. Without their support I'd be on heroin right now (I wouldn't be on heroin, but I wouldn't of been on the radio either). I learnt how to build shows and podcasts. I became a right hand man. And I still made everyone lots of coffee. I had to keep that hot stuff coming like I was a dialysis machine.
After about seven months I was finally offered enough money to cover my expenses. Every penny went on the train. It didn't really bother me anymore though. I was having fun. The Breakfast team had formed a tight bond and I was being brought on-air more and more. At one point I had to ask Ray Winstone, "who's the worst person you've ever worked with?" He said that if I told him who mine was, he'd do the same. I said Stewart Adams from Billericay's Inn On The Green, and Ray still wouldn't tell me. I was outsmarted. That was a particular high. I was also once shoved onto the streets on central London dressed as a matador. We were giving away tickets to the Bennicassim Festival in Spain and, as my surname is Ferdinando, it was too perfect. For two weeks I had to stand in some of London's busiest areas, my pasty ankles sticking out from under my little matador trousers, whilst people ran up to me shouting "I've found you!" That was a low point.
By the last few months I could produce shows on my own. I was becoming a real boy. When Danny, our presenter, announced his departure, it soon became clear that there'd be no space for a bumbling Billericay nitwit on the next show. I was gutted, but distracted. Around the same time I was set the task of learning to play the guitar in time for our annual Christmas gig at the O2 Academy Brixton. We had so much going on that I just plodded along. We drank, a lot, and I ended up discovering really how wonderful this city of ours is. By the time the gig came, I'd been turned into a rockstar. It went as well as it could have. Luckily, the 5,000 or so people in the audience kept their bodily fluids to themselves, and for that I thanked them. A few days later the show ended, and I was released back into the wild.
So the truth is I'm not really sure what to do now. I do know, however, that my 16 months on work experience weren't a waste of time. I'd learnt enough to be able to freelance, and that's what I'm doing now. Above anything else, I've become fairly sure of myself. I'm more confident than I was before and now I have the resources to be able to put myself into action, properly, and really achieve something I'm proud of. My CV glows. It genuinely does. Plus, I've drank in some fucking cool bars. I'll take you sometime. It's my round.
Follow Stephen Ferdinando on Twitter: www.twitter.com/steveferdinando