‘I’ve still no idea what zig-a-zig-ah means’: Gemma Cairney’s honest playlist

·2-min read

The TV and radio presenter loves to boogie to Diana King and knows her Barry White – but which ‘ridiculous’ song does she secretly like?


The first single I ever bought
Never Gonna Let You Go (the Kelly G mix) by Tina Moore, when I was at school. Everything about mid-90s garage seemed like the epitome of British glamour, full of giant golden-hooped earrings and wacky Moschino print trousers.

The song that is my karaoke go-to
As a kid, I used to be in a Spice Girls tribute act and would do Wannabe at birthday parties. It was all about girl power and friendship. I’ve still no idea what zig-a-zig-ah means, and that’s absurdly fantastic.

The song I inexplicably know every lyric to
I’ve always been a schmaltzy dreamer and would listen to whole albums to escape rainy afternoons. My mum and dad loved Barry White, so I thought his velvet tones were the peak of sophistication. I liked how Just the Way You Are says there’s someone out there who doesn’t want you to change.

The last song I streamed
While making a series on classical music for Scala Radio I was introduced to a Max Richter score that samples Dinah Washington. It completely blew me away. I’ve been playing a lot of Dinah to help me through the grey days.

The best song to play at a party
Shy Guy by Diana King will make anyone who knows what’s good for them do the boogie.

The song that I secretly like, but tell everyone I hate
Mambo No 5 (A Little Bit of … ) by Lou Bega is ridiculous but so catchy. It reminds me of the dodgems at the fair when I was 14.

The song I can no longer listen to
Most EDM gives me anxiety. Any dubstep/EDM crossover, such as Bonfire by Knife Party, makes me want to cry. It reminds me of hosting the weekend breakfast show on Radio 1 at some ungodly hour, trapped inside a vortex of noise.

The best song to have sex to
Turn Your Lights Down Low by Bob Marley and the Wailers featuring Lauryn Hill. Need I say more?

The song I wish I’d written
Appletree by Erykah Badu is full of simple folkloric wisdom. “If you don’t wanna be down with me, you don’t wanna pick from my apple tree.” It gives you power to say it’s OK if not everyone likes you.

The song I can’t help singing
Essence by WizKid featuring Tems has been the soundtrack to my whirlwind of road trips recently. I like to sing along very loudly!

The song I want played at my funeral
As a mixed-race child born in the mid-80s, I’m always grateful for the multiculturalism instilled in me. Shine by Aswad is a mantra to my life.

Gemma Cairney is mentoring Brit School students through #ShoutOut as part of the Brit awards.

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