Say hello to Clara Amfo
Winning TV quiz Pointless, playing basketball with Justin Bieber, crying over Oprah Winfrey – it’s all in a day’s work for Radio 1 DJ Clara Amfo. Muddy is enamoured with its new BFF.
We’ve got a soft spot for Clara Amfo, the warm, effusive 33-year-old Radio 1 presenter who does the weekday mid-morning slot, which includes the brilliant Live Lounge. She’s also hosting BBC Music’s four-day festival The Biggest Weekend, which takes place in Coventry, Swansea, Perth and Belfast (see, the cool stuff isn’t always in London, as we always tell you at Muddy!) over the Bank Holiday weekend.
We called her up to have a chinwag about faking it at work when you’ve had zero sleep, the truth about teenagers, selfies with Oprah and that time she talked about ‘big dick’ live on air. Hey, we’ve all been there.
Morning Clara, how’s tricks?
I was working at the BAFTAs last night, I’ve only had two hours sleep and I’m now on my way film an episode of Pointless, aargh! But I’m fine.
Tell us about The Biggest Weekend?
It’s supersized from last year. It’s usually The Big Weekend but this year it’s all the stations coming together, Radios 1, 2, 3 and 6Music, to celebrate music. It’s in four cities around the UK and I’ll be in Swansea, with Sam Smith, Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift. There’s this perception that everything happens in London but we turn up in these different places and turn it into a party for two days.
You’re a festival veteran – what’s your favourite memory?
I’ve been to a few! I hung out in the circus area at Glastonbury one year and went trapezing. That was amazing. And one year I got to sit on the stage and watch The Jacksons perform up close. Seeing them do their dance routines and all those hits was just fantastic.
What’s your top tip for surviving a festival?
I always have rosehip oil in my bag – it’s re-injects a glow to my skin and it’s good on my hair too. I like making my own beauty products at home. I make this mask from Aztec Indian healing clay (you can get it from Amazon or Afro-Caribbean hair shops) mixed with apple cider and it leaves your skin really soft.
What’s the biggest weekend you’ve ever had?
My birthday party last year – I can rinse out my birthday for at least a fortnight. All my mates came out and we just didn’t stop. I ended up with three cakes. And then I went back to work and the thing with Radio 1 is it’s an office full of feeders so there was a lot of birthday cupcakes in the vicinity.
You party animal!
The thing about me is that I’m not a massive drinker. I do enjoy a G&T but I don’t need to get wasted to have a good time. Music is my vibe controller – if I go to a club and the music is boring I will happily go home.
Which of your Radio 1 colleagues is the wildest?
Everyone thinks it’s Nick [Grimshaw] but it’s probably me! People think he’s out all the time but he has to wake up really early to do the breakfast show. I probably do go out the most. Out out!
So you can do live radio on two hours sleep then?
If push comes to shove, I can. Three hours I’m good, two hours I can survive. After the BRIT Awards this year, I had two hours sleep but Nick and his team were the straight through crew. Another year when I came to work after The BRITS, Nick had Rita Ora and Stormzy with him and the studio was strewn with pizza boxes. They were eating pizza for breakfast. What a mess!
What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever done live on air?
Once I called the band Lukas Graham a ‘one hit wonder’ to their faces. Which technically they were – they had that huge song 7 Years. I thought, Oh shit, that’s a bit rude but luckily the singer had a sense of humour. I also once said ‘big dick’ by mistake – there is this DJ called Eats Everything who had a track called Big Discs. He called it that on purpose because he knew it’d be problematic! I thought, Right, I won’t be the one to mispronounce it. But I was.
What’s your career highlight?
We got Jay-Z on the Live Lounge last year. He’s a hero of mine – not just for the music but because he’s such an impressive businessman. And he’s married to Beyoncé which, c’mon, is his biggest life achievement. He had this lovely calm about him.
Bands always do a cover version on the Live Lounge – if you had to do a cover version, what would you do?
I love singing so much – but sadly I can’t sing. I’d sing Love On Top by Beyoncé – those key changes and her range are just incredible.
Is that your karaoke go-to then?
Listen, I’m the karaoke queen, mate. Mariah Carey is go-to for karaoke. I love her.
What’s your earliest Radio 1 memory?
Lots of people who’ve now become my mentors gave me some of my earliest radio memories. I adore Sara Cox. As a woman you’re often told you can only do one thing but she does it all. Coxy could be a stand-up comedian if she liked, she does TV, radio, she tours clubs. It’s so inspiring.
Lots of Muddy readers have teenage children and lots of your listeners are teenagers. What have you learned about that generation?
Not to underestimate them. When you’re forming your opinions and trying to find your place in the world, you’re not going to know everything but don’t underestimate the empathy and common sense that a lot of teenagers have. Most are really switched on when it comes to things like politics and mental health issues. Social media is a gift and a curse for teenagers – it’s a hotbed for rampant narcissism but for conversation and knowledge it’s amazing.
What were you like as a teenager?
I was kind of weird and quite mouthy. I questioned things a lot and challenged teachers. I loved being around people and being the class clown but I also enjoyed solitude and being in my room listening to music for eight hours. My mum would get on my nerves. It was all, ‘Why don’t you wear this dress?’ ‘Don’t tell me what to do. Go away!’ The usual stuff.
We’re bored of our playlists – what shall we listen to?
I love the female voice. I adore Solange, the new Janelle Monáe album is a work of art and I like Kelela – she’s like Janet Jackson meets Aaliyah. And Jessie Ware is a good friend of mine and has the most beautiful voice.
Best celebrity encounter ever?
I met Oprah! My God! It was at the A Wrinkle In Time premiere and I was sitting front row while the cast were talking. At one point, she pointed at me and said, “You!” I said, “Who, me?” And she gave me a thumbs up. I think it was because I kept smiling at her. At the end, as they were leaving, she came over and talked to me. I actually started crying. Oprah was the first person I ever saw on TV who made me think, ‘I could do that too’. It was because she looked like me – representation is so important for all women. You want to see women who look like you.
Did you get a selfie?
I absolutely did. She checked it afterwards but of course she looked amazing- she had this aura of wealth and knowledge.
If you were queen of the world, what’s the first law you would pass?
I would make sure all men and women get paid the same for what they do. And I would ban people from eating hot food on public transport. It does my nut in. I don’t care if it’s a fancy wrap from a posh deli or chicken and chips – get out.
Muddy readers are outside The Big Smoke – does this London girl ever make it past the M25?
I don’t know how to drive to my shame. I walk everywhere, ride my bike or get the Tube. There’s a perception that Radio 1 DJs get chauffeured around but it’s not the case. I’m crushed into someone’s armpit on the Tube every day. But while I love the chaos of London, I would like to get a little cottage in the Lake District and go and read books.
Read anything good recently?
I worship Zadie Smith and loved NW. I went to New York last weekend – my brother married a New Yorker and I was his best woman – and I was walking down the street in the West Village and saw Zadie Smith. We caught each other’s eye and I wanted to tell her that she made me love reading again and that I’m a huge fan but she was with her family so I thought I’d leave her to it.
You meet a lot of famous people – thoughts on fame?
It’s so unnatural, isn’t it? People are deified because they do a public-facing job. I always think you’re only as famous as you act. It was interesting meeting Justin Bieber and seeing the machine around him. I went to his house in LA and we played basketball together and he opened up to me. He’s been famous since he was 12 – what a surreal, tumultuous life.
What’s next for you?
More radio, more telly and you might see me writing something. I’ll always be invested in youth culture because it’s what I love – gigs, new films, new music, new TV. I’m aware that I’m not going to be at Radio 1 forever but that’s not scary, it’s liberating. I’d like to manage and produce artists and I’d like to work for Oprah’s network. That’d be a joy.
Good luck for Pointless!
Last time I went on my partner was Trevor Nelson and we won. This time I’m on with Ella Eyre and she’s a smart cookie so I’ve got high hopes. I’ve got my Pointless winner trophy above my kitchen sink so everyone who comes round sees it. It’s next to my framed photo of me and Pharrell Williams and my Glamour magazine radio personality award – all my career highlights!
The Biggest Weekend, 25-28 May