What do MPs and DJs have in common? A lot more than you would
think, according to Paul Simpson, who has just been confirmed as Radio
1’s press and publicity manager.
’They have similar mindsets, but the joy of working with DJs is they’re
more willing to work with you, because they’re concerned about getting a
good publicity solution. MPs think they know best and all you really
need to do is massage their egos in front of the camera,’ he says.
He speaks as an expert on the subject, having been heavily involved with
the Liberal Democrats, firstly as a student, then as a researcher for
Lib Dem MP Simon Hughes. After an initial stint at Radio 1 as publicity
assistant, he became press and broadcasting officer for the Liberal
Democrats in 1995.
Although he says that he is now drained of his passion for politics, LLM
consultant Olly Grender, who was his boss at the Liberal Democrats press
office remembers him as very enthusiastic. ’He was bright and on the
ball, and assiduous in his pursuit of news coverage,’ she says.
It was during this period that health problems prompted a change of
Simpson had been suffering debilitating headaches since the age of 12,
which doctors had repeatedly diagnosed as food allergies or stress. As
they became worse, Simpson felt the only way to cut back in stress was a
major lifestyle change, so he left politics and joined youth charity
London Youth Matters, as press and PR officer.
Finally, in 1997, doctors diagnosed Simpson with a rare condition called
Arnold Khiari which causes the skull to impact on the brain. While
recuperating after neurosurgery and a two-month stay in hospital,
Simpson was approached to rejoin Radio 1 as a publicist. In typically
self-effacing style he jokes about how he was ’headhunted’.
Since the departure of Polly Ravenscroft as head of press last year,
Simpson has seen Radio 1 through some difficult times, from breakfast
show co-host Kevin Greening’s departure, to the shooting of Tim Westwood
- to whom Simpson is close. His philosophy of PR indicates that he is
here for his DJs, to ’promote and protect them’. ’There is a danger,’ he
says, ’if my first relationship is with a journalist.’
It is a quality he brings to his personal life, Grender describes
Simpson as a ’good and loyal friend’.
Now that Simpson’s position has been confirmed, he is determined to put
his ’prints on the way the station works’. His first plan is to recruit
a new member of the publicity team, who will specialise in targeting
dance music press and promoting DJs such as Pete Tong and Trevor Nelson.
He or she will also be responsible for promoting the station’s presence
at live music events.
As far as the existing team goes, Simpson is wary that it should not
merely act as the BBC information service, but should be a ’publicity
machine’. This means more campaigns, linked with on-air priorities. A
restructure at the BBC last year means that the Radio 1 press team also
has responsibility for Music Entertainment on BBC TV, including Top of
the Pops, the O-Zone and one-off documentaries such as last year’s
special on Robbie Williams.
Simpson himself will retain responsibility for promoting the breakfast
show, along with assistant Maxine Benloss, who handles unit
A challenge this year will be introducing listeners to a new host:
former Girlie Show presenter Sara Cox who takes over from Zoe Ball in
While he is pleased with the coverage Cox’s appointment has already
garnered, especially with several broadsheet profiles, Simpson
acknowledges there will inevitably be comparisons between the new show
and its predecessor.
And although he stresses that ratings are not the driving force, he
recognises that the press will make the most out of any change in
It is obvious that Simpson is in his element at Radio 1. As in other
jobs he has held, colleagues have become friends. ’I actually see more
of Paul these days than I ever did at Radio 1, now that the
’professional’ aspect of our friendship has been removed,’ says former
breakfast show co-host Greening. ’He’s a diamond, of a calibre not often
found in this business.’
Now that Simpson has looked after MPs and DJs, there’s only one other
acronym which could tempt him away from Radio 1. That’s FC, as in head
of press at his beloved Leeds United Football Club.
Never one to neglect either of his true loves, when Simpson visits
Leeds his idea of the ideal B&B isn’t the Hilton, it’s the home of DJ
Chris Moyles’ mum.
1993: Parliamentary researcher for Simon Hughes MP
1995: Press officer, Liberal Democrats
1996: Press and PR officer, London Youth Matters
2000: Press and publicity manager Radio 1/BBC Music Entertainment.