Review: Ian Wright's Desert Island Discs is all that matters this week

The former Arsenal and England forward treats the show as the cathartic platform it was always meant to be

12:10pm on Tuesday 18th February 2020
Paul Macdonald

It's fair to say that you better be suitably prepared before you switch on Ian Wright's appearance with Lauren Laverne on Desert Island Discs.

On the BBC's long-running broadcast, some celebrities have either enjoyed a sheltered life or just aren't keen on talking about any troubles they've experienced. They pick eight tunes they like and treat it like making a mixed tape. 

Not Wright. He has always been known to be an emotional person, albeit one that has taken all of his setbacks in his stride with a cheeky malleability.

But even if you are already well aware of his difficult upbringing, absent father, abusive step-dad or the tragic loss of friend David Rocastle, you'll still be moved and downright broken by Wright's honesty and self-reflection. 

He discusses in some detail how he coped, badly, with rejection having been on trial with a host of clubs and then once he was offered a further opportunity by Crystal Palace, how reluctant he was to be let down again with his sons Bradley and Shaun already born. It was his gaffer who was putting him through his trade who convinced him to try one more time.

The emotional gut-punch that arrives when he references his schoolteacher, Mr Pigden, who he thought was dead only to be reunited with him on a TV show in 2010, is punctuated by Wright's acknowledgement of the many sliding door moments that have led him to where he is. He is grateful for every one of them, contrite about his relative failures as a human being, and is a man who is trying to be as good as he can be given the entrance into the world he was given. 

Desert Island Discs: A long-running BBC radio show where guests are invited to discuss their lives as well as contribute musical choices that have contributed towards who they are. FC

His song selections - not just ones heard on the radio one time, or at a wedding - but poignant, impactful choices that do exactly what Desert Island Discs (DID) is meant to, and catalogue his life in music. Listening to Mozart on the way to Arsenal training concocts the persona of someone much more complex than his cheerleading and over-familiar, laddish analysis of his early days on ITV and BBC would suggest. 

That's something else he openly admits - he didn't like the man he had become and didn't want to be remembered as such. And it's not really fashionable to say it, but Wright is one of the most improved pundits on TV and radio, not turning up to collect a cheque, but analyses in a more considered and relatable manner than some of his contemporaries. He's worked on his game, just as he did as a player. 

Discussing waiting on his dad - whom he barely ever saw - to turn up with money for him to buy a pair of trousers is heartbreaking and it is as if he's setting up these stories for maximum impact in the way they arrive so unexpectedly.

But he's far too real for that. This is no manufactured sob story, rather a footballer who reached the pinnacle of the game using DID as a release for the anxiety and insecurity that inhabited even one of the most natural finishers in English football over the past thirty years.

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Players are human, not the caricatures we like to crystallise in our minds all too easily, and Wright admits that therapy helped him to overcome much of the hardships of his life. This felt like his final session before he can get on with things, and as he weeps while Laverne lets out a loving "oh Ian" as he breaks down once again, you're with both of them all the way.

Wright's experiences, in this environment of increased mental health concerns, should be used as an example of the catharsis that comes with talking through your problems and remembering that life is there to be lived. And he has certainly achieved so much despite starting with so little.

More of this sort of thing, please, from people who have the type of tale like Wright who can inspire others.

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