300 episodes

Eight tracks, a book and a luxury: what would you take to a desert island? Guests share the soundtrack of their lives.

Desert Island Discs BBC

    • Society & Culture
    • 4.4 • 11.3K Ratings

Eight tracks, a book and a luxury: what would you take to a desert island? Guests share the soundtrack of their lives.

    Deborah Levy, writer

    Deborah Levy, writer

    Deborah Levy is a writer whose novels Swimming Home and Hot Milk were both shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Last year she published the final instalment of her ‘living autobiography’ trilogy of memoirs, and her earlier work includes plays for the RSC as well as short story collections and poetry.

    Deborah was born in South Africa in 1959, the eldest child of anti-apartheid activists Norman and Philippa Levy. Her father was arrested when she was five and was imprisoned for four years. During this time, Deborah became an almost silent child, but was encouraged by a teacher to write down her thoughts, sparking her love of creative writing. After her father’s release, the family relocated to the UK and first lived above a menswear shop in London. As a teenager Deborah worked as a cinema usher, and a chance encounter with the film-maker Derek Jarman inspired her to change her plans to take a degree in literature, and instead she headed to Dartington College of Arts, where she studied writing for the stage and performance.

    Her first play, Pax, was commissioned in 1984, and was followed by more than a dozen dramas. Deborah then turned to writing novels in the late 1980s and 1990s. Swimming Home was shortlisted for the 2012 Booker Prize, although it initially struggled to find a publisher. Her trilogy of autobiographies, beginning in 2013 with Things I Don't Want to Know, have enjoyed considerable critical acclaim.

    DISC ONE: Nkosi Sikelel I’Afrika by Sol Plaatje
    DISC TWO: Starman by David Bowie
    DISC THREE: Opening by Phillip Glass
    DISC FOUR: Moritat Vom Mackie Messer (German version of Mack the Knife) by Lotte Lenya
    DISC FIVE: Black is the Color of my True Love’s Hair by Nina Simone
    DISC SIX: Soothing by Laura Marling
    DISC SEVEN: Diamonds and Rust by Joan Baez
    DISC EIGHT: Because the Night by Patti Smith

    BOOK CHOICE: The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious (Collected Works of C. G. Jung)
    LUXURY ITEM: A silk sheet
    CASTAWAY'S FAVOURITE: Because the Night by Patti Smith

    Presenter Lauren Laverne
    Producer Sarah Taylor

    • 37 min
    Simon Reeve, broadcaster and writer

    Simon Reeve, broadcaster and writer

    Simon Reeve is a broadcaster and writer best known for his TV documentaries which combine travel and adventure with investigations into the challenges faced by the places he visits.

    His journeys have taken him across jungles, deserts, mountains and oceans, and to some of the most dangerous and remote regions of the world. He’s dodged bullets on frontlines, dived with seals and sharks, survived malaria, walked through minefields and tracked lions on foot.

    Simon grew up in Acton in west London. He experienced anxiety and depression as a teenager and left school with few qualifications. He eventually found a job in the post room at the Sunday Times and from there progressed to working with the news teams, filing stories on a range of subjects from organised crime to nuclear smuggling.

    In the late 1990s he wrote one of the first books about Al-Qaeda and its links to Osama Bin Laden. His expertise in this area was quickly called upon after the 9/11 attacks in the USA, and he became a regular guest on American television and radio programmes.

    The current pandemic put Simon’s overseas trips into abeyance and he has turned his attention to the UK, recently making programmes about Cornwall and the Lake District.

    DISC ONE: Eskègizéw Bèrtchi by Alèmayèhu Eshèté
    DISC TWO: Vissi d’arte - from Puccini’s Tosca, performed by Kiri Te Kanawa with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Sir John Pritchard
    DISC THREE: It Takes Two by Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock
    DISC FOUR: We Will Rock You by Queen
    DISC FIVE: Mr Brightside by The Killers
    DISC SIX: Wiley Flow by Stormzy
    DISC SEVEN: You’re Lovely to Me by Lucky Jim
    DISC EIGHT: Rocket Man by Elton John

    BOOK CHOICE: Moonshine for Beginners and Experts by Damian Brown
    LUXURY ITEM: Bird seed
    CASTAWAY'S FAVOURITE: Rocket Man by Elton John

    Presenter Lauren Laverne
    Producer Paula McGinley

    • 35 min
    Richard Osman, writer and broadcaster

    Richard Osman, writer and broadcaster

    Richard Osman is a broadcaster, TV producer and writer who co-presents the quiz show Pointless on BBC One. His first novel, The Thursday Murder Club, was a publishing phenomenon, selling more than a million copies, and the follow-up became one of the fastest-selling titles since records began.

    Richard grew up in Haywards Heath in West Sussex and his early passion for television led to him devising quiz shows and programme formats from a young age. After graduating from university he worked for a number of production companies where he helped to develop and produce shows including Total Wipeout, Deal or No Deal and 8 out of 10 Cats.

    In 2009 Richard became a co-presenter of Pointless alongside Alexander Armstrong. It was not his intention to move in front of the camera, but he was given the job after taking on the role of co-host while the show was being developed.

    In 2020 Richard published his debut novel, the Thursday Murder Club, the story of four friends in a retirement community who band together to solve cold cases. It was an instant hit, selling 45,000 copies in its first three days on sale. Steven Spielberg has bought the film rights.

    Richard lives in London and is writing his third novel featuring his resourceful retirees.

    DISC ONE: Bring Me Sunshine by Morecambe And Wise
    DISC TWO: Metal Mickey by Suede
    DISC THREE: Snooker (Drag Racer) by The Douglas Wood Group
    DISC FOUR: You Can't Stop The Beat by the cast of Hairspray (Nikki Blonsky, Zac Efron, Amanda Bynes, Elijah Kelly, John Travolta and Queen Latifah)
    DISC FIVE: Extraordinary Machine by Fiona Apple
    DISC SIX: American Boy by Estelle Featuring Kanye West
    DISC SEVEN: Ran by Future Islands
    DISC EIGHT: A Little Respect by Erasure

    BOOK CHOICE: Hercule Poirot: the Complete Short Stories by Agatha Christie
    LUXURY ITEM: A pad of paper, a pen and dice
    CASTAWAY'S FAVOURITE: DISC FOUR: You Can't Stop The Beat by the cast of Hairspray

    Presenter Lauren Laverne
    Producer Paula McGinley

    • 35 min
    Dame Prue Leith, writer and broadcaster

    Dame Prue Leith, writer and broadcaster

    Dame Prue Leith is a broadcaster, writer, former restaurateur and a judge on the television show the Great British Bake Off.

    Prue was born in Cape Town, South Africa, during the era of Apartheid. After leaving school she moved to Paris to study at the Sorbonne, but decided that her future lay in food, and took a Cordon Bleu cookery course in London. She set up her own catering business from her bedsit, where space was so tight that she washed lettuces in the bath.

    In 1969 she opened Leith’s, her own fine dining restaurant, in Notting Hill in west London. Leith’s was awarded a Michelin star in the 1980s. She went on to write columns and cookbooks and became a regular broadcaster about food, on shows including the Great British Menu. In 1975 she opened Leith’s School of Food and Wine which trains professional chefs and amateur cooks.

    Prue replaced Mary Berry as a judge on the Great British Bake Off in 2017. She has written eight novels and lives with her husband in Gloucestershire.

    DISC ONE: Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds by The Beatles
    DISC TWO: Ugly Duckling by Danny Kaye
    DISC THREE: Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika by Ladysmith Black Mambazo
    DISC FOUR: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (I) composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and performed by Sir Neville Marriner (violin), Academy Of St Martin-in-the-Fields Orchestra and conducted by David Willcocks
    DISC FIVE: 16 Tons by Tennessee Ernie Ford
    DISC SIX: Skylark by Aretha Franklin
    DISC SEVEN: Chopin, Nocturne No. 2, op 9 in E flat major, played by Elisabeth Leonskaja
    DISC EIGHT: Big Spender by Shirley MacLaine

    BOOK CHOICE: Ulysses by James Joyce
    LUXURY ITEM: Writing materials
    CASTAWAY'S FAVOURITE: Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika by Ladysmith Black Mambazo

    Presenter Lauren Laverne
    Producer Paula McGinley

    • 35 min
    Jack Thorne, screenwriter

    Jack Thorne, screenwriter

    Jack Thorne is a writer who has enjoyed great success with his scripts for the stage, cinema and television, winning five BAFTA awards for his TV work.

    His theatre credits include the international hit play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which has won major awards in London and New York. For television, his recent successes include his adaptation of His Dark Materials, from the books by Philip Pullman, and The Virtues, co-written with Shane Meadows, and starring Stephen Graham.

    Jack was born in Bristol in 1978. His mother was a care worker, and her experiences partly inspired his 2021 TV drama Help, set in a care home during the pandemic.

    As a student at Cambridge University, Jack became involved in student drama, but had to halt his studies for a year when he became seriously ill with cholinergic urticaria, which he describes as an extreme form of ‘prickly heat... which feels like you’re burning from the inside.’ While he enjoys better health now, this experience informed his writing, and he has campaigned for more opportunities and better representation for disabled people, on both sides of the camera. In 2021 he gave the MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh Television Festival, in which he argued that TV has failed disabled people.

    DISC ONE: Common People (At Glastonbury 1995) by Pulp
    DISC TWO: Blah Blah Café by Jean-Michel Jarre
    DISC THREE: The Red Flag by Billy Bragg
    DISC FOUR: Spasticus Autisticus by John Kelly and the Graeae Theatre Company
    DISC FIVE: Lippy Kids by Elbow
    DISC SIX: 54-46 That’s My Number by Toots and the Maytals
    DISC SEVEN: Skeleton Key by Audrey Nugent
    DISC EIGHT: End credit music from the film E.T. by John Williams

    BOOK CHOICE: Miller Plays: 1 by Arthur Miller
    LUXURY ITEM: TV with Channel 4 archive only
    CASTAWAY'S FAVOURITE: Skeleton Key by Audrey Nugent

    Presenter Lauren Laverne
    Producer Sarah Taylor

    • 36 min
    Helen Macdonald, writer and naturalist

    Helen Macdonald, writer and naturalist

    Helen Macdonald is a writer and naturalist who is best known as the author of H is for Hawk which won the 2014 Samuel Johnson Prize and the Costa Book Award, and topped the sales charts. The book chronicles her experiences training a goshawk called Mabel while grieving for her late father.

    Helen’s father was a staff photographer at the Daily Mirror and her mother was a journalist on local newspapers. In 1975, when Helen was five, her parents bought a house in Terkel’s Park, an estate owned by the Theosophical Society. It was here that Helen became a keen bird watcher and developed a love of the natural world, spending her days in fields and meadows where she collected specimens which she brought home to study.

    When she was 12 she helped out at a local falconry centre and trained her first hawk, a kestrel called Amy. After graduating from Cambridge she worked for the National Avian Research Centre in Wales before returning to academia.

    The death of her father in 2007 prompted Helen to buy Mabel and bring her home to live with her. Training Mabel was Helen’s way of dealing with her grief during what she describes as a very dark period of her life. The relationship between her and Mabel became so intense that she says she became more hawk than human.

    Helen continues to write books and essays and present programmes about the natural world. She lives in Suffolk with two parrots she calls the Bugs.

    DISC ONE: Wayfaring Stranger by Rhiannon Giddens With Francesco Turrisi
    DISC TWO: Lully: Le Triomphe de l'Amour: Prélude pour la nuit, composed by Jean-Baptiste Lully, performed by Capriccio Stravagante Les 24 Violons, directed by Skip Sempé
    DISC THREE: Michelangelo by The 23rd Turnoff
    DISC FOUR: Ocean by The Velvet Underground
    DISC FIVE: 'Corelli' Variations, Op. 42, composed by Sergei Rachmaninov, performed by Vladimir Ashkenazy (piano)
    DISC SIX: When We Were Wolves by My Latest Novel
    DISC SEVEN: Point of View Point by Cornelius
    DISC EIGHT: Time by Hans Zimmer

    BOOK CHOICE: The Karla Trilogy by John Le Carré
    LUXURY ITEM: Luxury bedding
    CASTAWAY'S FAVOURITE: 'Corelli' Variations, Op. 42, composed by Sergei Rachmaninov, performed by Vladimir Ashkenazy (piano)

    Presenter Lauren Laverne
    Producer Paula McGinley

    • 37 min

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5
11.3K Ratings

11.3K Ratings

Rowbi Wan ,

Pru Leith - cut short

I hope you can upload the interview again. It stops short at 20minutes and I’m googling her now to find out what she did next … quite a gripping part to stop at. 😖

Ffffffgfggggghjgfghbg ,


Dame Pru recording is short and cuts of at 20 seconds

deepbluepete ,

Lost interest

Not as good as when Kirsty Young did it. Can I suggest Grace Dent to take over

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