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The rise of the celebrity podcast...

You'd have to be mad to not have noticed the huge surge in stars starting their own podcasts over the last 12 months.

In February Ron Burgundy pondered meditation and things to do if you're stuck in an elevator during his early podcast episodes. Springtime saw Wayne Rooney offer some insight into family life over in America…and last month we learnt that even Michelle and Barack Obama are to step into the world of podcasts as they've partnered with Spotify.

Back in June 2018, Oprah Winfrey released her master class trailer episode. Within days, she soared to the top ten most listened to episodes in Apple Podcast charts. The only episode was just 60 seconds long.

Clearly, sometimes the pull of a celebrity name is all it takes to see a series do well, regardless of what or who it’s about.

Yet there can be a few surprises. A handful of names who we all assumed would nose dive, but instead have continued to soar.

Take for instance, David Tennant Does A Podcast With... series. Who knew he was such a great listener and interviewer, a future TV host?

The same applies with business woman Karren Brady, whose series ‘Get What You Want’ lacked quality branding and skipped the bells and whistles of high quality production, yet quietly shines as a hidden jewel among countless business and leadership podcasts.

Plus there’s the long-termers too. Comedian Adam Buxton has stepped over the 100 episode line with awards aplenty and advertisers queuing up to get their brand featured in his bespoke musical jingles.

Then there’s Joe Rogan - frankly, a category of his own.

One of his episodes with author and podcaster Sam Harris was Apple’s second most downloaded podcast in 2017 and 2018, and has been watched 2.6 million times on YouTube.

These days his podcast is seen as a space for freethinkers to speak their mind. There’s room for those rare hard-to-believe moments, such as millions of us watching billionaire tech giant Elon Musk drinking whisky and smoking weed with Joe.

And who says all podcasts shouldn’t be longer than 30 minutes or an hour? Not Mr Rogan. His episodes regularly pass the two hour mark. And yet he doesn’t consider himself a proper interviewer, just “someone who talks to people and records it”. With 30 million downloads a month, it’s clearly a formula that’s changing the format expectations of long-form content.

Even the music industry has cottoned on to the idea that people are willing to listen to the words behind the lyrics, the story behind their favourite artists' inspiration. Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour and Led Zep’s Robert Plant both have dipped their toe into content marketing for an upcoming charity auction and tour respectively.

It seems podcasts might just be an apt way of skipping out the middle man of broadcasters for publicity, and a new path for the artist and label to retain all editorial control.

And in the world of celebrity – image control is everything.

Take Happy Place – host Fearne Cotton has interviewed tons of well-known faces, from Stephen Fry to Spice Girl Mel C. All talking about their mental health, sharing some of their most heart-breaking private thoughts. And for us ordinary folk, it's a chance to discover how these stars we place on pedestals are – just like us - human.

So is the celebrity-to-celebrity interview the star’s ultimate safe space?

After all, one of their own kind wouldn’t tear them apart publicly as a professional broadcaster might do, right?

But perhaps it’s worth noting how this could mean that many supposed role models are no longer being held to account on a public platform. Instead a non-journalist could be allowing a guest to promote their agenda without challenge. If most of the population believe what they read in weekly mags and red top tabloids, then surely the same applies to podcasts?

A podcast used to be looked down upon as TV and radio’s poorer goofier cousin. But now, with 62 million people listening in North America every week, it seems more celebrities are opening their minds to being guests on or hosting their own series. So far for listeners the benefits appear to outweigh the negatives. After all, podcasting is allowing us to get to know our favourite celebrities a little more intimately, and in ways we’ve never heard them before.


Clare Freeman is a podcast coach, producer and consultant to individuals and companies across the world. If you a helping hand and 90 minutes one-on-one support to get started podcast, book her time online here. For more about her podcast consultancy services read here.

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