Friday, September 07, 2012

Book Review: It's Not What You Think

My earliest memories of Chris Evans are from the school mornings when mum was going out to work before 8am and we spent almost an hour or so over in granny's house before walking round to school. On the TV, we discovered a most colourful, bright and breezy programme, entitled The Big Breakfast, presented by Chris Evans and Gaby Roslin.

Fast forward a few years and Chris was appearing in another completely zany programme (also on Channel 4) called Don't Forget Your Toothbrush where one contestant would depart at the end of the show on a holiday, based on a number of crazy games and challenges. A while later, and there he was back again, in a music and chat programme called TFI Friday.

And then, I hadn't heard tell of him for a while. He had seemingly disappeared from the TV, and was working hard on radio - Virgin and BBC Radio 2 (but only really listening to Northern Irish based stations Cool FM or Radio Ulster, I didn't hear him). More recently he has popped back on TV, presenting the Friday edition of The One Show on BBC 1.

That little diversion was to show that Chris Evans was always there or thereabouts in the background of my growing up. So it was very interesting to read how he got to that place in the first installment of his autobiography, entitled It's Not What You Think. He got that right!

On opening the book (I read it on my Kindle), you're confronted with the contents page - a series of top tens. It's through these amusing and revealing top ten lists that Chris tells his story: 'Dear Reader, for the purposes of bespoke compartmentalisation during the course of this book, where Dickens went for episodes, Shakespeare went for stanzas and the Good Lord himself for chapter and verse, being a DJ I have gone for Top 10s. If it were good enough for Moses and his Commandments, it should be good enough for my book.'

As he summarises his journey to where he was (up and down and up again), he asks how it all turned out: 'For years, as the song went, I did it my way; for years I thought I was bomb-proof; for years I was just plain lucky when I thought I was being a wise guy. Of course I got things wrong from time to time, but I put that down to being part of life's rich tapestry - after all, few of us set out to get things wrong on purpose.'

'Was there a plan? Not that I'm aware of, but then again I suppose there must have been - surely a story like this couldn't occur by chance? Or maybe that's what life is: just one big accident from start to finish and what comes round there corner to his us depends on which road we're on at the time.' He continues to ponder life: 'I am constantly intrigued by this existence of ours and why we are here at all in the first place and therefore, as a result, I am fascinated as to just how far we can take things before we are asked to leave.'

It's interesting that he ponders life, wonders about the meaning of our existence, and even tantalisingly mentions God every so often (in almost joky ways) without making the connection that God is the reason for our existence. Again: 'As far as I can see, life is one big bank account and the best philosophy is just to keep on making deposits whenever you can; be they financial, emotional, occupational, or otherwise. This is the absolute number one way to reduce the risk of disappointment, unhappiness, poverty and loneliness. By rights, I'm not at all sure I should even still be here to tell my tale, but by the grace of God I am, so here goes.'

There are stories of growing up, of his schooling - first at an all boys school until he has to change schools unexpectedly ('When I woke up that morning I had no idea that by the end of the day.... I would now need to find a new school...'), first relationships, and family life. He's open about his dad dying young after a terribly drawn out illness:

'First of all let me apologise for using the term 'early death' as I'm not quite sure whether that's right, it's just something we've always said about Dad. None of us know when we are supposed to die in the first place; therefore how can anyone's passing really be declared 'early'. Surely we are all meant to die when we do die and that's why it happens when it does. The reason I suppose we refer to Dad's death as being early is because he was relatively young, still in his fifties, when he was plucked out for promotion to that higher office in the sky.'

'Dad's disease and everything that came with us continued to happen but now with more frequency and for longer. The sooner any human being is spared the indignity of such a living hell the better - I don't care what anyone says.'

Back to the theme of religion again, as he discusses temptation: 'The Bible may be dodgy in all sorts of other areas but it's pretty much bang on the money when it comes to explaining the evil that is temptation and the devastation it can cause. The destruction of peoples, nations and in this case, as far as I was concerned, the most beautiful love affair the world had ever seen. The apple is there - don't eat the apple. But more importantly don't even think about eating the apple. Basically, just forget apples exist and preferably as quickly as possible. The infection with temptation is perpetuated by the dreaded 'thought'.' While I wouldn't rate him as a theologian - after all, if the Bible is right on this, then it should also be right on overcoming temptation and the remedy for sin - he's probably spot on as he reflects on his infidelity to his school sweetheart.

Still at school, and facing a dreaded fight with another pupil at the end of the school day, Chris turns to God: 'I decided it was time for a prayer.' Through the course of the day, a mishap occurs, leading Chris to think: 'My fingers are obviously broken. There must be a hospital trip in this. It might even be an ambulance job. Hurrah, thank you God, let me know how much I owe you.'

Is God only there in the desperate times of emergency to get him out of a quick fix?

There's also some spiritual advice included from the Dalai Lama and being prepared in advance for a peaceful death...

He's interesting as he describes his journey into radio work, getting his first break by watching Timmy Mallet in action on a Piccadilly Radio (Manchester) outside broadcast and blagging his way into assisting on his programme. There's a moment of realisation: 'Since working in radio I have discovered that the 'on-air turns' have a real dilemma with their self-image: they've spent so many years cultivating their on-air persona they've left their real personality behind.'

Chris' quirky nature comes through as he makes up words, including lowerarchy and bottleable. You'll have to read the book to find the context of those new words! Along the way, Chris tells some funny stories of his time at Piccadilly Radio, Channel Four on the Big Breakfast, Don't Forget Your Toothbrush and TFI Friday, and his time on BBC Radio 1. There's a cast of characters including his love interests, as well as Zig and Zag, Gaby Roslin, Paula Yates, Concorde, Richard Branson, John Cleese, Danny Baker, and many, many more.

The cliffhanger ending comes as he raises the funding to buy out Virgin Radio and launch it as his own project. Will he secure it? How will it go if he does? Book Two will hopefully answer the danging questions!

As an epilogue, there quite a nice touch as some of those characters mentioned along the way get their own back as they contribute a little bit about Chris. At times it was a little cheesy - they're obviously singing his praises - but at least it's not just his story and his side presented.

If you're a child of the 80s and spent the 1990s watching Chris Evans, you too might enjoy this book as you discover how he did all that stuff, and how he got there. It's definitely not what you think! You can get it for Kindle or real book.

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