Nick Grimshaw: My job is all about “celebrity fluff” – but the Teen Awards are different

The X Factor judge has a whirlwind life of celebrity friends and A-list appearances, but his latest project is where his heart really lies

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Nick “Grimmy” Grimshaw is supposed to be talking about the Radio 1 Teen Awards, but there’s a problem. He’s just recorded an interview with Justin Bieber for the station’s breakfast show and the Canadian crooner has mistakenly left his phone in Grimshaw’s possession.

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Although he’s doing his best to eulogise about the Awards – which celebrate the achievements of everyday teenagers – Grimshaw is more than a little distracted, constantly peeling off to liaise with PAs and drivers on the best way to resolve this very A-list problem. 

“Justin’s at Claridge’s. Shall we drop it off for him? Then we can drop the clothes off for him as well. OK, let’s take it to mine and they can come and collect it, whatever, OK, OK. I’m SO sorry about this,” he says, turning back to me. “It’s been quite the day.”

It sure has. He started the morning with Adele and the much-hyped first play of her new track Hello on the Radio 1 Breakfast Show. Then came his date with Bieber and now he’s off to rehearse for tomorrow’s X Factor live show. (Grimshaw joined the series as a judge earlier this year.) Add to that the recent launch of his capsule collection for Topman and it’s hardly surprising that there’s an air of the headless chicken about him. 

“I leave the house at 5am and get home at midnight. I was really ill recently and someone was like, ‘Well, we don’t have time to go to the doctor’s so…’ It’s ridiculous!”

With Team Bieber en route to retrieve the phone, he turns to the Teen Awards, an annual ceremony honouring both the year’s best music and three “unsung heroes” – teenagers nominated by the public for their courage in the face of adversity.

Among this year’s winners is Rosie, a committed fundraiser living with incurable brain cancer. “I’ve known family members with cancer and it’s all-encompassing, but Rosie has done extracurricular stuff. As a teenager with multiple inoperable tumours that’s outstanding, because I think an adult with cancer would struggle to do anything.”

Grimshaw will host the ceremony from Wembley Arena but insists it isn’t just another presenting gig.

“The Teen Awards are one of the reasons I wanted to work at Radio 1. It has a conscience and a social message rather than just getting you to press ‘play’ on songs. A lot of the time in my job you’re hearing celebrity fluff, and I think teenagers get a bad press, so it’s nice to hear from real people who are doing incredible things. We’ve picked stories that are important topics for families to talk about at the kitchen table.”

Grimshaw is a firm believer in the power of conversation to break taboos. As a boy, growing up in Oldham, he knew he was gay from an early age and talks with refreshing nonchalance about his sexuality. “I never felt as an adult that I even had to come out. I only feel like you’re coming out if you’ve been married, or pretended you were straight… I never had any false thoughts in my brain. I didn’t have three kids and then go, ‘Guess what guys?’ There were no bulletins to be delivered because it was all I ever knew.”

In his rare time off, Grimshaw is frequently snapped leaving London’s most exclusive nightspots with a gang of A-list friends that includes Kate Moss, Harry Styles and Douglas Booth. His Instagram page shows them lounging by infinity pools and devouring Sunday roasts in country pubs. How does he know that he hasn’t fallen prey to the world of “celebrity fluff” of which he’s so dismissive?

“It’s funny, you do become friends with people who are celebrated as celebrities because you’re in an industry where you’re with them all day, in the same way that dentists would become friends with dental nurses, you know? I mean, Florence [Welch, lead singer of Florence and the Machine] I’ve known for years, and then when they get super-famous, it does look like, ‘Oh, he just hangs out with famous people.’”

He also has a firm grip on the perils of celebrity and its potentially toxic influence on the teenagers. “Fame is a tricky one. If you’re Amy Winehouse and famous for writing great songs, that’s great but it blows my mind that so many people engage with someone like Kim Kardashian. She’s got nothing to say, no opinions on anything. I’d hate teenagers to think that’s the way to be happy because it’s not – it’s fake.”

Grimshaw with One Direction’s Harry Styles

Who does Grimmy look up to? “Someone like Miley Cyrus. For all the rolling around in her knickers, she actually has a conscience and founded her own charity for transgender youth. When she hosted the MTV Video Music Awards this year she got all the kids to come on and speak. Just putting transgender teens on TV to middle America is very powerful. 

“And after spending the morning with Adele, I would say her as well. She’s 100 per cent into being herself. I think that’s something quite heroic – to be cool with yourself.”

And with that, he’s off to be measured for the suit he’s wearing on The X Factor this weekend – another element of the whirlwind celebrity lifestyle that he so clearly loves but which, to his credit, he knows isn’t quite real. 

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BBC Radio 1’s Teen Awards are on Radio 1 Sunday 8th November at 3pm, and on CBBC at 5:30pm