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Pick of the podcasts: the best listens for your autumn commute

Dua Lipa who has a podcast called At Your Service  (AFP via Getty Images)
Dua Lipa who has a podcast called At Your Service (AFP via Getty Images)

Dear Joan and Jericha

Be warned, this a deeply risky listen if you’re hoping to retain a poker-face on the Overground; this podcast has reduced me to hysterical tears on multiple occasions. Once, I cackled so much that I gave myself a stitch. Comedians and actors Julia Davis and Vicki Pepperdine voice Joan and Jericha, two deeply inappropriate and completely ill-informed agony aunts at hand to answer listeners’ questions. While they lack basic empathy, they more than make up for it with the breathtakingly unethical advice they dispense. If you liked Davis’ Noughties black comedy Nighty Night, this will be up your street. EH

A Very British Cult

The title is whimsical, but the reality is far more depressing. This BBC podcast, carefully and clinically presented by Catrin Nye, examines the controversial Lighthouse Group. Posing as life coaches, the group slowly came to dominate the lives of the people they were supposed to be helping. Listening to survivors talk about their experiences makes for a checklist of cult activities: extortion of money, alienation of family and friends, absolute loyalty to its founder. And it is still operational today. VJ

Blood on the Dancefloor

Wind back the clock 20 years or so, and Ireland was taking its first, tentative steps out of the Troubles. Peace was fragile; the 1997 murder of the first openly gay officer in Northern Ireland almost shattered it completely. Hosted by Belfast native Jordan Dunbar, this podcast veers between celebrating Darren Bradshaw’s life, examining the circumstances of his death, and introducing listeners to Belfast’s thriving but fragile LGBTQ scene at a time when being gay was still taboo. VJ

The Evening Standard Theatre Podcast

Sir Ian McKellen and Roger Allam with Nancy Durrant and Nick Clark on the Evening Standard Theatre Podcast (ND)
Sir Ian McKellen and Roger Allam with Nancy Durrant and Nick Clark on the Evening Standard Theatre Podcast (ND)

Every week ES chief theatre critic Nick Curtis, culture editor Nancy Durrant and deputy culture editor Nick Clark review the biggest or most interesting theatre shows opening in London. Be warned – they don’t like everything, and they definitely don’t always agree. Keep up to date with all the latest news and interviews with the biggest names in theatre including this week’s chat with Sir Ian McKellen and Roger Allam about their new play, Frank & Percy. NC

Can I Tell You a Secret

This is the tale of a cyberstalker and his 10-year reign of terror. He would create fake profiles and ask people a simple question, “Can I tell you a secret?” What would follow is what one person called a “living nightmare”, in which he stole people’s identities and messaged their friends and families, often to cause chaos within relationships. He would regularly message victims up to 50 times a day – and despite complaints to the police no one knew how to get him to stop. A shocking, compelling listen. NC

Killing Victoria

During Queen Victoria’s 63-year reign, seven attempts were made on her life. As this BBC Sounds podcast says, these seven men were within seconds of changing the course of history forever. It’s a fascinating look at stories that few will know much about – Dr Bob Nicholson examines why each made the attempt and what happened to them afterwards. NC

Dua Lipa: At Your Service

Dua Lipa at the European premiere of Barbie (PA)
Dua Lipa at the European premiere of Barbie (PA)

Yes, it’s another pop star trying their hand at a podcast. But Dua Lipa is a considered and thoughtful interviewer, with access to some of the biggest names in the industry (though she’s also just as likely to interview cult authors like Pachinko’s Min Jin Lee), and she clearly does her homework. Where the show really shines though is in interviews with peers like Billie Eilish or BLACKPINK’s Jennie, where the pair talk about their shared experiences of being in showbiz. An eye-opener. VJ

If Books Could Kill

Journalist Michael Hobbes and lawyer Peter Shamshiri analyse the “airport bestsellers that captured our hearts and ruined our minds”; putting them into context and analysing the mega-hit books that have had a massive cultural impact in America. Think hilarious and well-argued takedowns of Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret, Neil Strauss’ The Game, John Gray’s Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, and more. EJG

I’m Not A Monster Season 2

A harrowing, but fascinating, listen. Journalist Josh Baker’s I’m Not A Monster series takes a look at the people who fled seemingly normal and happy lives in the West to join ISIS during its reign of terror. In that vein, season two is a deep dive into the life of runaway Shamima Begum, the girl from Bethnal Green who vanished in 2015 and reappeared in 2019 in a Syrian refugee camp. In addition to interviewing Begum herself, Baker attempts to piece together what really happened during her years in Syria – and what happened to the thousands of ISIS fighters still missing. VJ

The Retrievals

From the people who brought you Serial, this follows the terrible case at a fertility clinic in the US where a nurse in the grip of an addiction was stealing the pain medication fentanyl from women receiving treatment. She swapped in simple saline solution, meaning the women had to go through egg retrieval – invasive surgery – with no pain relief. It’s very interesting about women’s health and the continual refusal to believe women when they say there is something wrong. LE

Scamanda

 (The Lippin Group)
(The Lippin Group)

Amanda C Riley is just another suburban mother. A mother who, tragically, is diagnosed with incurable cancer only a few months after having her first child. For her, like many Americans, medical bills are expensive, so she starts a fundraising blog to ask her friends and family for money… but what seems innocent at first quickly becomes a tale of audacity, greed and massive financial fraud that spans almost a decade. Every episode brings twists and turns and host Charlie Webster capably steers us through the madness. VJ

Script Apart

Hosted by writer Al Horner, this is one for the film buffs: Moonlight director Barry Jenkins, Jurassic Park screenwriter David Koepp, Aftersun director Charlotte Wells and Tár’s director Todd Field are just a few of the high-profile guests to grace it. Accordingly, it’s packed with plenty of insider info and behind-the-scenes details. Horner and producer Kamil Dymek are most interested in the first drafts of films that go onto become classics: what changed along the way, and why? EH

Sentimental Garbage

 (Jamie Drew)
(Jamie Drew)

Dissecting everything from our obsession with rich people making tits out of themselves (see: Below Deck, Selling Sunset) to charmingly rubbish films which have taken on beloved cult status, Sentimental Garbage is dedicated to celebrating all things ‘lowbrow’ in pop culture, from Barbie to Twilight, with the academic levels of detail they deserve. In recent months, journalist Caroline O’Donoghue has invited the pop musician Self Esteem to discuss the ins and outs of indie twee, and Chvrches singer Lauren Mayberry for a chat about Spice World: The Movie. Dolly Alderton is also a regular on spin-off Sentimental and the City: an off-shoot dedicated to all things SATC. EH

So I Got To Thinking

On this Sex and the City-themed podcast, Juno Dawson and Dylan B Jones attempt to answer the often-nonsensical questions posed by Carrie Bradshaw each episode – including recent reboot And Just Like That. As anyone remotely familiar with her character will know, her sex columnist musings are often completely ridiculous, but the duo draw on their own relationships, dating experiences, and forensic knowledge of the show to try and tackle them in-depth. "What comes first, the chicken or the sex?" “Are men in their 20s the new designer drug?” Or indeed: “are men just women with balls?” EH

Spellcaster: The Fall of Sam Bankman Fried

There is something fascinating about crypto currency and the fortunes created and destroyed by this mysterious, digital lucre – and there is no greater riches to rags story than that of Sam Bankman-Fried. The nerdy, superbrain gamer became a multi-billionaire in his 20s, and he became especially notable for his pledge to donate billions to good causes, prompting a queue of celebs to line up and endorse him and his companies. Then his exchange FTX collapsed, a lot of money went missing and Sam found himself in handcuffs. This podcasts digs into the real story. NC

Sweet Bobby

Tortoise Media’s podcast came out in 2021 and became a bit of a sensation. London girl Kirat Assi is outgoing, happy, doing well in her job; that is, until she makes Facebook friends with Bobby. They have friends in common – his brother used to date her second cousin – but the tale soon spirals into a complex tale of online catfishing that has an extraordinary conclusion. Keep listening, and wait for the clang of your jaw hitting the floor. VJ

Who Shat on the Floor at My Wedding

 (Instagram/@whoshatontheflooratmywedding)
(Instagram/@whoshatontheflooratmywedding)

A brilliantly low-stakes true crime podcast, this word-of-mouth hit attempts to track down the phantom pooper who derailed the 2018 wedding of Karen Whitehouse and her now-wife Helen McLaughlin by leaving a gift on the bathroom floor. In a bid to solve the mystery that has haunted them since the reception, the couple recruit their friend Lauren Kilby as their intrepid detective. Kilby’s investigative methods are unorthodox, to say the least - they involve gathering guests’ knickers as evidence and interrogating a suspicious friend called Henk who spent “all night” in the toilets chatting. She’s also aided by a genuine clinical forensic psychologist called Mike Berry, with hilarious and broadly unscientific results. EH

Wild Things – Siegfried and Roy

Double-act Siegfried and Roy became Vegas legends and household names in the Eighties and Nineties. This podcast details how the illusionists came to dominate the international scene with their elaborate magic shows, all of which featured exotic big cats. The cats lived with them, hung out with them in their hotel suites, and even accompanied them to celebrity meet-and-greets with Bill Clinton. All fine and dandy, until of course it wasn’t: in 2003, Roy was attacked by one of his prize animals, a white tiger named Montecore, with devastating consequences. VJ

You’re Wrong About

Writer and media critic Sarah Marshall is a dab-hand at getting to the bottom of every possible myth or urban legend that you can think of, educating listeners about everything from the enduring mystery of the Dyatlov Pass incident and the late Sinead O’Connor’s activist activities, to the world’s supposed abundance of lesbian seagulls (who knew?). It makes for fascinating stuff, whatever she delves into. EH

The London Podcast Festival runs until September 17; kingsplace.co.uk