Charlotte Church raises a home town toast

What happens when you get a couple of British telly stars to critique TV for a podcast? One heck of a painfully awkward moment – namely, Joanna Page’s rather uncomfortable takedown of an emerging comedian’s new show, which she called “unbearable”.

If you missed the headlines it created last week, Page and her Off The Telly co-host Natalie Cassidy discussed Lucia Keskin’s BBC Three comedy series, Things I Should Have Done.

“Do you know what things I should have done? Not bothered to fucking watch it,” said the Gavin and Stacey star, before, confusingly, congratulating “talented” Keskin on getting a show made in the industry’s current climate. “It’s not often I can’t watch something,” she continued. “I just thought, ‘My God, this is just unbearable. I’m so bored. I just genuinely am bored. I’m bored.’”

It’s a lesson, perhaps, in the perils that come with the ever-blurring line between celebrity and critic on podcasts.

Speaking of celeb pods, Charlotte Church’s first ever series – Kicking Back With the Cardiffians – is our top pick this week, and it is an ode to her home city. Read on to find out more about that and our other favourites, then take a look at the top five controversial podcasts.

Hollie Richardson
Assistant TV editor

Picks of the week

Andrew Garfield, Cynthia Erivo and Tom Hardy star in George Orwell’s 1984. Photograph: © Michael Wharley 2019, Kevin Tachman/PR image/ Comp

Kicking Back With the Cardiffians
BBC Sounds, episodes weekly
“I’m Cardiff-born, Cardiff-bred, and when I die I’ll be Cardiff dead.” So opens Charlotte Church’s new show, which gives listeners an insight into her home town. But it is just as much a series about family, love and working-class life, given it’s largely interviews with her relatives, friends and the local pub landlord. Expect a lively, warm listen that wears its heart on its sleeve and is “pretty sweary – because that’s just who we are”. Alexi Duggins

Finally! A Show
Widely available, episodes weekly
This podcast promises to be “a show about women that isn’t just a thinly veiled aspirational nightmare” – and it delivers like reality TV for the ears. Each episode is a 30-minute insight to a different life, with a crematorium worker, an 83-year-old nude model and a singer with a day job providing their highlights. Hannah Verdier

She Has a Name
Widely available, episodes weekly
“When the cops don’t listen, a reporter is the next best thing,” says Tonya Mosley, but she’s not just another podcaster on a cold case. Instead, she tells an immensely brave and personal story as she hears about a young Detroit mother who disappeared in the 80s – and who happens to be the sister she never knew. HV

The Curious History of Your Home
Widely available, episodes weekly
Ever thought about the history of wallpaper? This detail-packed foray into the origins of everything from washing up to fridges is a delightful, story-based look at everyday items. Did you know that paper was inspired by a bee? Or that Oliver Cromwell banned wallpaper? You will after listening to this show. AD

George Orwell’s 1984
Audible, all episodes out now
You might think we don’t need another retelling of the perennially relevant surveillance thriller, but with a mega-cast and production like this it is classic storytelling at its finest. Andrew Garfield is Ministry of Truth worker Winston, while Cynthia Erivo is Julia, Tom Hardy is Big Brother and Andrew Scott is O’Brien. Oh, and Muse’s Matt Bellamy composes the score. Hollie Richardson

There’s a podcast for that

Renu, eldest sister of British girl Shamima Begum, holds a picture of her sister while being interviewed by the media in central London. Photograph: Laura Lean/AFP/Getty Images

This week, Hannah Verdier picks five of the best controversial podcasts, from a masterpiece on Michael Jackson to a sit-down with Shamima Begum

Think Twice
How can a Michael Jackson fan reconcile the man with his much-loved music? Slow Burn’s Leon Neyfakh, a master in modern history storytelling and knowledgable co-host Jay Smooth mix archive audio, interviews and so much detailed reporting that the podcast really did make listeners think twice. Of course, there are people who believe Jackson’s complicated legacy should be left well alone, but Neyfakh’s skill means he doesn’t shy away from controversy, but never judges or hints at what the listeners should be thinking. The podcast doesn’t exist to change anyone’s mind, but instead offers a nuanced account of the fallen hero.

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Missing Richard Simmons
Retro fun, a kitsch main character and a mysterious disappearance: Dan Taberski’s labour of love became a huge hit the moment it was released. Listeners were amused and enthralled by his search for flamboyant fitness guru Richard Simmons, whose 2014 disappearance sparked a whole lot of fan theories. Was he being held hostage by his housekeeper, or hiding from the tabloids? Although Missing Richard Simmons is a cracking listen, the backlash against his public hounding soon followed. While The New York Times called the podcast “morally bankrupt”, Taberski defended the six episodes but then “put away his giant human-sized butterfly net” and moved on.

I’m Not a Monster: The Shamima Begum Story
Joshua Baker’s podcast debuted with the story of Sam Sally, an American women who upped sticks to Syria and lived in the Islamic State caliphate. Season two features a more high-profile figure: Shamima Begum. Telling her story opens a can of worms, but Baker does so with painstaking detail, taking the listeners from east London to Syria before he meets Begum in a detention camp. And that’s where the controversy lies: she describes being surrounded by men with guns as “kind of exciting” and explains how she set off on the journey in an effort to fit in with her friendship group.

Diary of a CEO
“Happy sexy millionaire” Steven Bartlett is not usually one to court controversy with his podcast showing how rich people got their cash (by getting up at 5am and hustling hard). But all hell broke loose when Love Island graduate and purveyor of fake tan Molly-Mae Hague rolled out the “everyone has the same 24 hours in a day” theory without thinking about her own privilege. It did Bartlett’s podcast no harm and he went on to defend her, describing the backlash as part of “the double standard successful women face”, claiming previous male guests had said the same.

The Walkers Switch
One of the most controversial questions in modern foodie culture came to the fore in this podcast from Lauren Peters and Augustine Cerf: did Walkers really swap the colours of their salt and vinegar and cheese and onion crisps? The mere mention of it will have people remembering when the cheese was blue and the chip-flavoured snack was green, but was that a false memory? Or are crisp-lovers living in an alternative reality? Walkers vehemently deny the colour switch, but even with help from Gary Lineker, a Google whistleblower and an army of crunchy potato devotees, the controversy rages on.

Why not try …

  • Sam Campbell and Lucy Beaumont both charmed in their appearances on Taskmaster – and now they’ve got a podcast together, Sam and Lucy’s Perfect Brains.

  • Voice from the Dales offers a little glimpse at life as a sheep farmer in Yorkshire, with six 15-minute episodes capturing a rapidly disappearing culture.

  • Geoff Shreeves combines his two loves, football and music, with the aptly named Football, Music and Me, in which he talks to ex-pros including Gary Neville and Vinnie Jones.

The Guardian