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Christmas radio: Hollywood castaways, 1,000 choirs, a little bit of Bjork and a ghostly tale

Enjoy Radio 3’s search for the best carol on Friday.
Enjoy Radio 3’s search for the best carol on Friday.

Whether it’s festive musical bangers, classic choral hymns or just great documentaries, we all need a soundtrack to get us through the next couple of weeks.

Thankfully there’s plenty to put on in the background while you’re wrapping presents or glazing the Christmas ham.

This year, Desert Island Discs celebrated its 80th birthday year and has saved the best three guests for last.

Last week host Lauren Laverne was joined by two-time Oscar-winning actress Cate Blanchett, and today she’ll be speaking to movie director and pioneer of the modern blockbuster Steven Spielberg (Desert Island Discs, Radio 4, today, 11.15am).

He reflects on a lifetime of film-making, starting with the childhood mini-movies which gave him power over the popular kids who usually ignored him. Spielberg recalls his first big break as a director, with the terrifying truck chase drama Duel, and also considers why the child’s perspective has always been important, in films including ET, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, the BFG and, most recently, The Fabelmans.

And the Christmas Day castaway is Kirsty Young (Radio 4, Christmas Day, 11.15am), the acclaimed presenter of Desert Island Discs from 2006 until 2018, when ill health forced her to step down.

This year she returned to broadcasting, for the Platinum Jubilee and most notably for the TV coverage of the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II.

Her closing words, as she ended the live broadcast after the service at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, moved many of the millions viewing at the time. She shares her own feelings about that moment, and also looks back at her early years on air in Scotland, her career in TV news – and, after casting away nearly 500 people herself, she reveals the eight discs she couldn’t be without.

Meanwhile Radio 4 has some smashing advice for you, with the help of the brilliant author Marian Keyes. Now You’re Asking with Marian Keyes and Tara Flynn (Radio 4, Christmas Eve, 5.30pm) asks and answers vital questions, such as whose home should you spend yuletide in and whose holiday traditions should you follow? How much should you spend on presents and what should you do if you think a relative is mean?

And what are the ways of coping with the sadness this “happy” time of year can bring? Marian and Tara take listeners’ Christmas questions in their stride.

Marian Keyes is a multi-award-winning writer, with a total of over 30 million books sold to date in 33 languages. Her close friend, Tara Flynn, is an actress, comedian and writer. Together, these two friends have been through a lot, and now want to use their considerable life experience to help solve the biggest – and smallest – of their listeners’ problems

For those fed up with hearing the same old Christmas songs then 6 Music takes a deep dive inside the musical mind of one of the most original artists alive today.

Björk makes her 6 Music presenting debut with a meticulously curated selection of music to move you, and make you move (Festive Takeover: Björk, 6 Music, Boxing Day 7pm).

In this landmark two-hour special, Björk digs into her exquisite record collection and shares the stories behind her far-reaching discoveries – from traditional Sardinian folk to Tanzanian electronic, rare South American grooves to the freshest North American R&B.

Uber-cool artists like Self Esteem, John Grant and Peaches also have their Christmas specials on 6 Music, too.

If that’s a little too hipster for you, Radio 3 will be concluding their popular carol competition on Friday. Nearly 1,000 entries from choirs far and wide have been whittled down to just six pieces that the public have been voting on.

Petroc Trelawny announces the winning carol of this year’s BBC Radio 3 Carol Competition (Radio 3, Friday, 6.30am-9am).

For those looking for some quality drama the BBC’s World Service has a treat for fans of classic ’70s fantasy. The Dark Is Rising (World Service, Tuesday, 8.30am) tells the story of Will Stanton, an ordinary boy who begins to have eerie and magical experiences on his 11th birthday, one snowy December.

The Dark Is Rising has a superb ensemble cast including Toby Jones, Harriet Walter, Paul Rhys and newcomer, 12 year-old Noah Alexander. The show will also be repeated on Radio 4 from Boxing Day, too, to enjoy with your turkey leftovers.