Nick Grimshaw and Annie Mac: ‘If you think something is terrible you have to be able to say it’

Nick Grimshaw, the former face of mid-00s “yoof” culture, is absorbing the decor of our interview location, a meeting room on the fourth floor of the BBC offices in central London. He eyes up the floor-to-ceiling black drapes and the bright orange, weirdly impractical coat stand nestled in the corner. “This is quite chic,” he says brightly, looking over to friend and fellow former Radio 1 DJ Annie Macmanus, AKA Annie Mac. The pair are here to talk about their new music-themed BBC Sounds podcast, Sidetracked, but Grimshaw’s already been distracted. “Look at the lights,” he continues, “a bit of personality. It’s just strip lights on the eighth floor.” It was on that less-aesthetically desirable floor where Grimshaw and Macmanus spent most of their 20s and 30s, the former working his way up to being host of the flagship Radio 1 breakfast show and the latter eventually taking over from Zane Lowe as the station’s chief tastemaker.

Both left in 2021 and have since added books (Macmanus, 45, is working on her third novel, while Grimshaw released his memoir last year), lifestyle podcasts and more TV work to their already bulging CVs. Grimshaw recently presented an interiors show for Channel 4, hence his love of our locale’s plush aubergine chairs. On the brink of turning 40, and with all this middle-aged furniture chat on his mind, he asks his friend of 20 years a pressing question: “Am I still fun?” They look at each other.

“You’re really fun,” Macmanus replies reassuringly.

“Different fun now?” he asks, more rhetorically this time. “Lamps fun.”

That F-word is at the heart of Sidetracked, a weekly podcast inspired by the WhatsApp messages they’d send each other in a group chat called The Goss, where the pair would chat about the biggest stories in music. The title is a reflection of the show’s lack of structure, with no regular segments and no set themes. “It’s going to be the week in music but through a lens of our friendship and our take on it,” says Grimshaw. Macmanus compares it to the “very loose” ten10-minute handovers the pair used to do when their radio shows aired next to each other. “I loved that moment of radio because it felt genuinely free and representative of our friendship. I would like to think the tone is a little bit like that.”

Grimshaw nods furiously: “That was always my favourite bit of the show, no offence to the guests.”

For both it’s a way of stepping back into radio without any of the usual restrictions. “Music has been work for such a long time so I like the idea of this being from the perspective of a fan,” says Macmanus. “All of the things I didn’t miss about having a radio show – being part of someone else’s agenda, the time involved, and all of the things that started feeling a bit too much – this is the opposite of that. It’s not attached to any network or any radio station specifically. We will talk about, say, Kate Bush. It’s not just youth music.”

“Hey, come on now,” laughs Grimshaw, “we’ve heard of Ice Spice!”

What would they talk about if they had to record an episode today? “It’s the Mercurys this week,” says Macmanus, “so something on that. But it could be anything: from Adele going off at a security guard at her gig, to Beyoncé becoming a mayor of Santa Clara, to Grimmy going to the Proms and having a re-evaluation of his whole life.”

Grimshaw is less specific: “All that stuff that my dad was like ‘it’s a waste of time’, that’s all I want to talk about. Just stuff.”

Music has been work for such a long time, I like the idea of this being from the perspective of a fan

Annie Macmanus

I witness how an episode could quickly spiral as Grimshaw suddenly remembers getting stuck in the BBC building’s revolving doors with soul newcomer Berwyn. This then leads to a whole section on getting stuck in places with musicians (Macmanus got stuck in a car park in Austria for two hours with Brazilian drum’n’bass legend DJ Marky), before winding up at A$AP Rocky. “He refused to go through the revolving doors and I love the phrase he used,” teases Grimshaw. “He said: ‘I don’t want to go through them because they’re corny.’ Isn’t that fab?” They start thinking about what other mundane things A$AP Rocky might not do. “This is what we’d investigate [in the podcast],” laughs Grimshaw.

“Really important stuff,” adds Macmanus.

The pair are chatty in the way long-term friends are, often finishing each other’s sentences, and while they refer to Sidetracked as indulgent, they’re also aware of the pitfalls of famous-people podcasts and how boring they can become when people just agree and think everything is amazing. “‘Oh, St Barts, eh, remember?’” Grimshaw says in a mock luvvie voice. “I think Annie is always honest, especially about music. Quite a lot of the time we don’t always have the same view. I’ll say: ‘I love this, don’t you?’ And Annie will be like: ‘Not really.’ That makes a good chat.”

“On Radio 1 we haven’t been allowed to … ” starts Macmanus, before remembering that they had a playlist to stick to and so positivity was key, but Grimshaw interrupts.

“I would do a flushing toilet sound over a song if I didn’t like it,” he says.

Macmanus adds: “What I hope will make people interested in the podcast is the transparency and the honesty. If you think something’s terrible you have to be able to say it, in a respectful way.”

Grimshaw and Macmanus at Battersea Park Bandstand in London.
Stand together … Grimshaw and Macmanus at Battersea Park bandstand in London. Photograph: Suzan Moore/Alamy

That rebellious spirit is almost expected of them given how they started out at the BBC via its youth strand Switch in 2007, which involved a Sunday night radio show of the same name. “We were allowed to be completely ourselves and it would be hysterical and delirious and hungover and we’d laugh so much that we’d piss ourselves,” says Macmanus. Literally? “Sometimes,” she laughs.

Grimshaw looks aghast: “I never pissed myself, just to be clear.”

The pair first met at Glastonbury when Grimshaw was a plugger and Macmanus had just started her first Radio 1 show on Thursday nights. They met again later at indie mecca the Hawley Arms in Camden Town, north London. “Grimmy was telling me he wanted to be on the radio, and I’d just launched Switch and they were looking for someone to come in on a weekly basis and contribute,” Macmanus says.

For Grimshaw it was life changing. “Working at Radio 1 was my childhood dream. I was obsessed with it and always listened from morning to night. It was all I ever wanted.” He remembers walking across Battersea Bridge after recording his first show and crying with happiness.

“Oh babe, I didn’t know that, that’s gorgeous,” says Macmanus sweetly.

There’s an endearing younger brother, older sister energy between the pair that Grimshaw tries to sum up. “You’re bossy but in a really non-bossy way,” he says, turning to face Macmanus. “You’re calmly in control … You’re like a paramedic!” They both cackle. “You’re in charge and I trust you with my life,” he adds. Macmanus says she felt protective of Grimshaw when he landed the breakfast show gig in 2012, especially when he was caught up in Radio 1’s desire to lower the age of its listeners. “I remember getting the breakfast show and feeling really excited and then after it had been announced Radio 1 had this message, or it came from the media, like: ‘We don’t want anyone over 30 to listen,’” says Grimshaw. “I remember being like: ‘Oh no, all them people are going to hate me.’”

“That coupled with coming after Chris Moyles, and a legion of heterosexual males who are going to go, ‘No fuck you because I’m over 30 and you’re not Chris Moyles,’” adds Macmanus.

Working at Radio 1 was my childhood dream … It was all I ever wanted

Nick Grimshaw

Age is something Grimshaw has been thinking about a lot recently. “When I started working in music I was only 19, and people were shocked by that,” he says. “When I started [presenting] T4 that was the youth thing, then Switch was the youth thing, then when I did breakfast it was ‘the young breakfast show’. Then all of a sudden I’m not young.”

Macmanus seems to have more of a handle on it all: “I’ve got more control over my life than I’ve ever had and the possibilities of what can be done. I love the idea of changing things all the time.”

Somewhere in the middle of all this existentialism sits Sidetracked, a vehicle for two former DJs, now caught between Radio 1 and Radio 2, to recapture a tiny bit of that Switch-era anarchy. Macmanus, however, looks worried. “I don’t feel like we’ve told you what this podcast is,” she says. “We’ve done a lot of talking. Is the elevator pitch clear?” Sort of. But it’s the talking that people will care about.

Sidetracked with Annie and Nick begins Thursday on BBC Sounds.