In our WISE WORDS interview series, we ask a range of stars from all walks of the entertainment industry the same 12 questions, in the hopes of finding out some of the most important life lessons they’ve learned along the way.
Earlier this week, HuffPost UK caught up with Radio 2 presenter Jeremy Vine, who has shared his wisdom in a new book, ‘What I Learnt’.
He told us all about how he coped with negativity while taking part in ‘Strictly Come Dancing’, why seeing a rock concert is akin to a religious experience for him and how having his Chinese takeaway stolen as a student helped him come to terms with an important life lesson.
What do you do to switch off from the world?
I think meditation is great, I really believe that at some point you need to just sit with a cup of tea in a café and just stare at the sky and be grateful.
And crucially, that crescent moon icon on your phone, the ‘Do Not Disturb’ function, you need to know what that is. If you don’t know what that is you’re in trouble. My ambition is to use that once a day.
How do you deal with negativity?
If it’s other people, just ignore it. I think in the end, anger and negativity from other people is all about what’s going on inside them. So I don’t really mind it. There’s a lot of it online, there’s a load of it on the roads, but I just plow on regardless.
I had a bit of it when I was on ‘Strictly’, with people saying ‘you can’t dance’ and ‘you shouldn’t be on that show’... and I responded to one of them, and said, ‘I know I can’t dance, but I’ve got to show my daughters that I’m prepared to work and try and get better’. And the post went completely viral and had about a million hits.
I think that’s quite a good message, it’s not about being the best, it’s about doing your best.
When and where are you happiest?
Sitting somewhere where I can see water. You know, I live near the Thames, it’s a 10-minute walk away, and just being there and staring out at the water, there’s something wild and free about it. If you live in the city particularly, I think.
And I also love going to watch the football with my daughter, my 13-year-old, who I’ve been taking since she was about five. I take her to see Chelsea and we just so love the experience of going to see the game, talking about the players, who’s doing well and who’s not.
For me as a father, it’s the best moment of the whole week. It gives us a joint interest, and I love the fact that, because a lot of boys don’t expect girls to know about football, she can shock her schoolmates with her knowledge.
What has been the best piece of advice that you’ve ever been given?
“Always ask why they were dressed as bears”.
The reason I say that is because, in the very first day of my professional life I was on the Coventry Evening Telegraph, and they sent me out to do this piece on these students who were fundraising for the local hospital, and they were all gathered, dressed as bears.
I asked them every possible question, who they all were, what their names were, what their ages were, all that. I came back with all this information, and the news editor, quite a scary guy, just said: “Why were they dressed as bears?”
And I said, “I don’t know”... and he sent me back to ask them. And now that’s my rule of journalism, because the most obvious question is often the one we forget to ask.
What’s the hardest lesson you’ve had to learn?
I think, sometimes things happen for a reason, but sometimes they happen for no reason. And I try to tell my daughters this, because they grow up in a world that’s quite orderly, and they think there are rules.
But, for example, I was driving in Canada, and there was an accident right ahead of me, and a motorcyclist, it wasn’t his fault, but a car hit him and knocked his leg off, it was a very serious accident. And it’s that thing where your life changes in a split second - but it’s not your fault.
To deal with that, and learn to accept the randomness of life, is really important.
I remember when I was a student, I bought a Chinese takeaway, and someone walking past hit me in the face and ran off with the takeaway. And I thought, ‘that’s a bloody hard lesson of life’, it probably is the hardest lesson, actually - the sheer randomness and unfairness of life.
Of course, losing a Chinese takeaway is nothing compared to what many people face, but it’s a good lesson in how brutal life can be.
What would you tell your 13-year-old self?
I think I would say, read lots of books. And spend lots of time playing. Remember the importance of playing, because it’s not a waste of time. That period from 13 to 19 is so precious, and, of course, the world starts to impinge because you start to think about things like university, and getting a job, and what you’re going to do with your life.
And grown-ups don’t help, because they always say ‘what do you want to do when you grow up?’, and that should be the last thing you’re thinking about.
What three things are left on your to-do list?
I really want to visit Japan, I’m fascinated by Japan and I’ve never been there. I would love to learn to walk on a tight-rope, because one of my heroes is Philippe Petit who did the famous ‘Man On Wire’. And, in terms of thinking about great bands because there are some truly, truly great bands that I haven’t seen, I think I’d quite like to see Led Zeppelin play, actually.
What do you think happens when we die?
I have a very traditional Christian faith, so I want to believe that there’s a God. But I haven’t really thought about it too much. I don’t really buy the idea of hell, I struggle a bit with that part of the Christian story, it just seems to be overdoing it. But whether I can choose what I believe and don’t believe, I don’t know.
I do think, from what we know of people who’ve had near-death experiences, that they often feel a warmth, and a light and a sense of love, and that would be great if that were there when we died.
When do you get a feeling that we’re in the presence of a higher power or something bigger than ourselves?
Either at church, or at a rock concert. When everyone comes together, and they’re all singing in unison, that’s when I think, ‘OK there’s something bigger than us here’.
What do you try to bring to your relationships?
I do think laughter is the most important thing, and being able to see the funny side of nearly anything is a crucial, crucial thing. There’s a story in my book, when I met Rachel, to whom I’m now married, I had double-booked on this important dinner in Devon, where she and I were supposed to meet her family, and I was having to attend a Christening in Hertfordshire. And I thought, I’ve never done this before, but I thought I would book a helicopter to get between the two of them.
And I said to her, “I’m going to land in the garden”, and she said, “no bloody way, you’re going to look like a total tosser”. So I immediately abandoned those plans, but we still laugh about it now.
So what do I try to bring to my relationships? Humour, and a helicopter.
What keeps you grounded?
The obvious answer is my kids, but my kids and my listeners, actually. The listeners tune in every day, and a lot of them have got very tough lives, dealing with all kinds of stuff, and it’s a reminder that there’s so much hurt out there, but also a lot of decency and friendliness as well.
We did an item once about loneliness, asking people if mine was the only voice they heard during the day, and it was amazing the calls from people who turn on the radio and leave it on Radio 2 all day long. That’s their companion, and that keeps me grounded, it’s that thing Terry Wogan said when someone asked how many listeners he had, and he didn’t say 10 million, he said, “just one”.
And, of course, if you’ve got kids, you come home from a busy day and they just want to play - the current game is Dobble and also Obama Llama, and I always just think that’s the most important part of the day.
What was the last act of kindness or good deed that you received?
I stopped for a cup of tea in Hyde Park on my way home the other day, and I was looking for a seat at a table, and this nice gentleman made a space for me, and I thought ‘oh, that’s nice’, and we ended up having tea together.
‘What I Learnt’ by Jeremy Vine, published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, is out now in hardback, eBook and audio.