Polly James is Cardiff’s most recognisable radio hosts. She is best known for co-presenting the Capital South Wales breakfast show with Matt Lissack for six years. Before that, she began her career at Afan FM in Port Talbot, to a stint on national station in London and then returned to Cardiff. Now she’s a presenter on Radio X, the home of Chris Moyles at Breakfast and Johnny Vaughn in the afternoons.
Polly James talks openly to Style of the City on life after Capital Radio, her new career in London and becoming a first-time mum.
How did you find growing up around Cardiff?
Well brilliant obviously, Cardiff is my home. I’m born and bred here, I’m proud to be from a city that has so much passion and pride. Growing up in Cardiff was great, I grew up in Llanishen, in Rhiwbina with my mum and dad, then moved to Thornhill with mum and then I settled in Penarth. I moved out of Penarth when I was 18-years-old and moved to London. But my childhood was totally enjoyable and I have no bad memories at all. I know it’s a total cliché, but driving back over the bridge to Wales always brings excitement and a sense of warmth, as I’m coming back into my community
I love Cardiff, it’s constantly evolving, great sporting atmosphere, a prolific music scene and a great nightlife (not that I’ve been out in a while).
You’ve been a radio presenter for many years, tell us what got you into that industry?
Well, it was by accident actually, I knew nothing about the radio industry at all when I first stepped into Red Dragon FM, as it was known back in the day. I was working as a promotional girl and by that I mean I was giving out leaflets at the train stations and mini deodorants around Cardiff city centre, that kind of thing. I moved to London because there was a bigger opportunity for promotions. I came back when I was 19 years old and my mum spotted an advert in the Echo that Red Dragon FM was looking for full-time promotional staff and I thought that was brilliant. When I walked through the doors of Red Dragon I had an epiphany moment and thought this was it. Very quickly I got the radio bug and wanted to be on-air and give it the best of my ability. I grew up listening to Red Dragon, I had no preconceptions of what it was and I learnt new skills quickly through the role.
Who were your favourite and worst interview you ever conducted?
I’ve hosted many Q&A’s, which I loved doing, especially sportspeople. I’ve interviewed Anthony Joshua, but my favourite was Tyson Fury. He rocked up to this evening interview in his car with his dad, we had dinner and spoke about the family. Above everything he’s a man of the people, he’s a father, a husband, he’s a mental health advocate and a boxer. He loves telling his story. I love that he’s not a closed book, we know everything about him. He’s so lovely and down to earth.
My worst was Jessie J and it technically wasn’t my fault, it was more Matt. When you interview someone, you have to get them on your side and make them feel that they’re in a friendly environment. Unfortunately, Matt went in with a question “so we’ve heard you and Tom Jones are dating and been having an affair” as this was the time of The Voice being popular, and she went berserk saying “we’re here to talk about The Voice and music and that’s it” and then turned it around on us asking about our personal life and it just became really awkward. We lost her form the get-go.
Tell us about your departure from Capital Radio and how you felt about leaving the popular breakfast show?
Leaving Capital Breakfast was super emotional, but Matt and I were ready to move on, we both had other opportunities available. We left on a high with the listeners, I was sad to leave there after 6 years but excited to start a new adventure. It was no secret that I’d grown up into a bit of a punk and into more alternative music, such as Rock. The reactions to us leaving were overwhelming on social media and it was bittersweet. Radio is such a personal platform and Matt and I really built a friendship with our listeners over the years, because we were real and we all grew up together. Thankfully, we left the show in great hands, and Roman Kemp is brilliant and has around five huge popstars on the show every week. But I do get why everyone was so sad, as we were a daily routine for many people. However, we left on really good terms with Capital and Matt and I are still really good friends.
Matt wanted to head into management and thankfully I had already lined up my next move with Radio X. I always dreamed of being on Radio X and it sounds daft but it was a serious pinch me moment when I was offered a job at that station. It sounds like I have had an easy ride through radio, but that’s not luck, that’s me being realistic in the radio industry and me grafting hard and knowing when it’s time to move on.
Well, it’s a dream come true. My dream was to present after Chris Moyles on Radio X. I remember when I did my first show after Chris Moyles, it was crazy. It was one of those moments when you realise you’re living the dream.
Do you have any advice for those trying to get into the industry?
The advice I would give is to surround yourself with really good people in the industry. Really focus on where you would like to be in the industry, as there are so many avenues to kick start your career. I would say to have the confidence to do what you want to do, for those who want to be a radio presenter, try student radio, community radio or hospital radio to begin with. These stations are crying out for people wanting to start.
You have a very unique style, where do you get your style inspirations from?
Here, there and everywhere. I call it very casual as I’m always in Joggers and a T-Shirt and Vans, but that’s my American influence, as my dad lives in Florida and I’m so much like him. I tend to dress beach-bum chic and I love just whacking on an old T-Shirt and styling it with Vans or trainers and nice jewellery. I never get worried about trying new fashion ideas and fashion is a weird word for me, as I never really care about what people think. I think it’s about how you handle yourself as a person that adds to your sense of style. I don’t care what society thinks, but more often than not, people praise my style and like it.
Thank you! I’m trying to eat a little bit more healthy and going to the gym a bit more. But I seriously don’t think you can prepare that much apart from buying the essentials. It sounds bazar, but I’m in this bubble at the moment of enjoying being a mum-to-be. It’s exciting and daunting and I’m trying not to go over the top with stuff. I don’t have a birthing plan, I’m going to buy my nursery and pram and that’s about it. I feel super lucky as I have a supportive boyfriend, family and network and I am the last person out of my friends to have a baby, so I think we have this covered; although, I’m under no illusion that this is going to be easy.
What’s next for you in 2020?
I suppose that’s down to the child I have, I’m going to have some time off from work but I will definitely be back as radio is my job and working mothers go back to their job. The logistics of moving back to London might be difficult, as I want my child to be born and bred in Cardiff of course, but life is an adventure and I never like to plan in advance. I’ll go back to work when the opportunity s right, but I feel the last 12 years working in radio, I’ve always put it first, but now my priorities will change and my child will be first and being a great partner.
Listen to Polly James on Radio X, Fridays and Saturdays. Radio X is on 104.9 FM in London, 97.7 FM in Manchester and on digital radio right across the UK, on mobile via the Radio X app and the Global Player, online or on your smart speaker.
QUICK FIRE QUESTIONS
What are you currently reading?
A mum-to-be book about unconventional mummies.
What are you currently listening to?
Generally, my playlist is a mix of loud metal filled with naughty words but I listen to Radio X.
What’s the last thing you ate?
I went on a trek to Pen y Fan and had a chocolate bar, eggs on toast and an apple.
What’s your philosophy to live by?
Get stuck in, but don’t leave no mess