Looking back on the career of outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May her finest hour is a shining example of her time in office. May’s appearance on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs gives a hint of the person behind the person, equally grey, choreographed, soulless. The programme aired in November 2014, before May’s time in No. 10, she chooses a selection of tracks to accompany the nation’s shared collective fantasy of the prime minister marooned on a desert island with nothing but a Bible, the complete works of Shakespeare, and eight songs, all of which ultimately say something, without saying anything at all. 

Kirsty Young’s brutal introduction references her failure to appoint a minister to the historic child sexual abuse inquiry, her conflict with the police as home secretary, and “a minister in her department [who] resigned last week claiming that working with her had been like walking through mud”. All of which was greeted warmly with thanks. 

Thoughout the programme we learn that May was an only child, at 12 years old she was stuffing envelopes for her local Conservative association, her mother had multiple sclerosis and both her parents died less than a month apart from each other when she was in her 20s, she met husband Phillip May at an Oxford University Conservative Association disco and later in life was diagnosed with diabetes. All of which must have been deeply traumatising. Every time the subject steers too close to human warmth, sorrow or joy, May’s metallic exoskeleton solidifies and shuts out the conversation. 

Young makes the prescient observation that May is “very good at avoiding direct questions”, as she fails to pry out her ambitions for leadership or negotiating stance with the EU.

“My view is very simple,” May said. “David Cameron is a first-class leader of the party and a first-class prime minister and I hope he’s going to be doing that for a very long time.”

May’s interview and selection, including Walk like a Man, Dancing Queen, Psalms, and Mozart, was no doubt vetted by trained personnel, it spoke to her ‘Church of England, Vicar’s daughter, not-too-much fun but up for a bit of Abba’ identity. 

Listening back, we learn details but nothing important and never get past the high emotional barriers thrown-up a long time ago. There is though, a fond remembrance in this, one of her more earnest interviews, because given the choice, it is infinitely preferable to be ruled by a robot than a fascist. 


Theresa May’s Desert Island Discs

• Jersey Boys, Walk Like a Man 
• Capella Gregoriana,
The Pange Lingua Gloriosi Corporis Mysterium
• Edward Elgar,
Cello Concerto in E Minor – opening
• ABBA, Dancing Queen
• Britten, Holst and Purcell,
The Rondo from the Abdelazer Suite
• Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart,
The Queen of the Night aria from Mozart’s Magic Flute 
• Paul Eddington & Derek Fowlds,
Yes Minister The Compassionate Society
• Isaac Watts sung to the tune of Rockingham,
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross


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