Tributes pour in for DJ legend

By Craig Robinson, Rebecca Sheppard and Danielle Nuttall TRIBUTES poured in last night to veteran DJ John Peel, who has died suddenly at the age of 65 while on holiday in Peru.

By Craig Robinson, Rebecca Sheppard and Danielle Nuttall

TRIBUTES poured in last night to veteran DJ John Peel, who has died suddenly at the age of 65 while on holiday in Peru.

Pop stars, the Prime Minister, BBC colleagues, charity workers and residents of the Suffolk village that Mr Peel called home all spoke of the sad loss of a “broadcasting legend”.

Mr Peel, who lived in Great Finborough, near Stowmarket, was on a working holiday in the resort of Cuzco with his wife, Sheila, when he suffered a fatal heart attack, it was announced yesterday.

The much-loved DJ and broadcaster was a champion of new music and discovered dozens of bands during his 40 years in the business.

Mr Peel was BBC Radio 1's longest-serving DJ and in recent years had also presented the award-winning Home Truths show on Radio 4.

Most Read

He had been married to second wife, Sheila, for 30 years and had four children William, 28, Alexandra, 26, Tom, 24, and Florence, 22.

Leading the tributes, BBC director general, Mark Thompson, said: “He was one of the giants of radio and will be missed, not just by everyone at the BBC, but by millions of listeners of all ages.”

Radio 1 controller Andy Parfitt said Mr Peel's contribution to modern music and culture had been “immeasurable”.

He added: “John Peel was a broadcasting legend. I am deeply saddened by his death, as are all who work at Radio 1.

“John's influence has towered over the development of popular music for nearly four decades. His commitment and passion for new music only grew stronger over the years. He will be hugely missed.”

Tony Blair's official spokesman said the Prime Minister was “genuinely saddened” by Mr Peel's death.

“His view is John Peel was a genuine one-off, whether on Radio 1 or Radio 4. He was a unique voice in British broadcasting and used that voice to unearth new talent and different subjects and make them accessible to a much wider audience,” he added.

Steve Harley, of Cockney Rebel, who lives on the Essex-Suffolk border, said of his friend: “John Peel was first in a line of one.

“He belonged to one of those very special clubs, those that only have one member. His laconic, deadpan delivery concealed a raving passion for music and the people who make it.

“There was no other broadcaster like him, nor will there ever be again. He played very early Cockney Rebel tracks and helped kick-start my career and, years later, played demos by my youngest brother's band, giving them a more than useful boost.

“That band never actually made it, but many acts given the support of John Peel went all the way to the top.”

Damon Albarn, frontman of Colchester band Blur, added: “John Peel's patronage was for me, like countless other musicians, one of the most significant things that happened to us in our careers.

“The world is going to be a poorer place with his sudden departure. I will miss him deeply. I want to send my heartfelt sympathy to his lovely family. John's memory will never be forgotten because he had the spirit of music in him.”

Radio 1 DJ Steve Lamacq, who grew up in Colne Engaine, near Halstead, said so many people remembered the first time they discovered John Peel.

“I used to listen to him on a transistor radio at night when the lights were off and my mum and dad thought I was asleep,” he added.

“Wherever you look in terms of the musical landscape in the last four decades, he has had some sort of influence on what was happening and, at the same time, he maintained the dignity of a music fan and didn't get embroiled in the politics of the industry. He was a credible voice and a man of the people.

“On a personal level, there's no way somebody like me, from a tiny Essex village, would have ended up on Radio 1 if it wasn't for John Peel. He touched so many lives.”

Greg McDonald, singer/songwriter with Suffolk-based band The Dawn Parade, said: “John was that rarest of things - someone who really cared. Nobody's given more to British music.

“And to the like of us - a struggling indie band from a little town in East Anglia, touring the UK in a Nissan Primera - John Peel meant everything.

“John played every record we released and The Dawn Parade recorded two Peel sessions. A band is a struggle, music is a struggle, the world is a struggle - you just felt John Peel was on your side.”

Dave Cash, from Pebmarsh, near Sudbury, worked with Mr Peel on the pirate station Radio London in 1966.

The broadcaster, who now works on BBC Essex, Cambridgeshire and Kent radio stations, said: “What I will miss professionally about him is Home Truths, as I always used to listen to it.

“He was the one guy out of all of us who never compromised. He had a wonderful, dry sense of humour, which came to the forefront on several occasions.

“He discovered so many bands, from T-Rex onwards. He was a champion of the indies. He will never be replaced. He is not replaceable. That's the end of that era.”

Television cook and Norwich City director Delia Smith, who lives near Stowmarket, said: “John was the personification of what being a people person totally is, open, warm and giving.

“He somehow managed to give each and everyone of us the music we loved and survived being famous without a trace of egotism.

“He was utterly devoted to Sheila, his family and to the local community he lived in and we are deeply shocked at the loss of a beloved friend and will miss him greatly.”

Ipswich Town chairman, David Sheepshanks, said it was “utterly tragic” to learn of Mr Peel's death.

“I will always think of John as one of life's good guys and for me a kind of hero since his pirate radio days.

“A delightful, gentle and modest man, John was a dear friend to the club and, although his first allegiance was to the red of Liverpool, his wife Sheila, and many other friends in Suffolk, succeeded in nearly turning him 'blue and white'.

“On behalf of everyone at Portman Road, I send our deepest sympathy and best wishes to Sheila and all of his family.”

As well as his involvement in village life, Mr Peel was keen to be involved in Suffolk charities and was patron of Rethink Disability.

Its chairman, Linda Hoggarth, said: “Always a shy man, John supported our work quietly in his own way.

“Occasionally, he could be persuaded to come and present medals to winners of our annual minilympics for people with learning disabilities and he also attended our 21st birthday celebrations in 2002. We are very proud to have been associated with him in this way.”

Mr Peel was also patron of the Samaritans and opened its new centre in Bury St Edmunds.

Bill Campbell, a volunteer at the centre, said: “He seemed to want to help the Samaritans. We were proud to have him as a patron.

“He raised the profile of the Samaritans and helped to get young people involved. He seemed genuinely interested and we learned that you could feed him with information.

“He's a national icon and it was nice to have brushed shoulders with him and to have met the guy. It would have been nice to continue the relationship we were developing. He was always willing to turn up and help us and it was great to have someone like that in the local community as a figurehead.

“He will leave a tremendous gap. He was a huge character and for us to have him as a patron was great.”

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter