The Audio & Radio Industry Awards (ARIAS) at The First Direct Arena

I’ve always wanted to get up close and personal at a red carpet event, and last night I got to do just that, having been asked to cover the super cool Audio & Radio Industry Awards (ARIAS) at the First Direct Arena.

I wasn’t sure what to expect; I just knew that it is a big deal to those who dominate the radio industry, but even I was a little astounded by the genuine anticipation in the atmosphere, as people flooded in and prosecco and canapes began to circulate.

I arrived ahead of schedule, as is my way, and spent a bit of time pre-celeb-spotting, chatting to others; finding out about what makes these awards such a big deal here in the City. It’s been three years since the ARIAS came to Leeds, pioneered by Radio Academy and championed by LeedsBID.  I quickly came to realise just how big the event was, not just for radio but also for the recording world overall. First Direct Arena housed a host of iconic, talented, industry-leading audio pros and I was there to witness the magic happen.

Photographers huddled at the edge of the infamous carpet (a purple one, not red!), eagerly anticipating the first glimpse of the stars, whilst hosts Polly James and Matt Lissack prepped their corner for those all-important arrival chats. Despite the low rumble of excited chatter around me, and promise of glitz and glam, I enjoyed the down-to-earth air about the place. Ronan Keating would be rocking up at some point, but he’d be brushing shoulders with the keen and creative students of Leeds Beckett University and chatting to everyday people like me. ARIAS is a high profile occasion, yes, but it’s also inclusive. With it being my first report on this famously prestigious awards do, I appreciated the relaxed vibe immensely.

Penny Smith. All photographs by Jazz Jennings.

The presenters, performers and nominees all wowed, of course, as they each took centre-stage on the carpet – taking it in turns to strike a pose and offer perfect smiles before graciously accepting the attention and request for a few moments of their time. Some arrived to a sea of flashing cameras and were ushered away in the blink of an eye, whilst others were happy to chat and share their feelings about the imminent ceremony.

In truth, I had a lot of relatively big names within touching distance but I only approached those who truly caught my attention. Amy Irons, Capital Scotland breakfast show presenter, looked like an angel in her all-sequined dress, which truly sparkled every which way the light hit her. Her outfit was complimented by tresses of long blonde hair and an infectious smile. She stole the show for me and I had to tell her so.

Amy Irons.

“Firstly,” I said the second I caught her eye and before I’d even introduced myself. “… look phenomenal. That dress is EVERYTHING.”

Her laugh was more of a sweet, modest tinkle. “Thanks, hon. That’s really nice of you to say!” Of course, she had the gentle Scottish lilt to match her perfect everything.

“How are you feeling about tonight?”

“Excited to be at the awards,” she said with a grin, “and to be here in Leeds.”

She’d done that girl-thing we do; hopped on a train from Scotland to Leeds with just enough time to enjoy a few cheeky drinks in her hotel before joining the glam-squad and party-goers here.

The general consensus was the same – everyone was here to celebrate what they love about the industry, it was clear to see. I quite literally bumped into Christa Ackroyd, a BBC Look North presenter from my youth, and she appeared as sassy and as steadfast as ever.

“There’s a face I remember,” I told her. We smiled at one another. “You’re the image of my BBC TV childhood.”

“Lovely of you to say!” she grinned, “I gave them a lot of years!”

If I wasn’t bumping into Ms Ackroyd, I was drawn to the familiarity of Capital FM’s presenter JoJo Kelly’s gritty northern cackle as we ordered wine, side by side at the bar. If I wasn’t talking to her about the award she was presenting, I was trying to give Trevor Nelson directions, and failing miserably. Not only did I not know the arena floorplan, it appeared I also failed to recognise epic DJs. I had no idea it was Trevor Nelson until about five minutes after I sent him blindly on his way.

It was difficult to pin down the celebs for long, but one man more than happy to entertain a chat was 80’s heartthrob Tony Hadley, who rocked up at the awards looking debonair in a crushed velvet jacket and scarf. I gave him a kiss on both cheeks as he came towards me.

Tony Hadley

“Have you been enjoying your time in Leeds?” I asked him.

“Yes! I’ve just been for a lovely Italian meal at BiBi’s. Sorry about the smell of garlic!”

“And how are you feeling about this evening?”

“I’ll be performing tonight so I’m looking forward to it. It’s great to be in the City.”

I asked him to sing me a few lines of an old classic but I don’t think he believed I was serious. His amused chortle which followed my request would suggest as much – I knew I’d have to wait for the performance on the main stage but it didn’t stop me from pushing my luck.

Mollie King

Speaking of performance, it was time to move as the crowd began making their way into the main arena.  It was showtime.

I managed to snag a great spot in direct view of the stage. The arena soon filled up and the whole place was bathed in violet neon lighting as a performance by 808 State kicked things off and set the tone for the evening. With 23 prestigious awards up for grabs and artists like the Cosovettes and Sophie Ellis-Bextor also performing throughout the evening, there was no doubt that the event would be fun-filled to say the least. I had a fantastic time!

Poppy Adjudha

Best New Show went to well-deserving Podcast You, Me & The Big C, Best Specialist Music Show was won by Edith Bowman, Best Sports Show was won by Mo-Joe: An 18-week Marathon Training Diary, with Griefcast scooping the Best Podcast category.

Best Music Presenter at Breakfast went to the Pulse 1 with Mylo & Rosie’s breakfast show, Best Speech Presenter at Breakfast was won by Stephen Nolan from BBC Radio Ulster, Best Speech Presenter Non-Breakfast was won by Justin Dealey of BBC Eastern Counties, and Best Coverage of an Event was won by An Accent Exceedingly Rare: a love letter to Liverpool – BBC Merseyside.

The Best Marketing Campaign was given to Common People, BBC Radio Sheffield, Best Local Radio Show went to David Burns at BBC Radio Humberside, Best Local Station Of The Year went to BBC Radio Leeds and Best Music Presenter Non-Music was won by Folded Wing for Jamie Cullum on BBC Radio 2.

Best Factual Storytelling was awarded to Loftus Media for Meeting The Man I Killed, Best Fiction Storytelling was bagged by PRA productions with Double Bubble, Best Nation Network of The Year and Best Radio Sound, whilst Best Commercial Promotion and Best New Presenter went to Magic’s Ronan Keating (feature photo.)

Ronan Keating

Best Community Programming went to by Absolute Radio’s Frank Skinner, Best News Coverage went to BBC 5 Live’s The Emma Barnett Show – Real Life Stories, and Funniest Show was bagged by BBC Radio 4 with Fortunately with Fi and Jane.

Team Of The Year went to Cash for Kids – Bauer Radio’s network of local charities – and Individual of The Year was awarded to Paul Sylvester, content Director at Absolute Radio.



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