“The Mighty Duck trilogy?

“What is it?

“Oh yeah, Emilio Estevez? I’ve never seen an Emilio Estevez film.”

Can anyone talk their way out of this one? Is the person sat opposite me, a staple of popular culture in the many guises of television, radio, journalism and the Big Brother radio show, really suggesting that they have never seen any of the Mighty Ducks series?

For the last thirteen years Iain Lee has been at our side using his sharp tongue and gentle nature to guide our generation through adolescence. His first major television role was co-hosting the satirical Channel 4 show, ‘The Eleven O’clock show’ in 1998 and now in 2011, Iain can be found four nights a week talking to you over your wireless on Absolute Radio.

Night club bouncers never looked friendlier

“I remember going to see my careers advisor at school. He sat me down and asked me what I wanted to do with my life.”

Iain said actor, the careers advisor said Prison Officer.

Iain won.

The ever humble Iain has worked alongside some of the elite of British comedy. Sasha Baron Cohen, Ricky Gervais and Mackenzie Crook, just to name a few but while his own career may not have gone the same way as his peers, he still thinks fondly of them.

“I used to listen to Ricky Gervais on Xfm on a Sunday, laying in bed and laughing. He auditioned as co-presenter on The Eleven O’clock show and lost out to Daisy Donovan but thankfully ended up doing short sketches on the show. I don’t really get in awe of people but Ricky is a genius, he is out of this world. I’m sad I don’t see him anymore but I am delighted that his career has taken off how it has, I miss hanging out with him.”

Everybody started somewhere and Iain started his working life at 15 at Bejam, a predecessor of frozen food giants Iceland, “I used to have to count the crinkle cut chips in the walk in freezer every Saturday afternoon. I’d be in their crying it was that cold, after that I worked at Safeway or Asda, I can’t remember and then went on to cleaning test tubes in a laboratory, which I hated because one of the cleaners really used to bully me.

“There is a period in your life, between being sixteen and twenty-one, twenty-two where you’re stuck doing these shit jobs and you think, what is the point? People do these jobs forever and I am so lucky I haven’t ended up doing that for the rest of my life. Turning up at 5am to clean test tubes and being bullied by a cleaner, it was horrible, just horrible.

“It’s rare that I have ended up doing what I wanted to do. You need determination but more than anything, it is luck. I’ve seen people with no talent get far and people with a lot of talent get nowhere.”

When Iain left college he had no money but he managed to stay in London beyond his studies due to the then generous, housing benefit scheme. He used to do stand up but he couldn’t make the money to get himself out of debt.

“After stand up, I did local radio but I found it very depressing and then I had the audition for what was to become The Eleven O’clock show. I was living between several houses, I was in a lot of debt. I owed my Mum a lot of money so I decided that if I didn’t get it, then I would go out, get a proper job and get myself back on a plateaux of being all right, financially at least.”

He got it.

Iain clearly is someone who enjoys his work, “My best job? That has to be RI:SE (the short lived Channel 4 morning show that replaced The Big Breakfast).”

The show was critically acclaimed despite not being as popular with the public as its predecessor. Two of Iain’s heroes, Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer once
wrote a review saying that RI:SE was a great show and that Iain was hilarious.
“Having that vindication from two of my heroes made it worthwhile. It upset me that people thought it was shit because I still think that it was a really funny show.”

“It was just so much fun, I did it for a year but it took me three months to get into it. I’d never done a live two hour show with no autocue before but after three months, it just clicked. In TV, everyone takes themselves so seriously but I figured out, I realised that it wasn’t important, it just didn’t matter. It was me showing off to my mates, interviewing pop stars and having fun. I learnt to relax.”

“They had two beautiful girls (Kate Lawler, Iain’s co-presenter and Zora Suleman presenting the news) and a big lanky twat (Iain, in his own words) jumping around and winding up pop stars. There are worse ways to make a living.”

When ‘Have I got news for you’ were having rotating presenters, Iain was approached to host the show. “I said no and my excuse was that I would be up at 3am to rehearse for RI:SE and would be too tired. It wasn’t true, I was just scared. I thought i’d be found out as a fraud.

“I kept expecting someone to tap me on the shoulder and just say, we’ve found you out. You got here under false pretences and now we want you out. That’s why I said no, I thought if I put myself up on that stage, i’d be found out. That is my biggest regret.”

This interview was arranged after I emailed Iain via his website (http://www.iainlee.co.uk) and with a strong following on both facebook and twitter, Iain appears to have embraced social media as a way of interacting with his fans and followers but it is not always a positive experience.

“People can be angry, they can be negative but they don’t always know where to focus that. I am one of, if not the only show on the radio that allows people to come on and say that they think the show is crap.”

“Some people don’t realise that it’s all an act. When I am at home with my wife and kids, I sing my little boy songs on the ukulele. I used to be cocky, particularly when I was on television, but I was a lot younger then. I’ve got a family now, I am a lot more settled and comfortable with my own life.”

Talking to celebrities on twitter or facebook can provide, to the fan, a valuable insight into their lives. This is a double edged sword as for every compliment or kind comment, Iain receives something that can be tantamount to abuse, “Last night someone messaged me and called me a c*nt. This is why I occasionally retweet the nasty comments I get so that people can see what I can face by giving this instant access to my life. People can come, metaphorically, to my front door, kick it open and call me shit. If you’re having a bad day then you just don’t want it. Twitter can be a dangerous place, most of the time you brush it all off but sometimes it can affect you.”

Away from the spotlight, Iain recently made efforts to become a primary school teacher. He applied, had an induction evening, he went and spent a day in a school meeting parents and teachers but then he got offered his current four nights a week show on Absolute Radio.

His ideal job though is somewhat surprising if you have only seen him on the television, but after meeting the man and listening to his radio show, it just seems to fit, “I would love to be a programme controller for a speech based radio station. I could responsible for the output of the station, responsible for who is on there. I’d get people like Danny Baker, Tommy Boyd and Clive Bull, that would be my ideal attainable job in the future.”

“To people on the outside, it must look like I have had it pretty good and at times, I have. I’ve done things that appeal to my interests, the Lost podcasts, my retro gamer articles and other things but for a long time I suffered from a lot of depression related to my career. The people I used to work with have seen their careers take off in different directions and for a while, I was lost.”

Iain appears to be grateful for where his life has taken him, the ups have been great and the downs have been awful and sitting with him for an hour was a journey from glory to doom and back again. He is often portrayed in interviews as grumpy but I think this is because people insist on portraying him as the one that didn’t make it.

If I make it to thirty-seven years of age with a four nightly national radio show, columns in magazines writing about my favourite things and a family that I love, then I sincerely hope I don’t make it, in the same way that Iain has before been portrayed as not having made it.

Interview conducted by Dominic Stevenson (@dom_stevenson)

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