Desert Island Discs in numbers: top tracks and strange luxuries

As the show celebrates its 3,000th edition, here are some fascinating facts about the 72-year-old broadcasting staple. Can you guess who asked for a suicide pill as their luxury item? And who wanted a stuffed version of Michael Palin?

Desert Island Discs has just celebrated its 3,000th edition with a broadcast featuring the legendary and highly decorated former Royal Navy test pilot Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown CBE.


It is an important landmark in the life of Radio 4’s much loved series, which began life nearly 73 years ago and is one of the longest-running interview programmes in the world.

Since the first edition – recorded in the BBC’s bomb-damaged Maida Vale studio on 27 January 1942 – notable guests have ranged from Aung San Suu Kyi to Elton John, from Nicole Kidman to Stephen Hawking.

And they all followed the same format: discussing their lives with the host (Sir Roy Plomley was the first followed by Michael Parkinson then Sue Lawley and now Kirsty Young). Guests also all have to choose their favourite eight records, a luxury and a book other than the Complete Works of Shakespeare and the Bible to take with them as they are marooned on an imaginary desert island.

Among the many intriguing choices for a luxury item have been a suicide pill (Stephen Fry), a continental railway timetable (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959), a Union Jack (Barbara Windsor, 1990), tweezers and a blow-up chair (Ant and Dec, 2013) and a stuffed version of Michael Palin (John Cleese, 1997).

Former Doctor Who star David Tennant chose a solar DVD player loaded with the seven series of The West Wing.

And to mark the 3,000th edition, here are some of the most memorable facts and figures about the show:

How many tracks have been chosen?

In the 3,000 editions recorded since January, 24,000 tracks have been selected by would-be islanders.

Who has been interviewed most?

It is permissible to appear more than once. But only two castaways have been interviewed four times: comedian Arthur Askey and naturalist Sir David Attenborough.

Which is the most requested track?

Since 1942 the top requested track is Beethoven’s Symphony No 9 in D minor ‘Choral’, which has been chosen 99 times, closely followed by Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No 2 in C minor which has been chosen 84 times.

Who is the most popular artist?

Beethoven accounts for four of the top eight most requested tracks in the show’s history, with Symphony No 6 in F Major ‘Pastoral’, Piano Concerto No 5 in E Flat Major ‘Emperor’, and Symphony No 7 in A major his other three most requested tracks.

However, the most requested artist is…Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. His name has appeared at least once in the selection of 825 castaways, compared with 732 people who have chosen Beethoven and just 264 people who have included The Beatles in their selections…

Who was the most egocentric guest?

This was probably the late English concert pianist Dame Moura Lympany whose eight records were…. eight of her own recordings.

What is the audience’s favourite record?

In 2011 more than 25,000 Desert Island Discs listeners picked their most popular tunes and the winner was… Ralph Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending followed by Elgar’s Enigma Variations.

The list of the 100 favourite records did not contain a single entry from Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson or Madonna.

What are the most popular luxuries?

A piano is the most popular luxury choice – and has been selected 189 times by musicians or people who want to learn the instrument. Those selecting it have included Clare Short MP and Dad’s Army writer David Croft.

A guitar has been chosen a mere 89 times.

Goggles or a snorkel set have been chosen 25 times including by singer Chris de Burgh and presenter Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.


Chocolate has been chosen just nine times by guests, including athlete Dame Kelly Holmes and Labour politician Lord Healey.