Radio

Scott Mills: "My confidence was non-existent when I joined Radio 1"

Radio 1 star Scott Mills on being painfully shy, coming out - and the 'terrifying' Strictly Come Dancing

I got my first radio job, at Power FM on the south coast, when I was 16, as soon as I left school. I’d been volunteering for a year, helping out. Then I got this letter from the boss saying he’d seen me working, everyone had told him how helpful I was. He said, send me a demo and I’ll make you a star. I’ve still got that letter.

So I did a demo, which I think was awful, but out of that I got the coveted overnight show, between 1am and 6am. Chatting to myself in the middle of the night, alone in a big building in this eerie industrial estate in the middle of nowhere, just off the M27. It was a pretty solitary existence. But I loved it. I was on the radio.

My love life when I was a teenager was almost non-existent. Though I did get a boyfriend when I was 17 and we lived together in Southampton. Yeah, I did everything early! I guess I was old before my years. It did end in heartbreak a little bit because I had to move away. In terms of romance, I’m not the kind of person who would just go and talk to someone, I’m just not. And with this job, it does give you a slight suspicion – what is it you like about me?

Looking back, I’d tell my teenage self to have more confidence. It took all my courage to go for this job. I think the reason I chose radio was that it was a way of talking to loads of people without having to meet them. You hide behind the microphone. I was a horrendously, painfully shy kid.

Scott Mills in the BBC Radio 1 studio in 2011. Photo: Steve Bowbrick

My confidence was non-existent when I joined Radio 1 and I still have an element of shyness. I used to be completely terrified of doing interviews. I lost sleep over it. I wanted to do radio because I liked the idea of being locked away in a little box, having all these one-to-one chats with people over the country. That’s what appealed to me. But having to interview big stars like Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran… that’s a very different thing.

If you told the 16-year-old me he’d be on Radio 1 one day, he’d laugh in your face. I remember when I finally did do a demo for Radio 1 in their studio, I couldn’t relax, my nerves completely got me. I walked out thinking, well, I messed that up. And I didn’t hear from Radio 1 again for two years. So I was sure I’d blown it. But I was quite persistent. I kept sending them tapes. Then they took me out for dinner, something that had never happened to me before. And they offered me a job. Then they paid for a cab home. I was like… ohh, amazing! I couldn’t believe it. I remember being in the back of a black cab, ringing my mum in floods of tears saying: “You’ll never guess what’s just happened…”

I was advised to ‘come out’ when I was working on early breakfast at Radio 1, before anyone really knew who I was. It was 2001, it was kind of different then. I’d like to think if it was now it wouldn’t be any kind of issue, I wouldn’t have to do this ‘coming out’ interview with a magazine. I remember feeling quite terrified before that article came out, wondering what the fall-out would be. And I did get some negative emails. It feels like a different world now. I just never get anything negative at all.

I’ve done things just to prove to my 16-year-old self I could do them. The idea of me going on stage in front of thousands of people would have given me crippling anxiety. So I think I have conquered a lot of my fears. If you’d told me I’d do Strictly Come Dancing… No, I’d have said I just can’t. When you do it, you’re aware it’s going out live and 14 million people are watching, and when they play that little 90-second bit of film before your dance: “Here’s what Scott and Joanne have been up to.…” The feeling you get in that 90 seconds is the worst fear I’ve ever experienced. It just feels like impending doom. You know you’re about to go out there and do something you’re not good at, under lights, with a live audience and millions watching at home. I was absolutely terrified.

I had a bit of a problem with drinking too much when I was on early breakfast. You need to be careful working at a time like that. No one is on your time zone. I felt myself getting into a rut – do the show, get four hours’ sleep, go to the pub, go home, sleep, go to work. It was a weird time because I felt I’d been doing that show for a really long time – it was five years – and I began to wonder if I would ever get off it. It’s great when you’re the bright new talent. You think, great, I’ll do this for a couple of years then they’ll move me up. But it wasn’t happening. I began to really worry it would never happen, that I’d missed my chance. But then Sara Cox didn’t come back from her maternity break and I got the drive-time slot.

I was advised to ‘come out’ when I was working on early breakfast at Radio 1

I find it easier to talk to people on the radio than I do in real life. I get people saying to me in real life: “Oh, you’re a bit quieter than I expected.” But I think when you’re doing entertainment radio, you should always try to be the person you are at a great party, on brilliant, sparky form. You have to be like that on every show, every day. And sometimes that effort leaves you knackered. And it’s a weird job, doing that when your personal life isn’t good. And you have to deal with that but still be this fun person on air. That can be difficult. The kind of radio I do doesn’t have room for bad moods. But when I start, radio just feels so natural. It’s like breathing to me.

If I could go back and relive any time in my life, it would probably be the last week of the Strictly live tour. It was the nearest I’ll ever get to being a pop star, ushered around, told where to go, where and when to eat. I’ve never experienced anything like that and I wished it could have lasted longer. I performed at the O2 Arena! That’s mental. I had this sudden thought, what am I doing, dancing onstage at the O2?

The audience vote for the best dancer at every show, so obviously I’d never won once during the whole tour because I was the most rubbish out of everyone. But on the last show all the other celebs told the audience to “please vote for Scott”. And I won! I got to lift the glitter ball from the arms of Craig Revel Horwood! For someone so shy, not a natural-born performer, that was quite a moment.

Scott Mills can be heard weekdays, 1-4pm, on BBC Radio 1

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