Presenter: Margaret Cabourn-Smith
One of the most successful structures for interview-based radio programmes is to ask guests about items around a common theme, revealing more about the guest in the process. Whether it’s songs in Desert Island Discs or pet hates in Room 101 (which has reverted to this radio format after several reinventions for television), the topics are gateways into an exploration of a celebrity’s psyche.
For comedy actor Margaret Cabourn-Smith, her podcast Crushed uses unrequited love. Her guests talk about their childhood crushes – from pop stars to teachers and schoolmates – and in doing so, reveal more about themselves than they may have intended.
For Cabourn-Smith’s live episode as part of the annual London Podcast Festival, the presenter warms up the audience with talk of her own crush, Ryan Reynolds, and a tale of getting to meet him (the actor being co-owner of Wrexham AFC, and the club’s executive director being Cabourn-Smith’s friend, the comedy writer and actor Humphrey Ker). It’s a great piece of self-deprecation, warming up the audience.
But the core of her show is, of course, her chat with her guest – or guests in this case, as for the live recording she interviews journalists Caitlin Moran and Sali Hughes. The two guests are good friends (“We talk several times a day”) and have clearly shared each other’s crush history many times before now. That ease with each other is reflected in a similar openness to Cabourn-Smith’s prompting.
As it is, the presenter keeps the conversation structured even as Hughes and Moran freewheel over the loves of their youth. Hughes talks of being enamoured of a fellow six-year-old, but more because he was the son of her favourite teacher than of any intrinsic qualities. Moran, who was homeschooled for most of her childhood, talks about her sexual awakenings and exploration, in terms that avoid the attitudes of shaming that women are traditionally made to feel. She talks of preferring the term “lady sex pirate” over any more demeaning description of a sexually active woman.
Generally, though, the conversation is more about sexiness than about sex itself. Crushes discussed range from pop stars – Johnny Marr, Graham Coxon – to more unconventional figures. Jerry Leadbetter from 1970s sitcom The Good Life is a case in point. His relationship with his wife Margot is deemed a huge selling point, with his satisfaction in being partnered with a confident, self-assured woman earning him the title of an “alpha wrangler”.
Other conversation topics include the fox Robin Hood in Disney’s 1973 animated feature and the merits of 1980s hip-hop fashions. Moran also details her encounter with the late Jeff Buckley, while all three women discuss the tempestuously romantic lives of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.
The evening ends with the pair revealing their ultimate crushes – for Moran, Paul McCartney, while Hughes opts for Beastie Boys’ Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz – and Cabourn-Smith undertakes a bit of schoolgirl numerology to evaluate each woman’s compatibility with their crush.
The final scores matter as much as their reliability, which is to say not at all. It’s merely a final flourish in the episode’s format that allows Cabourn-Smith to draw discussions to a close. These particular guests could, one feels, talk for far longer. But within the time constraints, the Crushed format works as expected: producing wide-ranging, revealing conversations that are never anything less than heartily interesting.
Reviewed on 15 September 2023