I’ve always loved having heroes. You know; the expectation and idolisation. It’s a dreamer’s world. And since this is the time to reflect on the last 12 calendar months, I’m going with heroes. These are the people who have inspired and kept me going throughout the last year.. and, although this criteria also describes my family, I’m not going to include them in this list. I write about those guys all the time.
As well as looking for heroes, I’m also looking for something good to listen to. Here, in my first hero, I found both. Rachael Bland was the presenter and mastermind of this year’s award-winning podcast, You, Me and the Big C. She was diagnosed with an aggressive strain of breast cancer and had been undergoing cancer treatment since 2016. Despite being a journalist and newsreader at BBC Radio 5 Live, I’d never heard Rachael Bland before. Wait. I might have heard her read the news. Typically smooth and flawless… that stuff goes right through me. But put her in this podcast… and get the mega-watt spotlight out. She SHINES.
Rachael shared her podcast with two ladies also undergoing cancer treatment; Deborah James and Lauren Mahon. They’d met blogging, but before You, Me and the Big C, Deborah and Lauren never been on radio before. With Rachael as their guide, they quickly found their broadcasting rhythm. Experiences around cancer were explored; the chemo, their family and friends, the doctors, alternative medicines, intimacy and pain. Nothing was off topic. Even death in the end. Rachael died in September.
Rachael husband Steve said that it took the end of Rachael’s life to produce her best professional work. And if this sounds potentially glib, Rachael whole-heartedly agreed with this before she died. She made no bones of the fact that it took the threat of death to make her podcast number one. Yet, although she had a seasoned eye on the ratings chart, this podcast was much, much more than a popularity game.
Rachael spat in the face of cancer. Her journey was often self-deprecating, funny and always honest. And here’s the thing. She didn’t have to share any of it with us. It got increasingly and intimately personal as the stakes got higher… not that she’d let that ruin our listening experience. There is something to be said about the dignity and defiance of giving in. All the while staying as radio-cool-as-a-cucumber, getting those guests through, ushering in interviews, keeping Debs and Loz as well-behaved as possible (just a look from her was suffice for silence, these two often cheeky ladies like to say).
I’ve listened to these podcasts. And re-listened. And I’m listening to them again.
‘Why do you keep listening to it?’ Lulu asked me on the way through the kitchen. Her eyes were in the drawer, looking for mid-evening, television-break snack.
‘I’m not really sure. I just can’t stop listening,’ I said.
And it’s true. I don’t really know why I keep listening. After all, I didn’t know Rachael Bland personally. I shouldn’t really have missed her so much when she died. But I truly feel that this world is a lesser place without her with us.. possessing the kind of integrity I could only have conjured up before. It exists. Even if our Rachael isn’t in this dimension anymore.