RADIO broadcaster Paul Gambaccini celebrates his 45th anniversary in the business this year, with a series of live theatre dates, stopping at the Palace Theatre, Westliff, on Saturday April 7 at 7:30pm.

An Evening With The Great Gambo – The Professor of Pop, will see the current BBC Radio 2 Pick of the Pops presenter reveal for the first time how he started out life as a boy in the Bronx and wound up as The Professor of Pop in Great Britain.

He will share his unique lifetime experiences and stories, amongst which will be clips of some of the great artists he has known and worked, and tales of growing up with the phenomenon of Elvis Presley as a child and the Beatles as a teenager; how he got into radio; his early experiences with Rolling Stone magazine; his fascinating years as a radio and television broadcaster and of course lots of behind the scenes tales.

Hear him discuss the three great crises of his life – coping with the Vietnam War’s challenge to his American generation, enduring the era of AIDS and surviving an encounter with the Metropolitan Police and his account of the year he spent on police bail after being arrested as part of Operation Yewtree, the investigation set up in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal, a case which was then dropped.

Gambaccini's radio career began at Dartmouth College in the US where he was General Manager and top rated DJ of WDCR, America’s largest radio station run by students. It was whilst studying at Oxford University that he got his big break when he came to the attention of John Peel's producer John Walters, who took special note of a Rolling Stone cover interview Paul had conducted with Elton John.

Gambaccini was asked to give a weekly talk on Radio 1 beginning in the autumn of 1973. This assignment expanded into doing interviews for Peel's programme Rock Week and reviews for Radio 4's Kaleidoscope. Paul was given his own show of the American hits in 1975, a programme he continued on Radio 1 until 1986 and then on commercial radio and later Radio 2.

With a break of six years, America’s Greatest Hits lasted for 41 years, the longest single-presenter single-format popular music programme in British radio history. Gambaccini remains the only broadcaster to have had regular series on BBC Radios 1, 2, 3 and 4. He was one of the founder presenters on Classic FM, where his Classic Countdown was the highest-rated classical music programme in UK history. He has also had regular television runs on BBC1, BBC2, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky.

Visit southendtheatres.org.uk for booking details or call the box office on 01702 351135.

Southend Standard: Paul Gambaccini

Q: What gave you the idea of performing your first ever live show, An Evening With The Great Gambo – The Professor of Pop?

A: It suddenly occurred to me that this autumn is the 45th anniversary of my joining Radio 1. I thought it was something I should take seriously and celebrate – this is my only life after all! Let’s just express gratitude for this career, which was inconceivable until I lived it. There’s never been a boy from America who has come over here and then worked for 45 years on national radio. When I was younger, I could never have imagined it, but here I am!

Q: Are you nervous about being on stage?

A: No. A few years ago, BBC2 and Channel 4 captioned me as The Professor of Pop. I was bemused at the time. That title was not something I’d ever thought of. But then I was made News International Visiting Professor of Broadcast Media at Oxford University. I had to do a string of lectures. That’s why I’m not afraid of being on stage during this tour.

Q: Are you looking forward to the buzz of live performing?

A: Definitely. I think connecting face-to-face with an audience will be really exciting. I’m fascinated to see the make-up of the audience because my career has been so diverse. I’ve done so many programmes about pop and classical music, not to mention my close encounter with the Metropolitan Police, the stupidest thing that has ever happened to me! Who knows what questions people will ask me in the show. I can’t wait!

Q: How did you get your big break in broadcasting in this country?

A: I read the Financial Times, and they have a weekly feature where they ask a public person which counts more: talent or ambition? For me, the most important thing has always been initiative. An example is when I attended a Bee Gees concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 1973 when I was writing for Rolling Stone magazine. I noticed that Elton John was also in the audience. He had just had a number one in the US, Crocodile Rock. As a result, he had become America’s biggest pop star without anyone really noticing – everyone at the time was obsessed with Stevie Wonder’s incredible run of albums. So I thought to myself, “It’s time for a lengthy Rolling Stone cover interview with Elton John.”

Q: What happened next?

A: So during the interval at the Bee Gees concert, I followed Elton into the men’s room. I asked him if he’d like to do a Rolling Stone cover interview. He politely told me to ask Helen Walters at his record label DJM, who took care of those things. I called her, and probably to Elton’s surprise, she said, “Great idea. Elton is about to go on tour in America, and this will be a very good way of promoting it.” She really liked the piece, and to thank me she took me to lunch with her husband, John Walters, who happened to be John Peel’s producer at Radio 1. He invited me to give a weekly talk on Radio 1, and that’s how my British radio career began. That was serendipity in action.

Q: While you modestly say that you are a “friendly acquaintance” of many popstars, your friendship with Elton John is much deeper. After that interview you became very good friends with him, didn’t you?

A: Yes. He’s one of my dear friends. We go back such a long way. He’s got such a great sense of humour. When I did that Rolling Stone interview with him in 1973, I said to him, “You’re so popular now that people invent awards to give you, don’t they?” He replied, “Yes. I just got an award in Germany for being the King of Pop. What’s next? The Queen of Lemonade?”

Q: Which modern popstars have you become friendly with?

A: I know Adele. I once went to give a lecture at the Brit School and I was worried because a girl in the front row was slouching throughout. I thought, “Am I that boring?” It turned out that the girl’s name was Miss Adkins, who emerged later as Adele.

Q: And then?

A: A few years later, I met her at the Ivor Novello Awards, which I was presenting. At the beginning, I said, “I’ll know how I’m doing when I look out at the audience to see if Miss Adkins is slouching or not!” When Adele came up to receive her award from Annie Lennox, the first thing she said was, “I’m so sorry if I gave the impression that I wasn’t interested when you gave that lecture at the Brit School, Paul. We were thrilled to have you there. My mum and I used to love listening to you. You were always a welcome visitor in our home.” I thought, “In her great moment of receiving the award, how generous of her to say that!”

Q: What do you particularly enjoy about radio broadcasting?

A: I love the one-to-one nature of communication on radio. The last ratings for Pick of the Pops on Radio 2 were 2.35 million people, but of course I never see them. People make a big deal about an artist selling out Wembley Stadium, but Wembley Stadium only holds 72,000 people – only! Every week on Pick of the Pops, we are doing 30 Wembley Stadiums. But while people on stage are communing with the crowd, we’re broadcasting one-to-one. You can only broadcast one-to-one. You can’t imagine broadcasting to a room of even eight different people. What’s really interesting is to ask yourself which one person you’re broadcasting to. In my case, it’s always the young me. I know what makes him happy and thrills him.

Q: What has been your biggest embarrassment as a broadcaster?

A: That happened on my first radio station at Dartmouth College. I went there because it had the largest college radio show in the US. It had an audience the size of BBC Radio London. Anyway, I went on air there, and I burped. There is no way of rationalising a burp. It’s there forever now and is part of history. Even though probably only a few thousand people heard it and it was 50 years ago, I still find myself apologising for it!

Q: Are you delighted when you look back on this amazing career?

A: Absolutely. I managed to achieve my life goals in my 20s. When I applied to Dartmouth College in the US, I had to write an essay about what I wanted to accomplish in life. I wrote that I wanted to become a correspondent on an international showbiz magazine. I admired a journalist called Pete Martin from the Saturday Evening Post. He interviewed everyone from the radio icon Edward R. Murrow to Marilyn Monroe. I thought, “I want that” – and I got it!

Q: What do you hope audiences will take away from “An Evening With The Great Gambo – The Professor of Pop”?

A: I hope people will recognise that there is a lot of possibility in life if you just follow your nose. Don’t be afraid to try what interests you. Following Elton John into the men’s room at the Royal Albert Hall is an extreme example, but it paid off. If I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have got into radio broadcasting in this country. I simply took the initiative. There is nothing embarrassing or shameful about taking the initiative. It doesn’t matter how many “no’s you get. It only takes one “yes”.