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Having a Whale of a time

Broadcaster James Whale revisits his old Surrey stomping ground and talks to Chris Wood

Sutton’s second Business Excellence Awards went with swing in November and shone a bright light on some of the borough’s young and vibrant entrepreneurs and independent businesses and the evening was given an added celebratory sparkle by one very experienced broadcaster who compered the evening – Surrey’s very own James Whale.

James, who is often seen expressing some very forthright opinions on SKY News and ITV’s This Morning, has a direct, acerbic style of humour which always raises a laugh with his audience - unless they happen to be on the receiving end of hisstinging repartee, that is. 

James – a master of talk radio and someone never at a loss for a word or two - did a brilliant job of compering the awards and found time, amongst the mayhem of the evening, to chat to me about his early years, growing up in Ewell village, his career in radio, his battle with cancer and his favourite pursuits.

‘I was born in Ewell Village and went to Ewell Primary School and Longmead County Secondary Boys’ School (which later became Epsom High School and still later, Blenheim High School). There was no posh schooling for me,’ he says, without a trace of rancour or regret. ‘It was surely the best place in the world to be brought up in. London was just somewhere I had heard of… My world didn’t extend further than Kingston, which was the biggest town I knew.

‘My dad owned the Famous Green Man pub in Ewell village and I helped out there; my mother was Welsh and a professional ballet dancer. They met at a social event in Thames Ditton. When my parents eventually moved it was to a pub in Kings Cross, which was a real culture shock for me, going from the gentility of Surrey to one of the roughest parts of London.’

Returning to Sutton and hosting its business awards, organised by the Successful Sutton BID and the Sutton Chamber of Commerce, gave James an insight into the vitality of the borough’s businesscommunity, today. ‘The town centre seems a pretty vibrant place to me,’ he said. ‘Sutton used to be seen as the poor relation of Kingston but now it’s an affluent place to be. It’s easier to park now. For me a town centre has to have easy and cheap parking if it is to succeed, without the constant inconvenience of traffic wardens waiting to see if you’re going to overstay your parking ticket…’

In 2000 James was diagnosed with kidney cancer. He beat it and six years later founded the James Whale Fund for Kidney Cancer to support sufferers. ‘It’s a cancer that’s becoming more common,’ he says. ‘We estimated that it would cost around forty thousand pounds to make everyone aware of the fund, so every bit of publicity Time and Leisure can give it would be appreciated.’

Away from the stresses of life and work James enjoys shooting… with an old English longbow! ‘I started my archery while living in Ewell,’ he reveals. I shot with the Nonsuch Bowmen and became Surrey Junior Champion in 1965.’ James tells me he still shoots on Sunday mornings in Oxshott – quite a commitment, given that he now lives with his family in Sevenoaks, Kent! He also claims to have introduced Shane Ritchie and Theo Paphitis to the sport.

But why, James? Why do you still play bows and arrows? ‘Because it’s more fun than golf,’ he says, in typical confrontational mood.


James Whale