Joking With Yoko

Every so often we come into a contact with a rumour that simply refuses to die; a shaggy dog story that does the rounds, week after week, month after month. Where do they all come from? We intend to find out. This month: Yoko Ono, the Cheeky Girls and Desert Island Discs.

Having written a weekly gossip mailout for fifteen years now, we’ve seen all sorts of rumours circulated. Some of the ones that interest us the most are the ones that we know for a fact are completely untrue but, somehow, keep getting passed around.

In the last couple of weeks, we’ve noticed there’s been a resurgence in a little factoid about Yoko Ono that does the rounds on occasion.

Usually these spikes come whenever Yoko pops up on people’s radar – as she sporadically does – for authoring a particularly batshit tweet. She is well-known for tweeting absolute gibberish like this…


…and this…

…so it came as no surprise. This time, it seemed to be this tweet that caused a fresh surge of interest in her.

Coming from anyone else, this sort of tweet would raise some serious alarm bells. It sounds like the sort of practical joke that the town psychopath plays. But we know Yoko of old. She’s not a psychopath, she’s just a harmless eccentric.

You know, the sort of harmless eccentric who might very feasibly pick The Cheeky Girls as one of her Desert Island Discs.

That’s how the story goes anyhow. When Yoko Ono appeared on the long-running Radio 4 series Desert Island Discs in 2007, she chose the Cheeky Girls’ The Cheeky Song (Touch My Bum) as the one disc she’d save in the event of a freak tidal wave hitting the shore.

And it sounds like Yoko, doesn’t it? Classic, crazy Yoko. Alone on a desert island, thousands of miles from civilisation, bopping away on the beach to The Cheeky Song (Touch My Bum) – her all-time favourite piece of music.

It feels like it should be right. But, sadly, the story isn’t true. Not even slightly. That hasn’t stopped it from being reported in the Daily Mail, the Daily Express and the Telegraph (twice), but it is verifiably untrue.

It’s strange it ever got this far, really – because it’s very easy to check.

The Desert Island Discs archive is one of the most comprehensive across the whole of the BBC. Not only do they have listings for over 3,000 episodes of the show – reaching back for over seventy years – you can also listen to pretty much any episode you like, at any time.

Here’s Yoko Ono’s if you want to hear for yourself.

The eight tracks she picked were Édith Piaf’s Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien, Lale Andersen’s Lilli Marlene, Dominic Behan’s Liverpool Lou, Bob Marley’s One Love / People Get Ready, Gracie Fields’ When I Grow Too Old To Dream, Sean Lennon’s Magic, Amiina’s Seoul and John Lennon’s Beautiful Boy – which was the track Yoko chose as the one she’d save when the waves came crashing to the shore.

And of course it would have been. It’s a recording of her beloved late husband singing about the child they had together. Why would she ever pick anything else? Even Yoko Ono isn’t certifiable enough to pick The Cheeky Girls’ Cheeky Song (Touch My Bum) and Yoko Ono is practically the benchmark for that sort of thing.

So how on earth did that rumour get started? How are so many people under the misapprehension that Yoko Ono wanted to spend the rest of her life listening to Monica and Gabriela, and not her dead husband?

Well, it was a joke. A simple throwaway gag on a piece written for the website HecklerSpray.

Under the headline Yoko Ono Talks About John Lennon For A Bloody Change (your first clue that this isn’t an entirely serious piece), the author says that Yoko speaks about “how she almost got her son Sean aborted and then how John Lennon wanted to go and see Sean just before he got shot. With touching sadness, Yoko Ono then announced that the song to always remind her of that tragic incident is The Cheeky Song (Touch My Bum) by The Cheeky Girls.”

Yes, it’s a rather deadpan delivery, but there is no mistaking this as anything other than a joke.

Or at least you’d think there wasn’t. But it’s been so widely reported ever since that the book Desert Island Discs: 70 Years Of Castaways felt compelled to point out that this wasn’t true (but they had no idea where the rumour started)

The author of the joke was Stuart Heritage (who now writes for the Guardian) – so we asked him whether he knew his joke had been taken at face value by the right-wing press and repeated as fact.

He didn’t.

“I had no idea about this at all! I barely remember writing anything specific for Hecklerspray but this was clearly a joke – although admittedly a really shit, unfunny, bad-taste joke. I said it was the song that reminded her most of John Lennon’s murder, for crying out loud. I think I only chose it because it had the word ‘bum’ in the title.”

“Journalists are stupid,” he concluded. “People are stupid.”