It’s hard to believe that in just a couple of weeks’ time, Leicester will host performances by a smorgasbord of musical stars including Kylie Minogue, Tears for Fears, Busted, Soft Cell, Jessie Ware and Rick Astley as Radio 2 in the Park comes to the city. The line-up for the huge, two-day event also features Bananarama, James Blunt, Texas, Deacon Blue, Beverley Knight, Pretenders, Shalamar, Lemar, Sam Ryder and Simply Red.
And at the heart of the action, along with his fellow Radio 2 presenters, will be Leicester’s own superstar DJ, OJ Borg. OJ, who joined Radio 2 full-time in 2018, told LeicestershireLive in an exclusive interview he was thrilled the event was coming to his home city – and specifically to a park he often played in as a child.
Talking about when he learned the big news, he said: “I found out very late because I think they were worried I wouldn’t be able to keep it a secret, because obviously I’d get very excited, I’d tell my mum, I’d tell all my family and I would have given the game away before it was released!
“The fact that it’s in Leicester, in what I think is such a fantastic city, the fact we’ve got something like this coming is brilliant. It felt growing up through the ’80s and ’90s that we didn’t get anything, like all the radio roadshows didn’t come to Leicester.
“The fact it’s going to be in Victoria Park, the park that I hung out in as a kid playing basketball, is truly wonderful – and believe me I’ve shoe-horned the fact that I’m from Leicester into every conversation since it was announced, to the point that people have eye-rolled,” smiled OJ, talking to us via Zoom from his boss’s office at Radio 2.
Aside from spending whole days playing basketball in Victoria Park, OJ recalled visits to Bradgate Park when he was a young boy. Once he was old enough to get a job, he earned his beer money working in many of Leicester’s bars of yesteryear.
This included being a glass collector in Brannigans, where he accidentally stepped on Leicester R&B star Mark Morrison’s foot. “He was really lovely about it and he complimented my matching waistcoat and bow tie that we had to wear as glass collectors. He had such a bad rep, but I met him a few times and he was always lovely,” said OJ.
“Then, pretty much any new bar that opened, I worked in – so Edwards, Tabasco Jazz, Voodoo, Fat Cat. I never lasted long, weirdly. I don’t know what it was about me!
“My favourite job I ever had was being the lighting guy in Krystals for one day and I got sacked at the end of the day.” The reason? “I couldn’t work out how to turn the smoke machine off.”
OJ grew up in Leicester’s St Andrews estate – between the Royal Infirmary and Filbert Street – and in Rowley Fields, off Narborough Road. He became interested in broadcasting after getting a taste for talking on air on Leicester Royal Infirmary’s Radio Fox.
“I did a show with a friend of mine, Niall, and I loved doing it. It was the first time I’d ever broadcast. The first time I did TV was the oft not-remembered Leicester Cable 7. I had a club show called Coo Ca Choo where we went to nightclubs and reviewed them. I did a weather report as well. It was so low-fi but brilliant.”
Aged 19, OJ left Leicester for Salford, where he did a degree comprising two years of media performance and one year of professional broadcasting. He broke into the world of broadcasting by doing traffic and travel for various radio stations in Manchester, which led to a job presenting the evening show on Kix 96 in Coventry.
He then returned to Manchester for his first TV job, with MTV, before heading to London to work on Nuts TV. OJ’s CV also includes a year-long stint on Kerrang Radio in Birmingham, where he co-presented the drive time show with Kate Lawler and was part of the team that won Sony Gold in 2009.
OJ presented the National Lottery shows on BBC One before moving into esports coverage, which led onto some shifts at Radio 2. OJ said he spent around five years covering shows on Radio 2 before being taken on full-time – and he still has ‘pinch me’ moments about being part of what the BBC describes as “the UK’s most listened-to radio station”.
“For a long time, I couldn’t believe I was part of the line-up, because all the people I’d grown up listening to – Zoe Ball, Sara Cox – you listen to them and then you realise you’re on the same station,” said OJ.
“I went to the first presenter party and it was all I could do not to ask people for autographs. I didn’t want to be that guy. I do my show from Manchester, I’m from the Salford Riviera, and everyone else is down here. I didn’t want to be the out-of-town hick going, ‘Can I have a photo?’ It took me a while to feel like I belonged, and that’s got nothing to do with anyone else – that’s just me.
“Radio 2 is such a warm place to work. It’s become a cliche saying the word ‘family’, but it is. It feels like everyone’s got time for everyone else. I’ve worked at a tonne of radio stations over the years and it’s never felt like that. Considering the size of some of the names here, I wouldn’t have thought that that would be a thing.”
At Radio 2 in the Park, gig-goers will be able to see OJ DJing on stage both days, and he promises that he’s going to try and weave in as many “Leicester classics” as possible – so maybe we’ll hear his old mate Mark Morrison’s Return of the Mack. He’ll also be doing the late night shows, wrapping up the event of each day.
“I’ll be doing performances that have gone on, things people have missed, texts from people who’ve been there – very much everything that’s happened over the course of that day,” said OJ, who is also very excited to be introducing James Blunt, together with Gary Davies.
OJ says he didn’t get to choose who he introduced, but given the chance, he reckons he would have picked Mr Blunt. “It was back in 2017 he was playing another Radio 2 event, in Hyde Park and he was cast adrift on the crowd. He basically crowd surfed on a Union Jack dinghy, so I’m hoping that comes back again,” said OJ.
Talking about his reaction when the musical line-up was announced, he said: “I thought it was perfectly Radio 2. Again, no-one told me who was on ‘cos I’d have given it away immediately. I think it’s great, I think it spans everything we do at Radio 2 – everything from Kylie to Tears For Fears.”
As for who he’s most looking forward to seeing, he’s in no doubt: “Soft Cell. Absolutely Soft Cell. I think they’re amazing.
“Sam Ryder, I think, is just the most amazing artist live. Whether you dig his music or not, you’ve got to see him live. He’s got the voice of angels, hair of the gods,” smiled OJ.
He and the rest of the Radio 2 team will be staying over in the city during the weekend of the event, and there’s already been talk of him and Vernon Kay hitting the town once the Victoria Park action has come to an end on the Saturday.
“I bumped into Vernon today and I was like, ‘Mate, should we try and see if any of the old haunts I used to go to are still there!’ He was like, ‘Yeah!'”
OJ mentions Bar Gaudi, which has closed, and Fan Club – which he’s pleased to hear is still open. So, if you head there on Saturday, September 16, keep your eyes peeled as you may well see two familiar faces on the dance floor.
Radio 2 in the Park is in Leicester on Saturday September 16 and Sunday September 17. Listen live on Radio 2 and BBC Sounds, and watch on BBC iPlayer.