January 23, 2021

Pat Sharp: ‘My mullet was cool but I couldn’t have it now. I’d look like Joe Exotic’

The haircut may be long gone, as are the TV spots, but the DJ is unbowed. In his surprisingly readable new autobiography he is leaning into his inner Alan Partridge

Back when Pat Sharp was still driving his kids to school, he would stop off along the way to pick up other children as part of a rota system. He remembers one of those children vividly. “Whenever I looked in the mirror for traffic, he would just be going …” Sharp gawps down the lens of his Zoom camera for me, eyes vacant, jaw hanging down. “He never said thank you, like the others. He never said anything, he just stared. I thought, this kid is so rude.”

Thirty years later, the same kid turned up at Pat Sharp’s house. He wanted to help write his autobiography and he had an unusual idea about how to go about it. “All that time in the car, he must have been making plans,” laughs Sharp. “And he did apologise for never saying thank you. He said: ‘I just couldn’t believe the guy who presented Fun House was driving me to school.’”

Now, let me be honest here and say that I wasn’t overly excited by the prospect of a Pat Sharp autobiography. Yes, Fun House – the riotous ITV kids show that ran through the 1990s in a blur of go-karting, gunge and cheerleading twins – had been a part of my childhood. Yes, I had been dimly aware of Sharp popping up on shows such as I’m a Celebrity and Come Dine With Me since. And of course I still remembered The Mullet, perhaps one of the most era-defining haircuts. But Sharp didn’t exactly seem like a key cultural figure in 2020. He was just a presenter and DJ on Greatest Hits Radio, merrily getting on with life. At best, I thought, I might get some Accidental Partridge-style quotes.

So it came as some surprise to read Re-Run the Fun: My Life As Pat Sharp and find that it’s one of the funniest books I’ve read in ages. Not just amusing, but packed with gags. So much for Accidental Partridge: Sharp has produced a Very Deliberate Partridge, savagely sending up his post-fame life. At one point he writes: “It’s only occurred to me now, as I sit here in this cafe alternating between writing these pages and pressing F5 on my inbox to see if the University of Roehampton have changed their mind about booking me to be part of their freshers’ week, that I realise you sometimes don’t appreciate just how upsetting your situation is.”

The book is largely untrue. Unless, that is, you are prepared to believe that Pat Sharp played a part in German reunification (“It was a bit like the time we threw a surprise birthday party for Timmy Mallet,” he writes. “A lot like that, actually, as both saw a lot of smashing of walls”), convinced Geri Halliwell to wear a union jack dress at the Brits and once had a coughing fit during an episode of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.

Sharp’s first DJ gig wasn’t at a garden centre. His mother wasn’t a cleaner who argued with clients. And – I can’t believe I’m actually writing this – Mike Leigh didn’t direct an unaired episode of Fun House that featured 17 minutes of harrowing abortion dialogue before any of the games began. So why did Sharp, 59, want to invent his entire life story?

“I think I’m actually pretty boring,” he says. “I’ve never drunk, I’ve never smoked. I’ve never done drugs because I’m happy enough without them. I quite like washing my car, really.”

I suspect Sharp’s co-writers, Darren Richman (the aforementioned staring child) and Luke Catterson, might have been the book’s driving creative force. Which leaves me in the rather bizarre situation of trying to interview someone whose autobiography I’ve just read and yet whose life I know precious little about. Our hour-long chat is largely spent as a game of true or false: untangling nuggets of fact from the book’s vast web of fantasy.

So here goes: Patrick Sharpin (he shortened it for showbiz) says he had a very middle-class upbringing – his dad ran his own PR and marketing business in Grosvenor Square, while his mum gave up an acting career to look after him. An expensive education (Merchant Taylors in Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire) saw him leave school with just the one O-level because “by that stage I knew I just wanted to be a DJ”.

His utter obsession with radio is one thing from the book that turns out to be true – Sharp says he genuinely did record the chart rundown with his finger hovering over his tape recorder’s pause button, not to cut out the presenter’s voice as most young fans did, but rather to avoid taping any music so he could listen back to a cassette of pure links and segues. Sometimes, he says, he would put a thermometer under his hot-water bottle in order to get a day off school. “I would then sit there all day, listening to the radio, fading down the music and doing my own links as if I was the DJ.”

Aged 18, Sharp travelled to California with friends, taking a ghetto blaster on to the plane so he could listen to his favourite Capital Radio DJ recordings. Once there, he ended up taping over them with the American DJs who blew his mind. On later trips to New York, he would send his wife, Monica, out shopping while he sat in the hotel. “I’d tune into Z100 and WPLJ and listen to them bathed in echo like you were with them on top of the Empire State Building, and I would come back and try to recreate that at the top of the Euston tower for Capital. I played jingles more often and faster than anyone else, and that’s something my contemporaries have always been kind to me about, saying I was a slick little operator back in the day.”

Sharp presented his first BBC Radio 1 show in 1982, aged just 20. His distinctive radio style deserved a distinctive look. While working in Norway for Sky Channel (a pop video channel that became Sky One), the local ice hockey players caught his eye. “They were blond, butch and handsome with fantastic hair. I thought: ‘I want a bit of that!’”

He met his wife of 34 years in Norway, and it was Monica who eventually convinced him to cut off his mullet. Sharp says he was out driving when his “huge new carphone” (OK, he does sometimes lapse into Accidental Partridge) started ringing, and he answered it excitedly. “She said: ‘Can you come home now? We need to talk.’ We had an au pair at the time who put the kids in a separate room while Monica sat me down and said: ‘Can you please cut your hair?’ I was so relieved she wasn’t unwell and nothing bad had happened that I said yeah. It was only afterwards that I went: ‘Oh shit, really?’”

And how did it feel when it was gone?

“Cold!” he says. “But it was time to grow up. It’s a cool thing to look back on but I couldn’t have it now. I’d look like Joe Exotic.”

Sharp’s star was so high during the 1980s that he forged an unlikely pop career with the DJ Mick Brown as part of the charity duo Pat and Mick, scoring hits on the Billboard Hot 100 above the likes of Phil Collins and Sting. “But I wasn’t really comfortable with it because I can’t sing, so they had to use a lot of buttons at Stock Aitken and Waterman’s studios to enable me to feel accepted on the record. Being a pop star wasn’t for me and I would have hated to have relied on it to pay my mortgage.”

Instead, his monthly instalments were taken care of by Fun House, which ran from 1989 until 1999 and remains very fondly remembered. The book runs riot with the show – including a (let’s assume fabricated) incident in which an asthmatic boy died on set after inhaling fumes from Sharp’s intense hairspray routine. “I took to the stage, momentarily finding myself again and remembering what was important – a series of games based on pratfalls where children could win accessories they didn’t need.”

I think this is why the book surprised me – at times it seems rather near the knuckle for Sharp’s audience. “There are still a few things in it that I think are a little bit racy, to be honest with you,” he admits. “And some things we had to tone down. I work for a pleasant radio station – nice music, conversational – and I didn’t want them to think: ‘Maybe he’s not for us.’”

Fun House is mercilessly mocked, but Sharp seems obsessed with the show, and had been making progress turning it into an immersive event for adults until the pandemic put a break on things. “As you can imagine, a bunch of drunk people dripping saliva over plastic balls and go-karts probably isn’t the government’s first priority at the moment.”

Since lockdown, he says, he has “lost a load of money” after having 78 live DJ sets and festival gigs cancelled. But he says it’s the young people he feels sorry for. “They’ve just turned 18 and all the nightclubs are closed … it’s terrible. I can understand their frustration.”

When Fun House ended, Sharp tapped into its nostalgia factor by becoming a regular on the student circuit. In the book there’s some Partridge-style bitterness about the fact he’s no longer on the TV, but he says this couldn’t be further from the reality. “I would never complain about any of the gigs I’ve done because I’m nothing but adored at every gig I do. Everybody wants a selfie, people come up and say: ‘You made my childhood.’”

I’m trying to imagine anything more hellish than attending student gigs as a grownup teetotaller, but Sharp paints a different picture. His buzz comes from being in control and ensuring the punters have a great night out. Still, he must have been faced with some annoying requests.

“Oh, 100%. But that’s not just students,” he says. He puts on a moronic lad voice and replays the kind of regular conversation he has with strangers. “‘You all right? Where’s the twins? Did you shag the twins?’” He sighs. The twins were Melanie and Martina Grant, his co-presenters on Fun House. “Even after all this time, ‘Did you shag the twins?’ is my most-asked question. But you just have to deal with it.”

The reality is he is still great friends with Melanie and Martina; he says if they were suddenly all put on stage together they would click instantly because they had that chemistry. In the book, Sharp describes how he would politely ignore the constant “Did you shag the twins?” questions from drunken nightclub crowds …until, that is, he realised he could delight his crowds and guarantee further bookings by regaling them with increasingly outrageous (and made up) tales of threesomes in the Fun House go-karts. Er, have the twins read about this yet?

“They haven’t,” he admits. “They keep asking, but I say: ‘No, you wait your turn.’”

What about the other celebrities mentioned in the book? Did he run any of it past them? It does claim, after all, that Noel Edmonds has a brass door knocker of a lion that has been modified to resemble his own face. And that Sharp has engaged in a lifetime of petty rivalry with Art Attack’s Neil Buchanan. Did he seek permission before mentioning them?

“I didn’t speak to anybody, no. But most people will be absolutely fine with it … and if they’re not, they should lighten up. I’ve been mentioned in a few books and quite liked it.”

At this he springs up and goes to find me something on his computer. It’s an audio clip from Alan Partridge’s Nomad, in which Sharp does indeed get name-checked. “Was that an honour? 100%!” he beams. He recently had a Partridge bender with his two sons – eight episodes of Knowing Me Knowing You in one night – and the influence of Steve Coogan’s comedy character on his own book is hard to ignore.

Sharp believes he has a special appreciation for Partridge because he’s lived the life (“Radio DJs all love Partridge; we’re probably half of his audience”). And so it seems fitting that Sharp wraps things up with a Partridge-esque anecdote he has “dined out on for years”. It’s the early 00s, and he is at a Nordoff Robbins charity lunch when he spots Victoria Beckham beckoning him over with her finger. He had been nice about her autobiography on air and she wanted to thank him. But while they’re chatting he keeps getting distracted by her husband, David, staring at him. Sharp does an impression, and it’s the exact same awestruck gawp he did for the child in the back of his car. The England captain is equally speechless, but eventually Sharp says he managed to squeeze out two words: “He just said: ‘Fun House!’”

Re-run the Fun: My Life As Pat Sharp is published by Constable on 5 November. To order a copy for £17.40 (RRP £20), go to bookshop.theguardian.com. P&P charges may apply.