Edith Bowman interview: ‘I’m not a Swiftie – all she does is diss her exes’

edith bowman interview: ‘i’m not a swiftie – all she does is diss her exes’

DJ and presenter Edith Bowman: 'The idea of losing my Scottish accent was terrifying – it's my identity' - Andrew Crowley

Edith Bowman, the DJ and tele­vision presenter, bristles when I say that I can’t believe she’s 50. “If I was a 50-year-old man, you wouldn’t bring it up in conversation,” she retorts.

Actually, I would, because (just as with 51-year-old Shaun Keaveny, Bowman’s co-presenter for Sky Arts’ coverage of the 2024 Isle of Wight Festival) my point was that Bowman seems to have morphed, in the mere blink of an eye, from hyper-enthusiastic twentysomething MTV host to éminence grise, whose vast-ranging knowledge of music and cinema makes her the go-to woman for coverage of both.

Not only that, as a fellow Gen X-er, I’m also delighted that the likes of Bowman, Zoe Ball, 53, and Sara Cox, 49, are still dominating our airwaves – when just two decades ago they would surely have been put out to pasture.

Bowman, who’s wearing cool baggy jeans and a sleeveless top, looks vaguely mollified. “Look at Claudia [Winkleman, 52] and what’s happened to her career in the past five years,” she adds to my list of fiftysomething stars. “And Jo [Whiley, 58], my God, she’s invinc­ible, she’s like a cryogenically frozen female. But I think there’s still an element of ageism in and around some broadcasting, a weird stigma in terms of, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t be doing X, Y and Z.’ I saw this week that four female newsreaders [Annita McVeigh, Martine Croxall, Karin Giannone and Kasia Madera] are taking the BBC to [tribunal] about sex and age discrimination. It exists.”

Certainly, in recent years the BBC has lost plenty of other older talent: the late Steve Wright and Paul O’Grady were two Radio 2 stars replaced by younger presenters, while Ken Bruce and Vanessa Feltz defected to other stations – with the latter citing ageism as a factor in her decision. Bowman has some experience of hard-nosed BBC cuts, having been moved to a “quieter” slot on Radio 1 in 2009, before being “edged out” in 2014. In a 2022 interview, she said the decisions had “absolutely floored her” and left her “speechless… I just felt incredibly let down”.

edith bowman interview: ‘i’m not a swiftie – all she does is diss her exes’

Bowman, photographed at Nobu Hotel 2024 - Andrew Crowley

As for misogyny, Bowman says that she’s had “no real personal experience”, but I perceive possible sexism in regard to the BBC’s film coverage. She used to be a regular stand-in on the hugely popular ­Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review, on Radio 5 Live. When the duo announced, in 2022, that they were leaving to host their own podcast, it would have been the perfect opportunity for her to have taken over the slot. Bowman demurs: “Mark [Kermode] and Simon [Mayo]’s show had such a history and kudos and loyal listeners, I don’t think anybody would have wanted to jump in there.”

Well, what about television, where there has been no dedicated movie show since BBC One’s beloved Film... programme (on which Bowman was also a regular presenter) was axed in 2018? “That would be a dream role for me, because I feel nobody’s really committed to one,” she agrees. “There’s so many little bits of fragmented coverage, not just on the Beeb but everywhere, and the cinema needs celebrating, though I think it can’t be just about film, as the production levels on tele­vision shows are so extraordinary now. There’s not enough film on TV – not enough music, either.”

What qualifies Bowman for such jobs is her palpable enthusiasm for the arts. Within seconds of my meeting her in a London hotel, she’s raving about a novel that she’s recently read (The Outrun by Amy Liptrot) and two upcoming films she’s seen – the IVF drama Joy and Inside Out 2. Growing up in her ­parents’ hotel in Anstruther, Fife, she devoured magazines such as The Face. “I was a pretty naughty teenager in a boring little fishing village. I needed to escape and they were my window into the world.”

edith bowman interview: ‘i’m not a swiftie – all she does is diss her exes’

Edith Bowman, pictured at the MTV Europe Awards in 2001: 'I probably lost loads of jobs by not doing any more lads' mags, but that's OK' - Richard Young/Shutterstock

Bowman doesn’t support Scottish independence (“In a world where there’s so much separation and conflict, are we not better united?”), but is still a “very proud Scot” – to the point that her refusal to mask her origins nearly scuppered her career.

After gaining a degree in communications at Queen Margaret University, in Edinburgh, she went for an interview for an internship with a local radio station, only to be told: “‘I can’t have someone on air with an accent like yours.’ Even in Scotland then, everyone in broadcasting had a posh Edinburgh accent. I remember really trying not to show how upset I was.”

She was still taken on, but later – having moved to London – various people advised her to have elocution lessons. “I was like, ‘No way!’ My accent is my identity. The idea of los­ing that side of me was terrifying.”

Her refusal to back down paid off: MTV bosses hired her precisely because they wanted more regional accents on the channel. Now, she always advises up-and-comers, “Don’t try to be the person you think they want you to be, be genuine.”

edith bowman interview: ‘i’m not a swiftie – all she does is diss her exes’

Cat Deeley and Edith Bowman in 2000 - Richard Young/Shutterstock

At MTV she worked alongside June Sarpong, Sara Cox, and Cat Deeley – the latter, having spent more than a decade working in the US, has recently succeeded Holly Willoughby as the presenter of ITV’s This Morning. “When Cat first came back from America, there weren’t many [work] options for her, but now she’s absolutely smashing it,” Bowman says proudly. “And [co-host] Ben [Shephard] is so generous; sometimes, co-presenters are really hungry and competitive, but this is a real partnership. He really allows Cat to be herself and show her kooky side.”

The women became close during the “ladette” era of the early 2000s. “There were definitely a few moments of being into my Jack Daniel’s and Coke a bit too much. But, luckily, Sara and Zoe took the brunt of the attention away from the rest of us.” Bowman did one photoshoot for a lads’ mag. “I had skin on show and hated it, I was like, ‘Nah, this is not for me!’ Prob­ably I lost loads of jobs by not doing any more, but that’s OK.”

If it did harm her career, it’s hardly apparent. Over the years, Bowman has presented everything from Radio 1’s afternoon show to Virgin Radio’s breakfast show to Top of the Pops (not to mention every festival from Glastonbury to T in the Park, Reading and Leeds); plus, interviewed everyone from A-Ha’s Morten Harket (“Fingers just tap-tapping all the way through on his BlackBerry, in a foul mood, so dis­appointing”) to a “very engaged and interested” Leonardo DiCaprio.

edith bowman interview: ‘i’m not a swiftie – all she does is diss her exes’

Bowman and son, Rudy, watch Editors perform at V Festival 2010 - Samir Hussein

Now, she seems to enjoy a sort of super-sub freelance status, hosting panels and one-offs, and frequently “pulled off the bench”, often at very short notice to cover for others – just after we meet she’s heading to Broadcasting House to replace Whiley, who’s unwell, on her Radio 2 evening show.

Bowman and her husband, Tom Smith, the frontman of the rock band Editors, live in rural Gloucestershire. They’ve combined peripatetic careers with bringing up their sons, Rudy, 15, and Spike, 11, with a lot of help from parents and a succession of nannies. “I get annoyed when people try to hide the fact they use childcare; you’re not making it easy for other women by making out you do it all yourself.”

The family spend summers accompanying Smith on the festival circuit, which, in the streaming age, is “the only way bands make money now. It’s a great opportunity to jump on the Editors’ bus and see new places. We’re hoping to go to Bulgaria this year, which I’ve never been to.”

edith bowman interview: ‘i’m not a swiftie – all she does is diss her exes’

This year's Isle of Wight Festival takes place 20 – 23 June, with coverage on Sky Arts/NOW - Callum Baker

They’ll all be at the Isle of Wight Festival, which clashes with Taylor Swift’s Wembley tenure, but Bowman has no regrets about missing out: “I’m not a Swiftie; all she does is diss her exes.” Instead, she’s looking forward to the Friday-night headliners the Prodigy and their first live performance since their lead singer Keith Flint died in 2019.

“Weirdly, my 11-year-old’s beyond excited by the idea of seeing Simple Minds and Green Day. The way we consume music is so different these days, kids discover it through lots of mediums – film, tele­vision, gaming – it’s no longer about ‘What’s new, what’s new?’ Music’s become a common ground across the generation gap.”

The Isle of Wight Festival 2024 is on Sky Arts and Now from 7pm on Friday 21 June to Sunday 23 June

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