Leading the way

Denise Headley behind the mic at LBC
Denise Headley behind the mic at LBC

How a call to a phone-in show led to a guest host slot on a national radio show

A podcaster who rang up a national radio broadcaster to discuss the Black Lives Matter movement ended up co-hosting a show on the same station.

Denise Headley, a former Labour and Conservative councillor in Enfield, is a benefits advisor by day but hopes to launch a broadcasting career. She seized her opportunity when LBC host Iain Dale began discussing Black Lives Matter demonstrations back in June.

Denise told the Dispatch: “There was a conversation on the radio about Black Lives Matter and how the protesters were not socially distancing. I rang up Iain Dale and said he had a ‘prism of whiteness’ and he didn’t see the perspectives of the people who were marching and the people who had a negative experience of systemic racism.

“Iain Dale said he felt he was able to understand a different viewpoint from talking to me. The person who owns the radio show, his father was listening and they said they would like me to come in. It was a galactic experience – the stars aligned.”

Denise was invited to co-host a one-off show but did such an impressive job she’s been invited back several times since – and is now eyeing up a regular slot on the airwaves. She is a presenter on Colourful Radio, a podcasting platform for people of colour, but said: “It is massively daunting to go from a podcast to talking live to a quarter of a million people.

“The first show was an hour and now in total I have done five hours of radio. I am getting some training and I would love to have a career in broadcasting – I am a very talkative person anyway and I’m very political.”

Followers of local politics may recall Denise’s twelve years as a councillor in Enfield, during which she quit Labour to join the Conservatives in 2009 after being de-selected by her old party. She continues to be a member of the Tories but has been critical of its under-representation of black people, as well as similar issues in the media.

Denise said: “There is no black version of [Andrew] Marr or [Robert] Peston. You don’t see black political commentators.

“The Conservative Party has to understand it is the internal structures because that is where the problems lie. They need to have far better monitoring of their selections. It is a plague on all our houses – it’s a problem in all political parties.

“If you are seen as being black and ambitious in this country, people are afraid of you. I want there to be conversations about race from people who have experienced it and lived it.

“Now my face is pressed against the window. It doesn’t mean I am there yet. Since Black Lives Matter there have been more appearances on TV for black people but what I don’t want to see is what I call the ‘Dr Oetker approach’ – sprinkles on the top when the cake is the same.

“The whole cake needs to change.”