strangest thing in John Peel's bathroom isn't the CDs...
EA Magazine, March 31, 2001
SO keen were DJ John Peel and his wife, Sheila,
to flee celebrity-driven London in the late sixties that they took
to the road in a Land Rover in search of a home in the country.
The only reason they ended up in Suffolk is
because in those days it was one of the cheapest areas to live within
striking distance of the capital. Sheila had been teaching while
John fresh from DJ-ing in America had joined both Radio London
and the new Radio One in 1967 and had to be in London during the
week. We spent two-and-a-half years looking for something, recalls
Sheila. We used to sleep in the Land Rover because we couldnt
afford to stay in hotels.
You could pull into a lay-by and go to bed
and you were quite safe, recalls John. Now it would be madness.
Some of the houses they saw werent even worth
slowing down for but when, tired and dirty from travelling, they
found an old farmworkers cottage near Stowmarket, they decided
it was worth a closer look. We parked in a lay-by at the top and
looked down, says Sheila. The people that lived here then were
a major and his wife and we were absolutely panicking because we
thought we cant cope with that.
and Sheila have a way of telling stories in parts, a habit that
has developed over 30 years of being comfortable together. Sometimes
the information comes at you in waves.
John: We looked and smelled awful.
Sheila: We knew we had to get back to town
but we looked round it. By that stage I wasnt interested.
John: It was something like the 52nd place
wed looked at.
Sheila: But as we pulled away, John said: Thats
it. Thats where were going to live.
John concedes he had a nice feeling about it:
It wasnt too big and I just like lots of little tiny rooms, really,
which is what it was in essence.
Still is, says Sheila.
At that time they had no plans to have children
and it just felt right. So right, in fact, that they did have children
four of them. And with a menagerie of pets and Johns burgeoning
record collection, they found themselves adding bits on to the house
and expanding their garden so they now have a grand estate of 10
acres. Except it isnt grand; not the cottage, nor the grounds.
Its just a place that feels like home as soon as you walk in.
the children having grown up and flown the nest William, 25, in
Newcastle; Alexandra, 23, at university in Brighton; Tom, 21, in
Sheffield, and Florence, 19, with a place at Liverpool for the autumn
term John and Sheila wont move under any circumstances. John
believes its important for the children to have something constant
in their lives no matter what they get up to. Because I remember
when my parents divorced when I was 16, what my brothers and I were
more upset about was having to leave the house. We could cope with
the splitting up of the parents because they didnt spend much time
Also, says Sheila, if you look in just a
few rooms youll see it would be impossible for us to move now because
weve got so much stuff in this house that we could never ever do
And the idea of changing their style to suit
the latest fashion is alien to them.
Oh no, no we dont, says Sheila. When we
get something else, we never get rid of things either, so were
bursting at the seams.
The overall impression on walking through the
back door into the kitchen is deep pink, which I take to be a favourite
No, no, says John. It makes us sound like
Jayne Mansfield. In fact, his favourite colour is dark green which,
according to Sheila, he would gladly have in every room, though
she has managed to restrict it to the bathroom and the living room
The warm colours are a recent thing.
For years and years and years it was just white
and the beams and that was it, says Sheila. Then suddenly we decided
that wed go mad. She opens the door to the living room and sitting
room and both are painted a bold orangey shade from the Fired Earth
range. The kitchen was meant to be the same, explains John, but
after they were flooded (for the third time) by the nearby stream,
they were just keen to get it re-decorated in any colour.
We wanted to get back to normal, says Sheila.
We had 10 weeks of having to live in this room because these de-humidifiers
were just humming away.
About 40 years ago, the house was apparently
derelict and open to the skies, as people in the village remember
playing in it as children.
It means much of this timberwork is fraudulent,
says John. These beams were bought from the beam shop. The kitchen
was tiny, with a separate dining room, when they moved in, but is
now a large family area with an Aga at the centre. There was a
dear old Aga when we came but it was on its last legs, recalls
Sheila. Six years ago it was giving up the ghost so we splashed
out and bought a new one.
John says he cooks nothing worth publicising
so Sheilas efforts are obviously much appreciated.
Both are vegetarian, though Sheila says she
only gradually stopped eating meat after she met John.
And the children I brought up as meat eaters
but, actually, they dont tend to eat meat now anyway and Floss
(thats Florence) is vegetarian now. They enjoy an Indian takeaway
now and again but tend to eat in more than out.
John starts reminiscing about the large pine
cupboard bought from Bury St Edmunds in the snow. You were pregnant
and its an incredible weight, he says to Sheila. Fortunately it
split in two. The remaining kitchen furniture was installed by Dargan
Mosesson, the son of family friends.
He absolutely adores wood, says John. He
would come in and be caressing the wood with his eyes shut and you
felt it was a great wrench for him to actually incorporate it into
a piece of furniture.
John says the dining chairs are a bit of a bone
of contention, but I never worked out why, unless it was because
Nellie, the old English sheepdog puppy, insists on eating them.
You have to take the seats out every night,
he says, while also showing me what the dog has done to the table
|...it's the rhino
Piles of CDs lurk behind many latched cupboard
doors and others line the walls of a dedicated library. They are
even piled up in the large downstairs bathroom, which was once part
of the driveway. Dominating all else in the room, however, is the
plastic rhino given to Sheila, fully inflated, by her eldest son,
It was in the hall for ages and we were squeezing
past it, so, then, seeing as we never use the exercise machine,
it sits on that. Model pigs add another touch of eccentricity to
what is obviously a cherished part of the couples house.
John feels fortunate that these days he can
present his Radio One show live on a Thursday night from his studio
at home as well as recording programmes for overseas and the World
Service. The producer told him not to sit in front of the window
because the acoustics would be all wrong. But John was having none
I said I dont care. Im not worried about
acoustics. I want to be able to sit there while Im doing the programme
and look out of the window at the meadow.
Sheila didnt immediately settle into village
life. Moving directly into London from her birthplace in Shipley,
near Bradford, she had never lived in the country or even set foot
in Suffolk. I must say the first year I thought that Id made a
mistake. I couldnt get used to it. It was dark and it was quiet.
Id had quite a good social life down in London and I thought God,
what have I done? But then once Id got to know people, and got
used to it, I cant imagine being anywhere else now.
At first they thought they would never manage
the mortgage. They paid 10,250 for the cottage, half of which came
from the money they had just inherited from Johns dad, which still
left them with five grand to pay off. Needless to say, Johns celebrated
career in broadcasting, first on music shows, then on BBC Radio
4 with Home Truths (so relaxing to listen to on Saturday mornings),
has smoothed out any of those little worries.
But they shunned the high life, feeling ill-at-ease
with it, and John likes the idea that it was Sheila, not himself,
who was better once they moved to Suffolk.
I was the miserable bugger who just sat at
home listening to awful records as far as they were concerned.
That doesnt mean they dont have friends who
happen to be well-known, such as Griff Rhys Jones and his wife,
Jo, who live near Holbrook. Delia Smith they met only last year
on a Radio Times fly-cruise to New York and got on well with her.
Then of course theres Bill Wyman who keeps
himself to himself, says John.
All the time they have lived in Suffolk weve
had no contact, but then they lead a very different lifestyle.
Whereas Griff and Jo actually are very nice
people, adds Sheila.
They went to a firework party for Griffs birthday
and John admired the way he rushed round being nice to everyone.
It must be so exhausting. When people come
here, Im afraid I feel no obligation at all to try and entertain
If I get tired I go to bed and just leave them
to it. But Griff is obviously much more conscientious.
Watching football figures highly in their leisure
time supporting Ipswich Town in Sheilas case, while John is a
life-long fan of Liverpool (he was born in Heswell, Liverpool, in
In fact, the 4-2 scoreline from Towns victory
play-off final against Barnsley at Wembley still remains painted
on the outside wall of the house.
But Sheila, affectionately known as The Pig
for her laughter, is the greatest love of Johns life and he has
often said his favourite place in the world is where she happens
to be. Valentines Day is not long passed and there are masses of
flowers in the living room because he couldnt be with her. I played
her a record on the radio which made me cry so much I couldnt speak
after it, he confesses. Theres a wonderful version of My Funny
Valentine by a German band called FSK who are mates of mine. Its
just they werent terribly skilful players so its a kind of stripped
to the bone version a wistful kind of English vocal with a German
accent. Its gorgeous.
I shall start crying again...
Then, says Sheila, without saying anything,
he immediately followed it up with Ive Been Loving You Too Long
and I was in the kitchen listening and I knew darn well he wouldnt
be able to speak after it. She sniffs.
Lovely room, I say.
Its like the rest of the house, says Sheila.
John, it seems, is content with that. Tonight
well be dozing in front of the fire with some terrible TV programme