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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

Psychiatry’s castaway


Dr Gwen AdsheadBBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs

In May, one of our former Presidents, Baroness Sheila Hollins, was Kirsty Young’s castaway on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs. But she isn’t the first female psychiatrist to appear on the programme – forensic psychotherapist Dr Gwen Adshead appeared in July 2010. We asked Sheila and Gwen to answer a few questions about their experience. 


How were you asked to be on the programme?

Sheila: “I received an email just before Christmas and decided to ask my family’s advice and they all thought that it would be a wonderful opportunity. For rather obvious reasons, I am always rather dubious about media requests and did email them to ascertain why I had been invited to take part.”


Gwen: “It was a complete bolt from the blue; the request came in an email and at first I thought at first it was a scam and that I would have to desposit £25,000 in a Nigerian bank account...but then it turned out not to be.”


Was it difficult making your music choices?

Gwen: “Choosing was really hard. The story of my life in music? The music that I linked with special people? A forensic theme? In the end, I chose things that had always been on my dream list; and a couple of unusual things, like the music from my choir.”


Sheila: “On New Year’s eve, we played a Desert Island Discs game with family and friends which was a good process to decide what to include. The music you select has to have meaning to you and your life and is not necessarily your favourite music. The Wordsworth poem, On Westminster Bridge, set to music and sung by my daughter Catherine, has a particular personal meaning to me. I studied medicine at St Thomas’s and I am now very often in the House of Lords and the recording was arranged by my husband, Martin, to celebrate a recent birthday.”


How did you find the recording process?

Professor Sheila HollinsGwen: “The interview process could teach psychiatrists thing or two. First, a very experienced researcher (who's worked on the programme for years) comes and takes a history over 2-3 hours. That 'history' becomes a series of signposted topics of conversation to go with the music choices: so the interview is semi-structured and Kirsty Young has a script. She is allowed to go 'off-piste' if the interview is going well, or takes an interesting turn, but somehow she always has to get back to the ‘signposts’ that link the music. Kirsty is a wonderful interviewer and we had a long and enjoyable conversation in the bowels of Broadcasting House.. the whole interview took about two and half hours! SO the real art (the real, real art) is in the editing. And I take my hat off to them; they made something interesting and air-worthy out of me whittering. I learnt a lot about interviewing that day.”


Sheila: “From my media training as President of the RCPsych, I realised that I needed to be well prepared and clear as to whether there was a particular hidden agenda. Like Gwen, a researcher came to see me and took copious notes. When I arrived at Broadcasting House for the recording which took 3 hours, I was a bit thrown to discover how scripted the interview was. Interestingly, the interview is not linear which was a bit disorientating. I was very anxious to ensure that the emphasis of the interview was not on one particular daughter, but on all three of my daughters. I also discovered that the agenda was to link the law between euthanasia, my daughter Abigail’s disability and the evidence which I gave to the Levenson Inquiry. By reading out Abigail’s haiku, Kirsty Young became quite emotional which I think in some ways what she hoped that I would be by some  issues raised in the interview. Although I did not hear the final programme before it was aired, we were all pleased with the final product.”


What response did you get after your interview was aired?

Sheila: “I was amazed by the response which I received from peers and pariamentarians in the House of Lords, many of whom had listened to the programme. People that I only knew by sight were very friendly and said that the programme made them feel like they knew me. I also received an email from someone I used to go to school with. We were in the same Physics group at school and all failed our exam. She told me about her life and career, she is a pharmacist, and we hope to meet up soon.”


Gwen: “I had lots of nice feedback from the public (mainly concern that my home address was on the internet!), and only one mad letter. I have listened to it once or twice since then because it has lots of nice music on it that I like! But now I kick myself for all the things I didn't have... The best thing was that it told lay people something about the hospital that I take for granted but I see others don't know. It told them that Broadmoor is not a Gothic creepy place, but a sad place, full of suffering, where we try and offer the best therapy we can to change people's minds.”


Track selection

Baroness Hollins’ choices:

  • The Lovin’ Spoonful, Daydream
  • Ludwig van Beethoven, Piano Concerto No.4 in G Major
  • Acker Bilk, Stranger on the Shore
  • Angélique Kidjo, Sound of the Drums
  • Wordsworth, On Westminster Bridge
  • Miles Davis, So What
  • Cleo Laine, On a Clear Day You can See for Ever
  • Thomas Tallis, Sancte Deus from Spem in Alium
  • Book100 Masterpieces of Art
  • Luxury item – My clarinet

Dr Gwen Adshead’s choices:

  • The Rolling Stones, Gimme Shelter
  • Johann Sebastian Bach, Suite for Solo Cello No. 1 in G major - Prelude
  • Ian Dury and The Blockheads, Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick
  • The Weather Girls, It’s Raining Men
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, That Ungrateful Man Betrayed Me (from Don Giovanni)
  • James Taylor, Shower the People
  • Johannes Eccard, When Mary to the Temple Went
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, The Lacrimosa
  • Book – Biggest book of poetry available
  • Luxury item – Pen and paper




Gwen and Sheila’s interviews are still available listen to online.



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