GEMMA BRADLEY: BBC Radio One’s rising star is making waves

Gemma Bradley, 24, has replaced Huw Stephens on BBC Introducing, a vital platform for new musicGemma Bradley, 24, has replaced Huw Stephens on BBC Introducing, a vital platform for new music
Gemma Bradley, 24, has replaced Huw Stephens on BBC Introducing, a vital platform for new music
Draperstown-born singer/songwriter Gemma Bradley is the new presenter of BBC Introducing, a vital platform for new musical artists. She tells JOANNE SAVAGE about her plans for world domination

Gemma Bradley is slightly hoarse, but definitely not hungover, after performing a solo set at the Stendhal Festival the night before our interview.

There she showcased her superb, R&B-influenced, soulful, kickass vocals and debut single Obsessed, which is brimful of attitude, vim and sassy, defiant energy. With a wild mane of hair and dressed in a patterned jumpsuit only she or a catwalk regular could feasibly pull off, she was strumming on her guitar under the spotlight between doing presenting duties at the outdoor music extravaganza, interviewing scores of acts between performances, getting the down-lo from the likes of Ash and Jordan Adetunji and displaying the zippy personality, easy spontaneity and warmth that has landed her the vastly impressive role of replacing veteran broadcaster Huw Stephens (yes, Huw-actual-Stephens, you read that right, the prim Welsh broadcasting giant best known for reading the news) on BBC Radio One’s Introducing, which showcases work by fledgling musical artists, giving them an enviable platform that can easily propel them from total obscurity to the heady heights of Glastonbury stages and chart-bothering fame.

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Bubbly Bradley, 24, grew up in Draperstown, Co Londonderry, and was always certain she wanted to be a performer, listening to Amy Winehouse and Bob Marley (two of her biggest musical influences) in her downtime between excelling at music classes and workshops that set her on the path to becoming a singer/songwriter of already obvious talent who is currently working on her first EP and has already declared the objective of her music career is to “dominate the world, bring it on!”

Gemma performing at the Stendhal Festival in LimavadyGemma performing at the Stendhal Festival in Limavady
Gemma performing at the Stendhal Festival in Limavady

She got onto the airwaves after being approached by a producer at BBC Radio Ulster and securing a slot, after some voice tests that proved her aptitude for radio patter, presenting Across The Line, which affords emerging artists a platform for their new music, and as part of this she quickly became adept at listening to virgin tunes and selecting the best of them for the listening public. I’d wager she has to wade through a lot of perhaps painfully amateurish offerings before getting to the real talent worthy of airplay, but Bradley is philosophical about the process and kind and encouraging about musical artists trying to find their way in what is undeniably a ruthless, and vastly competitive, industry.

“I generally select songs that resonate with me,” says Gemma. “You want to have an interesting concept and lyrics. You want to really be able to delve into what that songwriter is trying to say. With melodies you really want something that hits you, pulls you in, grabs you and gives you that kick in the gut. Rachel Chinouriri, an artist I particularly love, for example, uses her voice as an instrument and her harmonies are so beautiful and interesting, you can’t do anything but stop in your tracks and listen.

“With every song I listen to, I feel there is always something good that you can take away from it. I listen to things with an open mind and curiosity. Sometimes there are artists who send in music who maybe aren’t 100% ready yet, but that’s OK, there are different developmental stages and all musical artists worth their salt are on a journey.”

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She adds, generously: “When I have the time I love to be able to give artists feedback on what they might want to think about or improve or explore or try to do differently to help them get to the place where they want to be and I think that’s really important. As an artist myself I’ve been there, and I understand the creative process, the challenges, all of that.”

For much of lockdown Gemma was forced to record her radio show under a clothes horse and duvetFor much of lockdown Gemma was forced to record her radio show under a clothes horse and duvet
For much of lockdown Gemma was forced to record her radio show under a clothes horse and duvet

Bradley assesses the Northern Irish music scene as being in rude health, and sees it as a burgeoning, intimate community of artists with outsize talent and a familial sense of loyalty to each other.

“In the last few years it has really blossomed into this incredibly fertile, close-knit community,” she enthuses, before listing off some of her favourite Ulster-grown acts, including Derry singer/songwriter Roe (who played Glastonbury at just 18), Sasha Samara and a punk outfit of three hairy-chested men from the Maiden City named Cheryn.

She was parachuted into the hallowed recording studios of Radio One - the play park of broadcasting talent like Annie Mac and Scott Mills - after a London producer heard her demo tape, was appropriately impressed, called her in for some auditioning and the next thing she was announced as Huw Stephens replacement for flagship show BBC Introducing.

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Of her debut show, Gemma recalls: “It was so scary. I set the mic up and I just thought, ‘Why am I doing this?’ But it was absolutely exhilarating. I settled in pretty quickly and just really got into a groove and had fun. You kind of need the adrenaline to keep you on your toes.

BORN RYTHMIC: Gemma with her very first drum kitBORN RYTHMIC: Gemma with her very first drum kit
BORN RYTHMIC: Gemma with her very first drum kit

“I’m so proud and blessed to have been given the opportunity to present for Radio One and having been over to London HQ and met all the DJs I love and respect there, I already feel part of the Radio One family - although I have not yet met any celebs in the lobby. My own family are incredibly proud too, and yes, they listen to me when I’m on. I owe a lot to my mum in getting where I am because since I was small she has always supported me completely in whatever I wanted to do creatively. I am very lucky.”


Gemma’s biggest challenge is finding the balance between her broadcasting career and crafting her own music - it’s all about scheduling, getting things in the diary and making time to write songs and jam in her home studio, but lockdown was another trial she is particularly glad to see come to an end.

“I found myself recording my show under a clothes horse with a duvet on top to make it sound proof,” she laughs. “And I hadn’t been under a clothes horse since I was about six. It was pretty claustrophobic in there and I had to come out every so often just to breathe. There’s a real buzz to live radio which I love that you totally don’t get unless you are in the studio. So it’s great to be getting back to that, being around other people again and, more basically, just being able to stand up properly.”

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Gemma as an impossibly cute three-year-oldGemma as an impossibly cute three-year-old
Gemma as an impossibly cute three-year-old

Her lockdown survival strategy involved sausage sandwiches, listening to cool music, playing her guitar, doing livestream concerts from home and taking part in Zoom songwriting sessions with collaborators: “Music has always kept me sane. It’s my passion,” she adds with a laugh.


Aside from composing and recording her own music and keeping her broadcasting commitments with BBC Radio One and BBC Radio Ulster, multi-talented Gemma is also set to front a new six-part podcast on BBC Sounds which begins on August 23.

‘Real Talk’ is a no holds barred conversation by young women and for young women and Gemma will explore the big issues facing many today, with activists, influencers, policy changers and journalists from across the UK, empowering listeners to change the way they think about a variety of pertinent issues. It will amplify authentic conversations happening every day among young women, women of colour and non-binary people, hoping to break down subjects we can be bombarded by 24/7 rolling on social media from racism to sexual consent, sustainable fashion to body image, and relationships to mental health.

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In each episode the contributors are all working to make the world a better place, offering some solid advice along the way on how to make life a little easier.

“I think all of the issues raised in the series are interesting and worthy of discussion but obviously as a mixed race woman having grown up in Northern Ireland, racism is one issue I am interested in confronting because I think we always have more to learn in terms of improving the world and relationships,” she confides.

Like many in the media, Gemma feels the pressures of the constant social media gaze and the judgement women are generally subject to in terms of appearance and body image, something that is clearly much less of an issue for men in the public eye, who are rarely subject to the same kind of lookism or body fascism.

Gemma added: “I think I have a sort of love/hate relationship with social media. It can work in so many wonderful ways, yet there is also an undeniable undercurrent of negativity that comes with it. There are lots of pressures on the younger generation in regard to body image - this impossible quest for physical perfection that leads to judgement and insecurity rather than self-acceptance.

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“Social media is not all real. It can be dangerous - too much of it can undermine your mental health. But in terms of music promotion, it can be amazing for things like that. There are always pressures on women in terms of image, but I am determined to be myself and I’m going to wear what I want to wear and be how I want to be. I love going to the gym and exercising not so much for how it makes me look but more because it makes me feel good and it’s a real boost to my mental health.”


Your strongest memories of childhood?

Playing sports and singing in the school choir, then later attending musical workshops at the Glasgowbury Festival in Draperstown.

I would say I was a very good child, but when I was a toddler my mother would probably tell you different.

School days - what subjects did you excel at?

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I was always into performing arts and wasn’t bad at English. I was fine at maths, but it wasn’t my favourite. I was something of an all-rounder but music was always number one. I was only ever in detention once for being late.

Your ideal way to spend a day?

Spending time with those I love, friends, family, whether that’s going on a hike, some kind of adventure, to the cinema or out for a nice meal. It’s all about the company for me.

Who in your life makes you laugh the most?

My boyfriend James - I spend the most time with him. It’s a mixture of me both laughing with and at him.

Can you describe yourself in three words?

Chilled, outgoing, happy.

Do you have any vices?

Too many sausage sandwiches. I had one for breakfast.

Your proudest achievement to date?

Getting the Radio One gig. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and I’m very blessed in being able to do this. I know I’m very lucky.

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What kind of music do you like to listen to in your downtime?

Most of the music I listen to is new music. There are some brilliant tracks that come through that I always have on repeat on my playlist. Then I’m into artists like Arlo Parks, Izzy Bizu, Corrine Bailey Rae and lots of different genres from dance to house music and folk.

If you could have a dream dinner party at which you could invite anyone from history, who would you bring?

Prince, Amy Winehouse and Bob Marley.

What would you serve them to eat and drink?

I would give that job to my boyfriend because he’s a chef. He does an amazing shoulder of lamb with garlic cheesy mashed potato, roasted honey glazed carrots and parsnips, washed down with red wine.

Your favourite film?

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All the Marvel films - the whole franchise. I love that universe of superheroes.

Your favourite book?

The Shining by Stephen King.

Your ambitions for your music career?

To take over the world. I’ll be releasing a single in September.

Best gig you have ever been to?

I’m stuck between Nile Rogers and Chic at the Waterfront and David Keenan at the Empire in Belfast.

Love is...Cool.

The meaning of life is...Happiness? I don’t know!

Listen to Gemma Bradley present BBC Introducing on BBC Radio One on Sundays at 11pm. Tune in to the Real Talk podcast with Gemma from August 23 on BBC Sounds. Listen to Gemma’s single ‘Obsessed’ on Spotify now.

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