Radio Ga Ga
PUBLISHED: 05:46 12 January 2015
His straight-talking and empathy has won him a legion of fans on BBC Radio Norfolk. As he prepares to enjoy his first Christmas with his baby daughter, Nick Conrad tells Rachel Buller why becoming a dad has given him new focus.
Nick Conrad is like a ball of energy, a surprise considering his heavy live radio commitments and the fact he his now dad to six-month-old Erin.
“She is so good, we can’t believe it. She sleeps through and is just so content but I don’t like to say it too loudly in case it all changes,” he laughs.
As he makes tea in the kitchen of his new family home on the edge of Cromer, he says he is clearly thrilled to be back on the coast where he spent his childhood. “I just love it; it has always felt like home. I went down to the sea in Sheringham yesterday with Dad as it was particularly rough weather. He reminded me that we would go to the same spot and watch the waves crashing in when I was a little boy and I was as excited by the sea then as I am now. I hope that will be me and Erin in a few years, creating memories and enjoying the magic of where we live.”
There are few subjects Nick won’t discuss, both on and off the air. We talk about people’s perceptions of racism, about his fascination with bad language and its linguistic power, breastfeeding, the public sector and the debate he had on his show that morning about UKIP.
And all this before the tea has cooled. It is this ability to talk all things to all men that has helped endear him to his army of listeners on BBC Radio Norfolk’s weekday morning show.
“I love that straight-talking format, being able to discuss difficult and sensitive issues which are important but hard to address. It never feels like a job,” he says. “No topic which is off limits. A lot of people would criticise me and say that 9am on local radio is not the place to discuss rape – which we did following the case of footballer Ched Evans – or death. But it is really important to talk about these issues and the feedback tells me it is the right thing to do.
“Maybe it is because my mum died when I was so young I have dealt with grief and the reality of death all my life, but I don’t think you can progress and move on without that sort of frankness.”
His broadcasting skills have seen him host shows on London station LBC, BBC West Midlands and currently BBC Cambridgeshire on a Sunday morning. He has also been a regular on BBC FiveLive, ITV and Sky News. But he says having Erin has forced him to think about his workload.
“I was doing 18 hours of live radio a week on top of all my other work and commuting. I am not moaning because I am lucky to have a job I love, but I want to be a proactive father and wasn’t sure I could do it all.”
The couple had been living in Fleggburgh after buying a ramshackle Victorian house which they lovingly restored – but, says Nick, with a baby on the way, they had to think about the future. Their new house –the exact opposite of what they left behind - is full of photographs of the couple’s travels to far flung places. It was on a three-week honeymoon in Bolivia that Emma discovered she was pregnant, and they met while travelling in Vietnam.
There are also paintings of his beloved Sheringham where he grew up, spending his teenage years living with his grandmother Audrey who he credits with keeping him on the straight and narrow. Nick’s mum died when he was three and his dad moved the family from Norwich to Sheringham to be closer to their grandmother for support. When his father re-married things became strained and, at 16, it was decided Nick would be better off at Audrey’s.
They are now closer than ever and Nick clearly adores his extended family of siblings but it is tinged with a hint of sadness – Audrey, now in her late 80s, has dementia.
“She calls it her forgetfuls,” he says. “But despite her struggles, she still emits this huge warmth and character she always has. She struggles with conversation in a big group because everyone talks very fast and flits between subjects. But one on one she is a lot better and she is amazing with Erin,” he smiles. “I guess Erin doesn’t require anything from Audrey other than love, cuddles and smiles, and happily gives them all back in return.”
On the subject of choosing a name for their daughter, it proved tricky.
“Conrad is actually my middle name – my surname is Brayne but one of my first radio bosses suggested changing it to Conrad as they felt Brayne would leave me open to mockery. But it means we couldn’t have Arthur Brayne – ‘arf a brain’ or Noah Brayne – ‘no brain’ as the poor boy would be teased for life. We went through a lot of names,” he laughs.
Nick got his first radio experience as a 14-year-old pupil at Sheringham High School and by the time he started his A-Levels at Paston Sixth Form College in North Walsham he was hosting his own show. After graduating from the University of Central Lancashire with a degree in journalism, he began working on BBC 6Music, before getting his big break on LBC radio, bringing politics to a younger audience.
As Emma pops into the kitchen to make a coffee she laughs about Nick’s inability to switch off even during labour.
“He began a lengthy discussion about the NHS restructuring with the midwife across the birthing pool,” she says. “I had to put my foot down and tell him to stop.”
Given his clear passion for politics, it seems obvious to ask whether he sees himself as an MP.
“I think it is inevitable,” he says, hesitantly. “I am fascinated by politics but I am always careful not to nail my colours to the post. I have been asked by all the political parties if I would consider joining them – well, apart from UKIP – but my motivation is Norfolk. I would want to be an MP here, not just dropped in somewhere where I didn’t know or understand the needs of the community.”
For now, he is focusing on his first Christmas as a dad and he has grand plans to make it one to remember.
“I am so excited, I want to turn the whole garage into a grotto for Erin, but Emma is not quite so keen at the moment.”