Desert Island Discs: six memorable political castaways

A selection of political highlights from the Desert Island Discs archive


27 Jan 2017

Over the years, numerous politicians have appeared on Desert Island Discs, and thanks to the BBC’s exhaustive archive these episodes, and many more, are available to download and listen back to. Here are six notable political castaways…

Margaret Thatcher, 1978
Thatcher appeared on the show with its creator and original presenter Roy Plomley when she was leader of the opposition. Her selections veered towards the classical, with music by Dvorak, Verdi and Mendelssohn making the cut. Her book of choice was a survival manual and her luxury item was a photograph album of her children. Listen here.

David Cameron, 2006
Cameron was also leader of the opposition when he went on the programme, interviewed by Sue Lawley. He was keen to showcase his indie credentials, picking songs by the Smiths and Radiohead. Neither of these bands have since returned the love – in 2010 the former’s guitarist Johnny Marr took to Twitter to ‘forbid’ Cameron from liking the band, while the latter’s lead singer Thom Yorke warned Cameron that if a Radiohead song was ever used in one of his election campaigns he’d ‘sue the living s*** out of him’. Listen here

Gordon Brown, 1996
A mixed bag of music and artists from Brown, including the Beatles, Bach and the Liverpool Cathedral Choir, who was a decade away from pretending to be a fan of the Arctic Monkeys. Music aside, the episode makes for fascinating listening with Lawley at one point (around the 30 minute mark) asking the then-single Brown why he wasn’t married, raising the question of whether the future prime minister was gay or had ‘some flaw in his personality’. Listen here

David Cameron on the show (Getty)

David Cameron on the show (Getty)

Ed Miliband, 2013
Kirsty Young got Miliband to open up about the rift with between him and his brother that opened up after they both decided to go for the Labour leadership. Yet the real headline from this episode is the ropey nature of his musical choices. After the Arctic Moneys fiasco, the Labour press office clearly went for a ‘let Ed be Ed’ strategy. The results weren’t great; A-Ha’s Take on Me was an awful choice, but that was nothing compared to the pure evil of Robbie Williams’ Angels. Listen here

Enoch Powell, 1989
Powell didn’t, you might be surprised to hear, choose a load of Bob Marley tracks as his desert island favourites, instead going for a list that included four pieces by Wagner. The episode is well worth listening to for Powell’s tense exchange with Lawley about the ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech. Listen here

John Major, 1992
Last time Desert Island Discs celebrated a major milestone – its 50th anniversary – it was the prime minister who was invited on the show to mark the occasion. An interesting chat ensued about Major’s childhood (including how he used to run bets to an illegal bookie in Loughborough Junction tube station) and his rise to power. However, what truly marks out this episode is the eccentric choice of luxury item – the cricket-loving PM requested a full-scale replica of the Oval and a bowling machine to take with him. Listen here

Six more to download
Alan Clark, 1995
Tony Blair, 1996
Theresa May, 2014
Aung San Suu Kyi, 2013
Edward Heath, 1988
Peter Fluck and Roger Law (Spitting Image creators), 1987