Edith Bowman in a spin
DJ Edith Bowman talks to Gabrielle Fagan about combining motherhood with a hectic career, and her mum’s battle with cancer.
There's a flurry of activity in the cafe as Edith Bowman rushes in, plonks herself down at the table, peels off her earphones and proceeds without any discernable break to talk about her life, music and motherhood.
If it initially appears a little rushed, that's because the BBC Radio 1 DJ probably has to live her life at breakneck speed as she copes with her busy and varied career, from presenting at festivals to reporting on the royal wedding for the BBC, as well as family life with her rock musician partner and three-year-old son.
“I've always been an on-the-go sort of personality and I'm often being told to slow down and take it steady, but I find it hard to take that advice,” she says.
“If you hate missing out on things, you try to pack as much as possible into one day and sometimes I do fall into bed at night and go, ‘Aagh — what are you doing, woman? That was way too full on!'.”
Not heeding words of caution has generally stood Fife-born Bowman in good stead.
At the beginning of her career when, after a degree course in communications, she got her first work experience on local radio, she received a damning verdict by a programmer who predicted she'd never get a job in broadcasting because of her accent.
“I was very young and had to hold back the tears when he said that, but it actually made me more determined because I wanted to prove him wrong. I actually ended up working as a presenter and producer. So I always tell people, ‘Never take no for an answer'.”
Her break came when MTV wanted to represent more regional accents and she was hired along with the then-unknown presenter Cat Deeley.
In 2002 she became a presenter on Channel 4's breakfast show RI:SE and later teamed up with fellow presenter and Co Down man Colin Murray to present Colin and Edith on Radio 1. She then flew solo with her own show in 2006 for three years, and now hosts her own weekend show.
Despite all that experience, she admits she still felt nervous before recently hosting The Prince's Trust Rock Gala at London's Albert Hall, shown on Sky 3D and Sky Arts on Christmas Day.
“It was terrifying and lovely all at the same time but such a brilliant evening with people that are so much part of British musical history, such as Pete Townshend performing Kinks songs, Alison Moyet, Boy George.
“I enjoyed every minute of it, and the venue is so amazing. It was just like a great party with people really letting themselves go and performing their hearts out.”
Away from the glitter and razzmatazz of the showbusiness world, Bowman (37) and her partner, Tom Smith, lead singer for indie band Editors, are doting parents to their son, Rudy.
“Tom and I have got these incredibly busy lives — he's busy travelling at the moment between Europe and London promoting the band's new album — but Rudy is at the heart of everything.
“He's a brilliant kid, who's part of our lives rather than in any way dictating what we do.
“He's been going to music festivals since he was born, so naturally music is part of his world and he's got all sorts of pretty surprising favourites for a three-year-old, from Jay-Z to an addiction to the Star Wars soundtrack!
“I take him to events; he loves movies and popcorn and he's just like my little mate who hangs out with me. It's so refreshing to see life through young eyes — and I love his constant questions and curiosity.”
But, she admits, that immediately after his birth in 2008 she suffered from a reluctance to alter her pace of life.
A few years prior to his birth, Bowman, who suffered from epilepsy as a child, discovered that she has a treatable heart condition.
“Thankfully I grew out of the epilepsy and haven't been bothered by that since I was eight, but I do have a slight condition which might, in years to come, mean I'll need a valve transplant, but so far, touch wood, I've had no problems.
“It meant that I had to have a Caesarean birth. Despite that, within a couple of weeks of having him, I was presenting at the T In The Park Festival in Edinburgh, then I fronted the Reading festival and after that the Electric Proms,” she says.
“I was nipping off to express milk and then rushing back on stage. There were a couple of close shaves when I nearly got caught on camera breast feeding!
“It was mad and my choice, and I had a sort of meltdown a few months afterwards because, I think, I'd put myself under too much pressure.
“I didn't give myself a chance to adjust to motherhood and get to know this new person in my life.
“I took a few months off, which allowed me to get my head straight, and if we have another, I'll definitely do it differently.”
Her capacity for hard work stems from her childhood in the seaside town of Anstruther, where her parents ran a hotel.
“For years they nearly ran themselves into the ground because hotels never shut, so it's 24/7 hard graft.
“I helped out when I was old enough, washing dishes in the kitchen and as a chambermaid.
“I think that's where I get my work ethic from — I don't expect anything for nothing.
“I feel if I work hard I'll reap the benefits. I want to be known for being good at something not just because I appear on TV.”
Her pride in her background and her family is evident and so it was a devastating blow when her mother, Eleanor, then 50, was diagnosed with cancer in 2007.
“We're extremely close, she had me at 19 and she's just been a rock. She's always there for me and the rest of the family.
“I think she's one of that generation who just deal with everything stoically, and I nickname her ‘Eleanor-I'm-Fine-Bowman', because she never lets on if she's down,” says Bowman, who supports the Teenage Cancer Trust charity.
“Mum went through all the treatment so bravely and thankfully she's got the all clear, but just thinking you might lose someone so important is really shaking.”
Family and work commitments are now pressing, and Bowman sets off again at her dizzying pace, her energy restored by coffee, and she reflects: “Music is what always helps me through things — it's fundamental to my life.
“Like everyone I have a sound track which instantly evokes memories about my childhood or happy and sad experiences, and when I need a mood boost, I'll pop on the headphones and go on a long walk and listen to one of my favourite bands, Midlake.
“A few tracks and I'm centred and level again and can deal with anything.”