“We’re live on air. It’s my first show from home,” Cel Spellman explains, in full storytelling mode. It’s a month into lockdown in London and we’re all guaranteed to have been through at least one embarrassing WFH moment, but none of us can say ours have happened whilst presenting the BBC’s flagship radio. “My brother comes storming in, screaming for his charger…” He pauses, letting the hilarity sink in. “The worst thing was, I didn’t even have his charger this time.”
If he’s not curing our Sunday blues on BBC Radio 1’s afternoon show, the Mancunian is gearing up for the release of his latest on-screen role in Álex Pina’s Netflix series, White Lines. “I’ve been working on trying to find a succinct way of describing the show because honestly, it’s just bonkers. And I mean that in the best possible way!” he laughs. “There isn’t just one main narrative that exists in the show, there are five or six different stories all intertwined into one. The best I’ve come up with is it’s a ‘who did it’ set on the island of Ibiza. The story of [DJ] Axl’s death is told by flashing back and forth between the present day and the 90s, when Axl was alive.” But, as Spellman insists, that’s just a drop in the ocean of what the show is as a whole. Pina has created a hedonistic world of heightened reality, embedded in truthful and honest performances.
At the heart of the dark crime thriller is a story of loss: not just of Axl, but of youth, dreams and, freedom. Spellman is adamant that these are things he aims to hold onto forever: “we can have all of that for all of our lives if we choose”, and his favourite book is The Alchemist because of the message printed on the front: ‘follow your dreams’. “It’s so simple that, but it’s actually one of the hardest things to do,” he tells me. “We live in a time when it’s easy to lose sight of what ignites your soul and makes you want to get out of bed in the morning. We shouldn’t have to conform to the parameters in which our society exists.”
The spirit of this idea can be found splashed across his Twitter bio in words lifted from Alice in Wonderland: “You’re entirely bonkers. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are.” I ask Spellman if, like The Mad Hatter, he considers himself ‘bonkers’. “If you were to ask people around me, they’d probably go ‘Yes, off his trolley!’” he replies. “I love it. It’s the best way to be. Everyone is trying to be normal and fit in. Listen, different is the best possible thing. We’ve all got individual fingerprints so we should be different. We should be a bit mad and bonkers. Life’s boring otherwise. We wouldn’t end up having tea with The Mad Hatter if we weren’t a bit bonkers. So it’s up to you; you can either join the tea party or stay above ground.” Spellman, I am spellbound. Save us a seat.
White Lines is currently available to watch on Netflix.