TONY Blackburn offers a statement that sounds as discordant as a blunt needle hitting a shiny new record. The veteran DJ, one of the most popular figures in UK entertainment, admits to being a natural loner. “I’ve always kept away largely from showbiz,” he admits. “I don’t have that many friends overall to be honest with you. I’m more involved in family life and putting my shows together and at nights I like watching Coronation Street.”

This rather surprising and ironic life, given he’s so much in the public eye, isn’t the result of an ageing man retreating into the dark of his telly room. “No, I’ve always been a bit of a loner. When I was younger, I’d be on my own a lot, listening to music. That’s who I am.”

But who really is Tony Blackburn? No-one can deny that the DJ had had a totally poptastic career, Since opening the mic to Radio 1 in 1967, he’s a DJ who has enjoyed the same level of adulation as those whose records he played.

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Right now, he’s touring the UK, fronting an evening of 1960s classics performed live. He continues to front shows on BBC Radio 2 as well as local and digital stations. He even won I’m A Celebrity back in 2002. But how has the small-framed quiet man with the big broadcasting voice managed to survive in the business – when he himself declares, “I’m not showbizzy at all”?

Is Tony Blackburn the human equivalent of one of those Hallmark Top of the Pops albums of the 1960s featuring a “dolly bird” on the cover, which sort of hit the mark with pop music fans but didn’t stand up to too much close listening? Or is he more Island Records or Motown, focused, with a great USP, and a fantastic game plan?

Consider Blackburn’s performance style; although brought up in Poole and Dorset he began his radio career on pirate ships a couple of miles along the Thames estuary. Yet, he sounds transatlantic. And he’s a DJ so synonymous with cheesy puns and irrepressible tone that Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse couldn’t help but see his pastiche value.

However, despite – or because of – his style, Tony Blackburn has managed not only to be voted Britain’s top disc jockey and collect several Radio Academy awards, but to remain relevant over almost seven decades.

How does he think he’s managed to remain in the groove? “It surprises me as much as it does you,” he says, grinning, of 59 years of dropping needles onto records. “I think I’ve been very lucky. But I think it’s also because I’ve been very enthusiastic about radio, from the pirate radio days of the 1960s, onto Radio 1 and Radio 2.

The Herald: Tony BlackburnTony Blackburn (Image: FREE)

“And the shows I’ve done are very different from the iconic Sound of the Sixties in which I took over from Brian Matthew, and then the Golden Hour. And I do a local network radio show from 2-6pm, plus I do a soul show for Radio London, which I record here at home.”

Gosh, you’re more in demand than mortgage advice at the moment, Tony. But we’ve seen so many radio stars crash and burn. How have you managed (for the most part; see later) to remain in radio space? He cites his former manager as part of the reason. When Blackburn was on Radio Caroline, the boy wonder aroused the attention of elite showbiz manager Harold Davison.

“Harold first asked me to join him and move to the BBC, but I told him I was really happy at sea, with Radio Luxembourg. Then when the government brought in the legislation to block the pirates Harold said, ‘Sign to me and work for the BBC, and I’ll make you their biggest disc jockey in two months.’ Well, the reality was it only took four weeks.”

Davison however didn’t allow success to send the Blackburn head spinning. “Harold was like a second father to me, and he taught me the rules for survival. He said, ‘Be nice to people, keep your feet on the ground. Don’t get carried away with the publicity you’ll get.’ And I tried not to. I also learned a lot from [the late DJ and TV star] Simon Dee. We had been in the pirate ships together, and Simon was a nice guy, but he lost the plot a little.”

More than a little; hubris, ego and E-type flash arrogance saw his radio and TV career implode. “I think he suffered because his manager told him he was a superstar,” says Blackburn.

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That’s a generous statement. But is it an indicator that if you say nice things about people, the longer you last? Over the years, the broadcaster certainly hasn’t thrown angry invective around, although he did find himself suspended from the BBC during the 1973 miners’ strike when he upset half the nation by saying the pit workers should get back to work. (He later apologised and never made that mistake again.) But what of Blackburn’s belief that he’s not really of the showbiz world? Surely, he must have craved access given he was in a band (Tony Blackburn and The Rovers) for three years on leaving boarding school and initially set out to become a pop star himself?

Blackburn doesn’t see any contradiction here; however, he becomes more animated when asked if his on-air emotional breakdown in 1976 – his marriage collapsed and he played breakup records continually (eg Chicago’s If You Leave Me Now) – help seal his special relationship with fans. “No, I shouldn’t have done it,” he says, emphatically. “But I had no-one around to tell me not to. Harold had left for America by this time – he wanted me to go with him, but I didn’t want to leave my son.”

What the nation didn’t know was that both he and actress wife Tessa Wyatt had been having affairs with the partners of their best friends. Regardless, it’s fascinating that Blackburn sort of blames the lack of advice for his poor decision-making. (Also, his excuse for Simon Dee’s behaviour.)

He repeats this defence in his autobiography in which admitted he slept with hundreds of women after his divorce, hanging around wine bars wearing shiny medallions and lots of chest hair. Yes, it was a bit crass. But his reason for the blunder was he wasn’t told not to talk about his sexual conquests.

The Herald: Tony BlackburnTony Blackburn (Image: free)

Is part of Tony Blackburn’s ongoing popularity down to the fact the public love this man-child who hasn’t quite grown up? He laughs as he admits that after his divorce, he lived on tinned lentil soup, Ambrosia rice and processed peas. Yes, he is a vegetarian, but again it’s a bit schoolboy. He doesn’t disagree.

Nor does he disagree with the theory he simply doesn’t like to fall out with people. Yet, Radio 1 in the 1960s and 1970s, was a bed of giant egos. Surely, he must have scratched someone’s record? He thinks and smiles. “The only person who didn’t really like me was John Peel [who labelled his BBC colleague ‘The Devil’] for some reason. I never found out why.”

Peel, with his pirate-outlook insouciance, didn’t take to Tony’s poptastic-ness at all. “Although, one day he said to me, ‘You’ve done so much for soul music in this country.’ And I said to him, ‘Thanks. But will you say that out loud on air?’ And he grinned and said, ‘Oh, no!’”

Yet, Blackburn could be a little devilish. “When John was featured on This Is Your Life I appeared through the door – and I could see the horror on his face.”

What emerges is that Tony Blackburn has less of an edge than an LP record. “I had a lovely upbringing,” he once said of his nice middle-class childhood, with his nurse mum and GP dad. “My parents instilled strong moral values in me. They weren’t strict and I never wanted to rebel – because I had nothing to rebel against.”

Yet, there’s a tough survivor instinct that can’t be ignored. In the early 1980s, Blackburn was dropped by the BBC from breakfast slots to afternoons, all the way down to weekends, finding himself fronting Junior Choice. The man who had found and pushed Diana Ross’s sublime I’m Still Waiting to a Number One chart hit found himself ignominiously playing Puff the Magic Dragon. Depression developed. He admitted he felt suicidal. But he dragged himself back into the game by marching along the road to Radio London, where he broadcast a soul show. It was a huge success and a stream of offers followed.

Of course, Tony Blackburn continued to divide the listening public, just by being Tony Blackburn. Again, hints of immaturity emerged – and certainly cringeyness – with his attempts at being a little risqué, talking a lot about “12-inchers”. At times, he came across as a little vainglorious. He’d go onstage and say: “I’ll stand here for a minute and let you admire me ... I wish I was out there with you, enjoying me!”

Of course, he was having a laugh. And the world knew he was really happy about meeting the new love of his life, Debbie, a theatrical agent, because he told them. Indeed, into the Noughties, life and career played out smoothly, the only little sign of a critical headline emerging in 2004. When working with a Classic Gold station, the DJ insisted on playing Cliff Richard records and was suspended. To be fair to the station, this was pretty heinous.

In 2010, Blackburn finally achieved a move onto Radio 2. “I was 37 when I left Radio 1, and 2 seemed a natural progression,” he said at the time. “So, it’s only taken 30 years.”

Tony Blackburn built on his national icon status but in 2016 his on-air cheeriness crashed. In the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal, several showbiz innocents faced unfounded, false accusations, such as Paul Gambaccini and Sir Cliff Richard. Blackburn was sacked by the BBC. “I only found out when I went in to make a programme and the door commissioner said to me, ‘Sorry you’re leaving.’”

The Corporation said contents of documents from the early 1970s were in conflict with evidence Blackburn gave to Dame Janet Smith’s inquiry into Jimmy Savile’s sexual abuse at the BBC. It was nonsense. Tony Blackburn denied ever being interviewed about an alleged incident in the 1970s. The BBC later apologised, and the presenter was welcomed backs to front shows such as Sounds of the Sixties. How did all this impact upon his head? Blackburn swerves the question; perhaps longevity in the broadcasting business depends upon knowing when not to speak.

Let’s try another tricky question, Tony. How does he feel to be working in an industry that no longer draws from radio experience, where presenters are parachuted in from television? (And even if they lose a million listeners the BBC will keep them on.) “Yes, it has changed a lot,” he said of the recruitment strategy. “It’s not my way of doing it. And personally, I prefer the art of radio, selecting and playing the records. Some people can do both of course. Noel Edmonds was a great example.”

It’s a safe answer. But he got his point across. Let’s go back to his success story. Does he feel that being forever young has helped him hang on so long? He comes across as ageless. “Well, if you look at photographs of me in 1964 you won’t think that’s the case,” he says, laughing. But he retains a boyishness. “Well, I don’t like being 80, but I agree that mentally I’m not.”

His voice becomes dark. “Although I caught sepsis and pneumonia recently and was rushed to hospital and was there for two months, with infected blood which went into my heart. I didn’t realise how unwell I was until I looked up from my bed and all my family were around me.”

His specialist has given him the all-clear. He admits that he’s touring the Sound of the 60s shows just once a week now but loves the chance to talk to audiences about his life in showbiz. Even though he’s not showbizzy.

But looking back, what would he have done differently? Some radio fans have wished they could have his broadcast jingle sidekick Arnold the Dog put down. They have considered his puns to be a proven health risk. “I don’t regret much,” he says, in upbeat voice. “I guess I regret divorce, but then I have my lovely second wife and daughter.”

What about Chop-Chop, that truly awful single you released in 1971? “Yes, people didn’t seem to like that much. And I’ve made 29 singles and two albums, and none of them sold very well.” He laughs hard. “Here’s a big regret; I couldn’t get the Radio 1 DJs to play my records.”

So, what’s the secret of Tony Blackburn’s achieving the status of radio legend? It’s down to the fact people really like Tony Blackburn, even if his personality suggests a compilation album of so many different traits. Chat reveals he is empathetic, a good listener, a feeling underlined by a quote he once gave. “I lived by myself, and I experienced loneliness. I think it’s quite a good thing to have had that because then you can feel the way other people feel.”

There’s no doubt he’s an immensely sensitive character, despite the big, cheery, transatlantic delivery. He offers a final thought. “I’m really about going into a studio and playing records and talking nonsense.”

Tony Blackburn’s Sounds of the 60s live show heads to Edinburgh Usher Hall and Glasgow Kings Theatre this month 10

RADIO 1 STARS OF THE 1960s AND 1970s

Noel Edmonds: Straddled radio and television effortlessly with shows such as Deal or No Deal and amassed an £80m fortune. But his career faced a major setback when a contestant on his show The Late, Late Breakfast died after a bungee stunt went wrong.

John Peel: The former pirate radio DJ developed a career playing eclectic, offbeat music, which he knew would offer him a niche position. Peel died in 2004, aged 65.

Simon Bates: At his peak, Bates pulled in 11m listeners to Radio 1. The 76-year-old then moved on to a series of commercial stations, now appearing on Boom Radio.

Ed Stewart: An early success at Radio 1, Stewpot moved to Radio 2 and became the frontman of Junior Choice. He died aged 76 in 2016 after suffering a stroke.

Kenny Everett: Joined Radio 1 in 1967 but the impish unpredictability of Everett saw him exit Broadcasting House and move to television where he became a national treasure. He died from Aids-related illness in 1995.

Stuart Henry: The Scot, a one-time actor, was a Radio 1 star in the late 1960s before moving to Radio Luxembourg. However, his battle with MS was lost in 1995.

Johnny Walker: The former pirate broadcaster joined Radio 1 in 1969 and today still broadcasts his Sound of the Seventies show on Radio 2. The 78-year-old has survived a battle with cancer.

Alan Freeman: Fluff Freeman became the voice of Pick of the Pops, the Australian managing to enthral a nation of excited teenagers each Sunday. He died aged 76 in 2006.

Dave Lee Travis: Travis became a massive Radio 1 star in the Seventies, before moving on to commercial radio with Magic FM. A conviction for a sexual offence meant his contract was not renewed.

Jimmy Savile: Died in 2011, went straight to hell.