It’s the day after Aled Jones’s first radio show in his new Sunday-morning slot, and he is still relishing his welcome from Classic FM listeners. Hundreds of friendly messages arrived during the show, he explains – via email, text, Twitter… and poultry. “We had a tweet from Floella the hen, who was listening to the show while sitting on her digital radio,” says Jones. “We found out that it’s a lady who has this pet hen, who lives inside the house and is a massive classical music lover… Something I never thought I’d talk about on the radio.”
Jones, 42, has returned to Classic FM, taking over the 9am-to-midday Sunday slot from Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, after six years hosting Good Morning Sunday on Radio 2. Floella’s flappy contribution helps mark a distinct difference in tone from the BBC show, which had an earlier slot – from 6am to 9am – and religious as well as musical content.
“I can afford to be a little bit more relaxed,” says Jones. “People are more or less up, or listening to you in bed. It’s not a breakfast show. Good Morning Sunday was very much a programme for people of faith – and no faith. A spiritual, uplifting programme. But the music I played yesterday spoke for itself – the minute you hear Elgar’s Nimrod, you think, ‘Ah, that’s stirring stuff.’”
Jones smiles at the thought. In fact, he smiles almost constantly – even when denying press reports that he has given up religious broadcasting and was fired from the BBC.
“Well, it’s news to me,” he says cheerily. “I was on Songs of Praise last night, and I’m on Songs of Praise next week, and soon I’m recording School Choir of the Year for them, too. My contract at Good Morning Sunday wasn’t renewed – I’d come to the end of my contract, and that was that. It was probably impossible for me to do six early mornings a week, to be honest with you.”
The other five mornings a week are what sparked reports of a schism with the BBC in the first place. Last September, Jones became co-presenter of ITV breakfast show Daybreak, with Lorraine Kelly. His Monday-to-Friday schedule gets him out of bed in Barnes, southwest London, at 4.45am to be on the air at 7am. (Jones has four alarms to wake him up, and getting out of bed at 7.45am on Sunday for Classic FM feels, he says, “like a lie-in”.)
To hear Jones talk about Daybreak, you wouldn’t believe it has been one of the most troubled shows on TV since it was launched, with much fanfare and the ill-fated team of Adrian Chiles and Christine Bleakley, in 2010. Since then, poor ratings have claimed the scalps not only of Chiles and Bleakley, but of two programme editors in quick succession.
Jones shrugs off any notion that he was, perhaps, an odd choice for the Daybreak role because he isn’t a journalist: “What makes a journalist? It’s not difficult asking the hard questions. The art is asking them in the way that you’re going to get the answer. Anyone can shout at a politician – you’re not going to get anything out of them. The way to get the best out of a politician is to make them trust you, then ask the killer question.”
He points to a series of exclusive human-interest interviews – including the father of the medical student who was raped on a bus in India, and the father of murdered EastEnders actress Gemma McCluskie. That editorial strength, says Jones, means that it would be wrong to say that BBC’s Breakfast offers a better mix. “They may have in the past,” he says, “but I definitely don’t think they do now.” And Daybreak’s ratings are showing signs of hope, regularly peaking at over a million viewers.
Another thing that has changed at Daybreak, it seems, is the presenters’ pay. When ITV poached Chiles and Bleakley from the BBC, it was reported that they’d been given £1 million-a-year deals. So is Jones on £1 million a year? “No, I’m not.” How much? “I’m not going to tell you that. Christ almighty, I’d never ask you how much you’re on a year.”
Even in the face of such impertinent questions, Jones is still smiling. And he seems genuinely cheery about the real reward of his early morning starts: a predictable work schedule. “Having that structure in my life is lovely,” he says. “I play tennis three times a week now. I pick up the kids from school – that didn’t happen before.” Jones and his wife Claire have two children – Emilia, who’s just turned 11 and is already carving out a showbiz career of her own on the West End stage, and Lucas, who’s seven.
Jones will also be singing once again as he embarks on a cathedral tour of the UK next month. He is a committed member of the Church of England but says that, ironically, his singing career has put him off ordinary parish services. “I don’t go to church on Sundays,” he says. “I would love to have that weekly thing, but I’ve been spoilt, I suppose, all my life – I only really feel at home if I’m going to an evensong in a big cathedral, where the choir’s really fantastic.”
Jones also admits that he doesn’t pray in a structured way. “I don’t get on my knees, and I don’t pray every night. There are times when I pray – I pray for other people quite a bit. I’m pretty simplistic about my faith.” Then he breaks into another smile – a broad, self-deprecating smile. “I’m basically pretty simple,” he chuckles.
Listen to Aled Jones’s Classic FM show on Sundays from 9:00am