Media Profile: Upping the celebrity stakes - Sarah-Jane Passingham, executive producer, TFI Nightly

Virgin Radio is in chaos. The band Shed Seven are tuning their guitars in the bar, DJs are pacing the studios rehearsing the day’s show, and Nike-trainer-shod runners dart around the building clutching mikes and mugs of tea. Out of the madness steps Sarah-Jane Passingham - a little flustered but clearly loving the adrenaline rush. ’It’s been a crazy week,’ she beams.

Virgin Radio is in chaos. The band Shed Seven are tuning their

guitars in the bar, DJs are pacing the studios rehearsing the day’s

show, and Nike-trainer-shod runners dart around the building clutching

mikes and mugs of tea. Out of the madness steps Sarah-Jane Passingham -

a little flustered but clearly loving the adrenaline rush. ’It’s been a

crazy week,’ she beams.



’I’ve been working 11-hour days and I’m knackered.’ The reason for the

red-eye is TFI Nightly, a new week-night entertainment show which

Passingham is producing for Ginger Group-owned Virgin Radio. The

45-minute slot, which first went on air last week, is an offshoot of

Chris Evans’ madcap TV programme TFI Friday but Passingham is at pains

to explain that TFI Nightly, which is presented by Virgin Radio’s

Drivetime presenter Harriet Scott, is not a copycat radio version and

will have separate content.



’It may have the same feel but it is a different show with its own

identity,’ she insists.



Having said that, TFI Nightly begins with the same theme music as its TV

counterpart and serves up a similar mix of interviews with Hollywood

stars (Andie McDowell, Andy Garcia, Jennifer Lopez), live music sessions

and quirky bits. The difference is the radio show is London only and

even more celebrity-obsessed. Roving reporters catch West End film

premieres, restaurant openings and parties - as long as there is a

famous name to chat to. Making a promise to produce ’the best radio

entertainment show ever’ may seem rash but Passingham has the

credentials to make it happen.



Now in her early thirties, she has made a name for herself in radio as

both a producer and a presenter. Seven years’ freelancing took her from

Radio 1, where she was entertainment reporter, to Unique Broadcasting,

where she produced the Pepsi Chart Show, and she even put in a spell in

front of the camera hosting a Saturday morning youth show called Music

Box. In 1997, she joined Virgin Radio to produce the Russ and Jono

Breakfast Experience. When the duo split up, Passingham worked on

various pilot projects until the idea for TFI Nightly emerged just three

months ago.



’Sarah-Jane is a clear-thinking, well-ordered and extremely innovative

individual, she’s up there with the best of them and the great thing is

she has worked on both sides of the microphone,’ says Russ Williams

(ex-Russ and Jono), who now has his own Virgin Radio show.



Each day Passingham receives a mailbag stuffed full of correspondence

from PR people, but is crystal clear about what she wants: celebrities,

celebrities, celebrities. ’We are upping the stakes,’ she explains. ’We

don’t just want to give away film preview tickets - we want the winner

to meet the star of the film as well. If PR agencies have an event

involving a celebrity, we want him or her in the studio, not on the

phone. It sounds harsh but unless it’s a big deal we won’t give it any

airtime.’



Williams has heard it all before. ’Sarah-Jane doesn’t suffer fools

gladly,’ he adds ’which is probably why she isn’t working with me any

more.’



HIGHLIGHTS

1995

Freelance radio presenter and producer

1997

Producer, the Russ and Jono Breakfast Experience

1999

Executive producer, TFI Nightly



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