A couple of years ago I made a terrible mistake.
I made one of those mistakes that you blunder blindly into, like congratulating a colleague on their pregnancy when they're not pregnant or deciding to buy a non-brand name condiment; Honze Ketchup really isn't the same.
I was presenting a programme that was the market leader at the time and one of the key elements was the muse. You know the sort of thing, have you ever wondered why toast lands butter side down? Have you ever noticed that policemen are looking younger these days? By the way I don't like Cats…
Yes. I said it, I don't like cats…
It was more along the lines that I don’t like cats leaving 'gifts' in the garden. I have a toddler who may find them and it's not nice. It was something that I'd tried out in the office. It was something that could be a talking point. It was something that I lived to regret.
Now there are certain things that you can't say in Britain, these are; Is Alan Bennet over rated? Have you noticed that Prince William is going bald? Wasn't Cheryl Cole found guilty of assault? And I don't like (insert name of animal here). I'd forgotten about this last bit. We are a nation of animal lovers and to go against this, even if you have supporting arguments, is just, well, blasphemy.
After being accused of inciting violence towards cats I was called a monster and told that I shouldn't be allowed on the radio ever again under any circumstance. After being abused by text and harangued over the phone I promised NEVER to mention cats again and my boss decided that I had been punished enough.
I felt like Gerald Ratner after his moment in the Albert hall. I'd just killed all the good feeling that I'd built up over the previous 5 years or so. It was not my finest hour.
After a fitful nights sleep, half expecting the local paper to be running with BBC Man In Cat Hate Shock, I went into the office. The atmosphere was subdued. I could see my cat owning colleagues looking at me with a sort of cold detachment that I hadn't seen before. They then decided that just before going on they would have their say about the cat incident… Bless 'em for that.
Bruised, friendless and depressed I went on air and let the audience know that after my conversation about cats I wouldn't be repeating it. I had chosen my words badly and I apologised… and then a call came… now, I always think that if you're going to ask for reaction then you should deal with it good or bad and that if someone has bothered to call then they should be given the chance to air those views. I had done that the previous day when I was the Pol Pot of the cat world… so when this call came through I read out the comment. It was something along the lines of 'I agree with you, and I hate cats in my garden.' I felt a little better about life and I moved on to the talking point for that day.
I don't remember what the talking point was because I then spent the next 3 hours being congratulated by everyone that wasn't listening the previous day, how I was finally going against the angry cat loving minority, how the scourge of cat poo was worse than world poverty and the threat to the ice caps.
After the programme we had a debrief. I reiterated that my apology was in no way a plea for people to agree with me.
The thing is, when you're going to be controversial, or even just a bit honest, you need to be prepared for everything to go wrong, you need to be prepared for shutting it down apologising and moving on, because on the day you decide to say that you don't like cats it may be that everyone who agrees with you is on holiday.