Skip to main content

It looks like you’re using an ad blocker that may prevent our website from working properly. To receive the best experience possible, please make sure any blockers are switched off and refresh the page.

Desert Island Discs

Charlie Watts

Charlie Watts on the drums in Paris, 2011. David Wolff/Patrick/Redferns

Charlie Watts, who died this week at 80, wouldn’t have minded if the Rolling Stones hadn’t lasted. “I used to hate girls chasing us down the road,” the group’s drummer told Sue Lawley on Desert Island Discs in 2001. But their success enabled him to indulge in his love of tailoring: “I have this disease – I see a swatch and have to have a jacket [made].” He took a specially made travelling wardrobe on tour, “with a retinue to carry it round”, and hated people touching his belongings.

A “midlife crisis” led to heroin and alcohol problems in the 1980s. “I got to a point where I realised I was going to lose everything – I just stopped.” Keith Richards, who never offered Watts any drugs, found him collapsed once and gave him some advice: “You should wait until you’re 60 before you start… then you can do it slowly.” Watts’s wife, Shirley, whom he married in 1964, stuck with him. (They had one daughter, who provided their only grandchild.) While he enjoyed collecting vintage cars (he never drove them) and clothes (including suits owned by the Duke of Windsor), she looked after Arabian stallions on their north Devon stud farm, as well as their many dogs – 24 at one point.

Going on the road with the Stones was like a military operation. When he got the call from Mick Jagger and Richards to announce a new tour, “it was like call-up time for the army”. And though he toured the world repeatedly, the view from the back of the huge stages rarely changed: “All I ever see is Mick’s bum moving.”

🎵 Out of Nowhere, Charlie Parker

🎵 Night and Day, Frank Sinatra

🎵 Dance of the Coachmen and Grooms (from Petrushka), Stravinsky

🎵 The Reunion Party, Tony Hancock and Sid James

🎵 Jack the Bear, Duke Ellington

🎵 The Lark Ascending, Vaughan Williams, with Nigel Kennedy

🎵 John Arlott commentating on Jim Laker’s 19-wicket Ashes haul at Old Trafford, 1956

🎵 The Way You Look Tonight, Jerome Kern, sung by Fred Astaire

📕 Collected Poems 1934-52, Dylan Thomas

🎁 A pair of drumsticks

Listen to the episode here.