Cult Q & A: Iain Lee

We’re asking, they’re answering. This week: Down the rabbit hole with radio host, broadcaster and Monkees fanatic Iain Lee. 

Iain Lee got his first break fronting The 11 O’Clock Show at the age of 25. After three series of The 11 O’Clock Show, Iain presented the series, Thumb Candy, and hosted Channel 4’s breakfast show Rise. 

On the radio, Iain spent three years on LBC before moving to Virgin and Absolute for a further four years. Between January and October 2011, Iain’s Absolute show podcasts had over five million downloads. Iain currently hosts ‘Late Nights With Iain Lee’ on TalkRadio.

Iain Lee has just launched ‘The Rabbit Hole’, a pre-recorded phone in show with Katherine Boyle.

What were you like at school?

I used to mess around and laugh. A lot. I remember laughing so much it hurt. I wasn’t very studious and didn’t do very well academically. I’ve also had to recently address the fact that to some people, I wasn’t very nice. I used to get bullied and in turn would bully others that I perceived to be weaker than me. I did some pretty horrible things. In the last 6 months, I’ve got in touch with the people I treated the worst and apologised and they’ve all been gracious enough to forgive me and accept my apology. There are probably more amends to be made though.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

An actor.

What advice would you give to your teenage self?

Calm down. Look after yourself. Being angry isn’t going to solve anything, it’s only going to hurt you more. Stop shouting. Stop putting yourself in dangerous situations. You deserve to be loved and one day you will. This will all pass.

What are your best and worst qualities?

I can still lose my temper although I’ve done a lot of work on it. I dunno, maybe that I’m too open about my mental health? That might be a contender for the best and worst stuff.

What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?

I had to pick up litter in a Pakistani desert. It was only for one day and was part of a job I did over there for 3 months, but man, that was tough. Turns out them Pakistani deserts are WELL hot. The other worst job was the exact opposite and that was stock taking every Saturday evening in the walk in freezer in Bejams.

Who were your heroes growing up?

The Monkees, Brian Wilson, Bruce Lee. I was obsessed with Bruce Lee. My walls and even my ceiling were covered in posters. Hmm, who else? That was probably it.

What do you consider to be the single greatest piece of television ever?

Andy Kaufman doing a stand up gig on TV and being heckled by a plant, his mate Bob Zmuda. Tense and deliciously uncomfortable. Wonderful.

Monty Python: Is it funny?


What was the last film that you watched?

‘Under The Sun’, a documentary about North Korea. Slow, but brilliant.

What film could you watch every day?

‘Head’ starring The Monkees. An absolute psychedelic masterpiece that reveals more each time I see it and I must have watched it over 200 times.

What’s your favourite film soundtrack?

‘Give My Regards To Broad Street’ by McCartney.

Which four actors would you like to see in a film together and which genre?

Well now we can bring dead people back and make them act in movies against their last wishes (‘Rogue One’, I’m looking at you) I’d certainly love to see Bruce Lee and Elvis in a Karate film. Chuck in Bruce Li and Jackie Chan as well and you can take my dollar.

Which film, book or record last disappointed you the most?

Oh, ‘Passengers’ was a massive pile of rapey shit.

Which record would you recommend and lend to a friend?

‘Forever Changes’ by Love. Can’t go wrong with that bad boy. Or ‘Year Of The Wolf’ by Nerina Pallot. Just sublime.

Which record wouldn’t you let out of your sight?

I have a pre-Monkees Michael Nesmith single signed by him under his pseudonym of Michael Blessing. I paid an absolute fortune for it. It’s unique. And now I think on it….I can’t remember where I put it. I need to find it quick!

Which book would you save if your house was on fire?

‘Slaughterhouse 5’ by Vonnegut.

What’s your definition of what makes something cult?

Something that’s brilliant that not many people have latched onto. Or something that is rubbish that not many people have latched onto. No. Let me think. I don’t know. But not many people can have latched onto it. That is key.

What are you reading at present?

‘Shock and Awe : Glam Rock and its Legacy’ by Simon Reynolds.

You first came to prominence on The 11 O’Clock Show; how did that come about? What are your fondest memories of that programme?

I loved doing that show. Loved it. I was 24 I think when I went for the audition, I was skint, in big debt and living back at my mum’s. It was a real last roll of the dice. I’d decided if this didn’t happen I was going to get a proper job for a few years and see. I think it was partly that attitude that helped. I wasn’t desperate. I went in, in a suit that I thought looked dead smart but was actually way too big for me, and did my best Chris Morris impression. I made a short film about art or something, with Andrew Newman who is now a bigwig in the world of BAFTA I think. He didn’t like me but I got lucky. The show’s first producer, Harry Thompson (look him up, utter legend) took a shine to me and made me his pet project.

The show got a lot of flack, and me in particular, but I was in heaven. Working with people like Daisy and Sasha and Ricky, incredible. And in the second series I even managed to get my flatmate Mackenzie Crook on there. Well, I didn’t, his talent did, but we really were living the dream for a few weeks.

We Are Cult are big Monkees fans, but not as big as you! What were the circumstances that led to you and Glen Gretlund setting up 7a records, your specialist label devoted to the prefab four?

That was just one of those things. I ran a Monkee Bootlegs page on FB and became obsessed with getting Micky’s 70’s singles together on one CD for the first time. It took me 2 years but I finally got Universal to admit they owned all the recordings and they offered to license them to me. At that point, I was stuck. Luckily, Glenn had been watching my progress online and when he saw I was getting close to the Holy Grail, he sent me an email. He runs a record label and was the missing link. He knew how to draw up contracts and agreements and all that’s tuff. He also knew the best places to get vinyl and CD’s pressed. Since then we’ve released around 6 or 7 Monkees related releases. It’s incredible, just a dream come true. We have our first Davy Jones release coming out soon. and are the places to be if you want to know more.

Tell us about compiling ‘Micky Dolenz – The MGM Singles Collection’? Was it a labour of love?

Oh. I think I just did that. Yes. It was. It took around 4 years from me having the idea to actually holding the record.

What’s the best bit of advice anyone has given you?

I don’t really remember any advice. Have a supportive mum.

Who has had the biggest influence on your career, and how has that person changed your life?

I just know my mum has always been dead supportive.

Do you think it’s true that you should never meet your heroes?

No. That’s bollocks. Most of them have been delightful – Andy Partridge, Dolenz, Nesmith, Ray Davies, they’ve all been delightful. Gene Simmons was a dick but I wouldn’t say he was a hero.

No. I’ve met quite a few and they’ve mostly been brilliant. Don’t expect to become best friends and you’ll be OK.

What would you like to be your epitaph?

He was a good dad.

We are at a bar, what are you drinking?

I don’t drink booze so I’ll have a St. Clements please.

What are your three favourite cities?

Tokyo, San Francisco and Kyoto.

What do you do to chill out?

Sleep. Meditate. Play Halo Wars.

Is there anything unique about yourself that you would like your readers to know?

I used to be a stage hypnotist and Paul McKenna gave me my TV break.

What element of your work gives you the most personal satisfaction?

Er…when I did some live shows last year, I had quite a few men come up to me and say that me talking about my depression and loneliness had really helped them. I’m not sure how it helped but they identified on some level. I tell you man, loneliness, it’s the next big thing.

You’ve been broadcasting on TalkRadio for some time now. What’s it been like? What do you enjoy most about radio?

It’s been a gas. I love it. I get way more freedom than I’ve ever had on the radio. Radio for me is the best way to communicate. It’s a total connection, unlike TV or print. Maybe not print actually, because that can be intimate. But certainly more than telly. People invite me into their bedrooms, kitchens, cars, bathrooms – wherever. That’s a real honour. A bellend once said to me ‘Iain, you are there to serve the listeners’. The guy was a dick but on that he was kind of right. Kind of.

Do you have any upcoming projects? How can our readers discover more about you and your work?

Well they can all come to or Ooh! I have a new podcast show starting with my friend Katherine Boyle. It’s going to be a pre-recorded phone in show done live in front of an audience and will come out as a weekly pod via Acast. Not sure if it will work or not but it has to be worth a punt.

‘The Rabbit Hole‘ is a new, pre-recorded phone in show with Iain Lee & Katherine Boyle out now on Acast 0203 286 6370 or Skype HeyRabbitHoleShow. The first episode is on iTunes.  

❉ Next show is being recorded on Sunday February 19th. You can get tickets here

❉ Follow @heyrabbithole for recording dates and ticket details.


Become a patron at Patreon!