How Mike Smith Made His Own Rules To Become One Of The Most Enduring Faces In UK Media
Smith carved out a career from humble beginnings and when the tides were turning, he was not afraid to take a chance and change direction.
News of Radio 1 DJ Mike Smith’s death was met with shock and grief from across the entertainment industry and especially at the BBC, where Smith had built a well respected and long-standing career in the 80s. Having come from a underprivileged background - dropped out of his A-levels in Chelmsford, Essex, and could not get a job in the motor industry as his father had hoped – Smith was quick on his rise at the Beeb. He started work on BBC Breakfast in the 80s and inherited the high-profile hosting gig from Mike Read in ’86 – just four years after he had come on board.
His time at the BBC was highlighted by being the fifth host of the BBC Radio 1 Breakfast Show, one of the early presenters of BBC One's Breakfast Time and a co-presenter of the BBC's Live Aid coverage. He even once applied to become controller of BBC One.
But Smith’s meteoric rise as a household name was not without hurdles. He was frequently criticised for being unmemorable. "I've been described as bland and boring and as the man who put the fat into fatuous," he admitted in 1994.
In 1981, he met his future wife Sarah Greene and the two quickly rose through the ranks to become Britain’s star broadcasting couple. Flooded with opportunities, they remained discerning of their next ventures. At one point, they turned down the chance to stand in for Richard Madeley and Judy Finnegan on ITV's This Morning and Smith said they declined the chance to host Anne Diamond and Nick Owen's daytime show "before it was Anne And Nick".
"We don't want to be seen discussing each other's personal habits on air," Smith said at one point (quote via BBC News).
But worse was yet to come. Smith was a certified helicopter pilot and a motor racer. In 1988, soon after leaving Radio 1, he and Greene were seriously injured when their helicopter crashed in Gloucestershire.
Greene broke both legs and an arm and Smith broke his back and one ankle in six places. Smith proposed to Greene just weeks later, and they married the following year.
The crash served to alter Smith’s career perspective and he became far less focused on television – although he did return to hosting several times, most notably with quiz show Showbusiness and the series Dreamless.
Dogged by controversy, Smith decided on a major career change in the 90s. Undaunted by his crash, he stepped away from presenting in the early 2000s and, in 2003, founded a company that specialised in shooting aerial footage from helicopters. He frequently flew the machines himself, but at other times, he would work behind the camera or provide commentary for the footage. Smith is one of the few staples of 90s media, who have managed such a drastic career switch successful.