The producer enters the studio. ‘Well done you two, that’s the re-takes done. It’s a wrap.’
‘Thanks, Brad,’ said Kirsty and gestures to me that I could take the headphones off.
‘Was that OK?’ I ask.
‘Fine,’ she replies.
‘My record choices weren’t too, you know…’
‘Seventies and Eighties? Don’t worry, most Radio 4 listeners were around long before they were hip. Come on, let’s have a post-recording coffee – it’s as showbiz as we get on Desert Island Discs.’
Together we walk to a green room with comfortable chairs, where Brad stands behind me and pours the drinks, telling me how good I’d been, and how recent appearances by other ‘castaways’ have reinvigorated their careers. For an actor who seemed to be offered fewer and fewer parts these days, this was music to my ears.
I sip my coffee. It has an unusual taste. Well, we’ve all heard the jokes about the BBC canteen. I start to feel a bit strange…
I awoke goodness knows how long after, to the screeching of birds. Where the hell? And god, my head! I knew it was hot, but I wasn’t at the BBC – it was an outside kind of hot, but I soon drowsed back to sleep lying on what seemed to be a floor of sugar. When I came to again, the two halves of my brain were least starting to fuse together, and I was able sit up and started to take in my surroundings. It wasn’t sugar at all, but white sand, and in front of me twinkled a perfect Chelsea blue sea, while at the top of the sand stood palm trees. Wherever I was, it was beautiful. I’d no idea how on earth I’d got here. Next to me sat a wooden box. I lifted the lid to find a wind-up gramophone and some records. I went through them and swore out loud; they were the eight songs I’d chosen for my appearance on Desert Island Discs. Packed by their side was a copy of the Bible and the Complete Works of William Shakespeare, neither of which had appealed on the show, but Kirsty had given me no say in the matter. I pulled the box up to the tree-line to be safe from the tide, and went walking to see if I could find out where I was.
Three hours later, I’d circled an island and found no sign of human habitation, not even a phone box from which I could get my agent to find out exactly what the hell Kirsty Young thought she was playing at. All I’d seen were squawking birds taking off in all directions as I approached, and plenty of bushes covered in oranges. I ate several while I walked. They were delicious.
I sat down in the shade, wound up the gramophone and played the first record. In hindsight, Gilbert O’ Sullivan’s Alone Again (Naturally) probably wasn’t the most inspiring choice. As I lifted the needle off I was immediately hit by the silence, every bird seeming to have disappeared in those three minutes. I played Abba next as it was a bit more upbeat, and as I listened it gave me an idea. I ran to the beach to collect stones and shells to spell out a message on the sand and catch the attention of any passing aircraft. To my amazement, when I got there I saw the letters ‘SOS’ were already marked out, just as I’d pictured them. I was sure they hadn’t been there earlier and there were no sandy footprints to indicate who might have done it.
No planes passed that day. Come the evening all I had really done was put off reading the Shakespeare, and eaten enough oranges to quench my thirst and to some extent, satisfy my hunger. I felt lonely, so turned to the gramophone and played Dancing Queen hoping that a voluptuous Swedish blonde might appear though the surf. As it finished, I heard footsteps behind me. I turned to see not a tall, bikinied beauty, but a dumpy man pirouetting across the sand in an extravagantly camp manner.
My heart sank. I couldn’t believe it. It was Louie Spence – all stubble and leotard.
He twirled and demi-détourned as he told me he’d been at home, jitterbugging across his lounge when there had been a ‘poof of smoke and a bang, and the next thing I knew I was on this tropical island, Duckie.’ He didn’t seem upset about this at all and pranced into a few more pivoted half-turns.
I offered him oranges and we tried to work out what we should do. A cool wind whipped up which made me think that we really needed some shelter. I asked after his practical building skills, knowing mine to be abject. I could see in his eyes that we were going to struggle, so reached for the records to cheer us up. The next one was We Built This City by Starship, its jolly refrains having the desired effect. It was getting dark, so we collected some palm leaves for blankets and had a couple more oranges. I slept soundly, disturbed only by strange dreams of rumblings and underground tremors.
I was woken by a high pitched ‘eek!’ It was Louie. He excitedly told me he’d been warming up for the day with some chaines turns when he noticed some large white buildings through the trees that hadn’t been there last night. We ran over to take a look. There were dozens of these mysterious buildings, all shaking rhythmically as if over an earthquake. We’d no idea how they had got there. We searched but found them all unoccupied, but through the ground and shaking the buildings was the continued rhythmic beat of 50’s music.
‘That’s it!’ I shouted, recalling last night’s song. ‘We built this city. We built this city on rock and roll. The lyrics in my records are magical here, so whatever I play, the words come true!’
‘Oooh, good job you didn’t choose Monster Mash then,’ said Louie.
I chuckled, making a mental note to destroy the copy of My Ding-a-Ling as soon as I could.
I went through the remaining records – there were only three left to get us through the remainder of our incarceration. We sucked on some more oranges. Delicious as they were, I was starting to get a bit fed up of them.
Two days later, my whole being was feeling orangey and sick of Louie’s unbreaking chatter about the paso doble and ballet pumps, I turned to the record player for solace. Within an hour of playing Frankie Goes to Hollywood, two tribes had arrived on long rowing boats. They seemed hostile towards each other, and weren’t enamoured by the two of us either, and tied us to trees as hostages on different sides of a clearing. Bless him, I could see Louie’s little feet still managing to tap out some River Dance steps despite our predicament.
One tribesman examined the gramophone with suspicion. By chance, he turned the handle that revolved the turntable and brought the next record to life.
I knew Louie would know it.
‘Sing it, Louie!’ I shouted, ‘For God’s sake SING IT!’
We belted out the strains of I Will Survive like two divas at a Newcastle Karaoke as if our lives depended on it, which they probably did.
Both tribes fell to their knees in fear as not only did I possess a magic box containing an evil goddess, we could both match her incantations as they emerged from it. It seemed that we were not only to be spared, but given royal tribal status.
The months passed by. Louie taught one tribe to dance to the lessons he read them from the Bible, whilst I swallowed my fear of Shakespeare and coached the other to stage a thoughtful performance of Taming of the Shrew. All the time I was getting more and more fed up with oranges. Then I remembered the book I had chosen on Desert Island Discs. I reached to box and fiddled around underneath the gramophone and found the copy of Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. It was beside the solar-powered satellite navigation device that I’d also forgotten I’d requested from Kirsty as my one luxury item.
Sure enough, by the next morning, the trees were also hanging with apricots, loganberries, cape gooseberries and pomegranates. Though the oranges had meant we’d never catch scurvy if we all lived to be a hundred, the tribes still relished the change in diet as a gift from their bountiful new king, and granted me my every whim.
Naturally, my first diktat was for them to prepare me a succulent fruit salad. I was not disappointed, and after devouring the juicy amalgam, I pronounced my second edict:
‘I wish to go home,’ I said, ‘and find that Kirsty.’
‘That Curtsty’ echoed the tribesmen, who were clearly unaware of the Scottish hellion, who’d done me up like an Arbroath Smokie. I declared that Louie would stay. I felt sure this was what the good people of Britain would want.
Next day, the tribes had prepared a boat, teamed by eight rowers and with a large consignment of guava, cherries and nectarines in the hold. I packed the gramophone and final disk, pointed my satnav to the sun and aimed for home.
I prevented our upturning by a school of halibut bent on capsizing us by playing a well-timed Don’t Rock the Boat’ in the Bay of Biscay, but finally we made it, along the Manchester Ship Canal to BBC Media City, Salford, a whole year after my castaway.
Refusing to be stopped by Security, I burst angrily into the studio, only to find Kirsty Young interviewing Phil Collins for Desert Island Discs.
Sensing the crooner of dreary songs was no doubt about to choose a solid gold wig for his luxury item, I calmed myself and thought of the crimes he’d committed against popular music, and whispered ‘sorry!’, before unselfishly backing out to leave them to it.
Poor Phil. I hope he likes oranges.