Gavin Ford: off the air Beloved friend and radio icon passes away

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Gavin Ford was an institution in Lebanon. To me, he was a supportive colleague and a mentor, but mostly he was a loyal friend and a wonderful human being.

Gavin was my daily radio companion long before he knew me—I listened to his show for many years before becoming his co-host. When I met him, and as I got to know him, I was surprised to find out that he was actually a lot softer than his feisty, extroverted radio self. Off-air, he was a self-admitted introvert. But that’s not to say he didn’t know how to have a good time. He was a riot—funny, silly and always lived his life to the fullest. Gavin, the friend, was undeniably kind, thoughtful and humble. He was attentive, generous, and loyal to a fault. He was compassionate, tolerant, and humane. He was also smart, strong and spiritual. There are not enough adjectives.

When Olga met Gavin

Gavin and Olga in 2014

In 2002 I spoke to Gavin for the first time. I had called the station to request a song that I wanted to record on a cassette tape—for those who remember this practice—and when he finally played it I hit record, but the tape had run out of space and I only got a few seconds. I think we told that story on the radio too many times but there it is again.

A decade later I applied for my job as his co-host on a whim—almost as a joke. I had a long drive every morning to my previous work, and heard him announce the job opening. I auditioned thinking there was no way I would get it since I had no prior radio experience.

The very first time I met him in person, during my audition, we had instant chemistry—it never faded. He and I started cracking jokes and I remember vividly that he did a story on a bird-poop facial mask that was becoming all the rage, and I wondered out loud—what do these birds eat that makes their poo so special? He genuinely laughed. I later learned that others at the station had been pushing for a different co-host, but Gavin insisted on having me. Many listeners noticed our chemistry too, and frequently told us we were great together. It’s why I stayed for so long.

Gavin Ford in the Morning

From a photoshoot in 2012

I was Gavin’s co-host for six and a half years—the longest lasting co-host he had in his 23 years at Radio One Lebanon. He was a wonderful colleague and mentor. He really showed me the ropes and supported me in any way he could. Gavin was immensely passionate about radio and very dedicated to his show, it was his baby. He was hard working, a perfectionist, and had very high expectations—first and foremost of himself—but also of his co-workers. We often joked that I “survived” Gavin Ford for so long.

I was once offered a job on another radio station in Lebanon and he helped me put together a demo, even though I would have essentially become his competitor—not that anyone could compete with Gavin. That was the kind of person he was, selfless and supportive. I ended up turning down the job because I didn’t want to leave our duo.

He taught me everything I know in radio. He told me to talk to listeners like I would talk to friends, and to always be myself on air because people would sense if we were fake. And so, we were ourselves—Gavin and Olga—every weekday morning for over six years. We made jokes, poked fun at each other, and kept our listeners company. We had a few squabbles—mostly off-air but a few that made it to the airwaves when, on some mornings, I couldn’t handle his grumpiness—but we got along beautifully, naturally, so easily.

He insisted on doing the show live—imperfections and all—with zero seconds delay, and never once pre-recorded it. We made mistakes, we mispronounced things (sometimes to the fury of sponsors), but we were real. People loved how relatable he was. There was no sugar coating or bullshit with Gavin Ford in the Morning. He would always tell it like it is—and that’s what people loved about him so much.

A recent picture in the studio

A love affair with radio and Lebanon

Gavin’s career was predicted by his family ages ago. He used to tell us that he had always dreamed of being a radio presenter as a child and used to spend hours in his room, ignoring family lunch and homework, working on pretend radio shows. (Funnily enough, I was such a talkative child that my late father nicknamed me “radio” because I wouldn’t ever be quiet.) Gavin went on to study at the National Broadcasting School in London. During that time he was an extra in Queen’s “I Want to Break Free” music video and saw Freddy Mercury on the shoot. He worked at various radio stations in Europe, including at the pirate station Radio Caroline based on a boat off France, and in nearby Cyprus, where he would catch Lebanese airwaves and caught on that there was a “cool” radio station in Lebanon called Radio One.

Gavin arrived in Lebanon in 1995. Prior to his morning show he hosted an evening show called “Planet Love” for about a year. He had told me he originally came to Lebanon because he thought it would be exotic—a place with deserts, little white houses, and camels. When he arrived to the area where he lived and then-worked, Broumana, he was a little disappointed that it was a mountainous, lush green area with no little white houses. He loved it nonetheless and stayed. I think he had no intention of ever leaving. Many have said over the years that he loved Lebanon more than the Lebanese, and that he deserved honorary Lebanese citizenship.

He loved Lebanon for many reasons. Coming from the UK, one of those reasons was the sunshine. After the show he had his “sun hour,” when his balcony had direct sunlight, and he would often leave the studio after the show on a sunny day, telling me he was going to sit in the sun for a while. He would tell me how beautiful he thought Lebanon was, and loved going to historical sites and villages to take in the culture, and loved spending time on the beach. He especially loved the people—he thought there was something very special about the Lebanese. He complained too, like the rest of us, but always had hope for his little adopted country.

The last days

Gavin’s birthday, November 25, 2018

Gavin’s birthday was November 25th. We celebrated his 53rd on Sunday night at Al Hindi, his favorite Indian restaurant in Beirut—it had become an annual tradition. On Monday morning he came to work and we did our show as usual. It was an uneventful morning. He said bye and went off on his merry little way, like every other morning. A neighbor saw him pulling into the driveway as she was leaving the building. That was the last we had seen of Gavin before he was tragically killed.

The next morning, Tuesday, he didn’t show up at the studio at 7 a.m. Anyone who’s listened to the show knows I had a habit of rushing in 5 minutes late. That day I was early and sat waiting for him, gloating, thinking it would be I who gets to tease him about being late. By 7:25, when he still hadn’t shown up, I messaged him on Whatsapp: “Hey, are you ok?” The message didn’t go through and I realized he was last seen at 11:17 a.m. on Monday. I called, but his phone was off. So I spoke with our manager Najy Chrabieh, and told him something was wrong—it was so out of character for Gavin not to show up. Najy drove to Gavin’s house, finding no car outside of his home. We contacted friends to see who had spoken to him, details became confusing, and as we found out more information we became increasingly more concerned.

In a case like this, when someone goes missing, it’s hard to think of the right thing to do. No one wants to think of the worst case scenario—it’s unfathomable: of course he’s fine, he probably just overslept. Of course he hasn’t been kidnapped, or gotten into a terrible car accident, or been murdered in the woods, or is dead in his home, right? The thoughts crossed my mind, and I immediately shoved them out. Najy and I spoke about how we would handle the show the next day, because of course Gavin would be found, and he would be fine, and everything would be back to normal by tomorrow.

The police were involved and a couple of hours later, Najy and I, along with a few friends and colleagues, including fellow radio presenters from other stations Clint Maximus Breithaupt, Dan Harper, Ben Weston and Stephanie Andriotis, among others, gathered in front of Gavin’s home, about 20 minutes up the hill from our studio, and waited for officials. We spent almost two hours outside. One friend, who was using the bathroom at a neighbor’s home in the same building, was walking past Gavin’s door and, upon realizing it was unlocked, walked inside and saw a sight no friend should see. Realizing he had gone in, we all rushed towards the door. I was the second person to walk into the doorway but before I got any further, he came out from around the corner clutching his stomach and yelling that we need to call for help. We all cried, sobbed, hugged, and didn’t believe it. Police entered minutes later and closed off the crime scene. It was like a horror movie, except it was real life and it wasn’t going to stop.

For many hours we stood outside Gavin’s home while police were investigating inside and asking us questions outside. More friends came. Animal organization BETA arrived to take in Gavin’s dog Fred. She was a female with a male name because Gavin said, in his own words, “there was nothing female about her.” She is a boisterous little beast that loves to destroy things and jump on visitors, so he sometimes kept her in a relatively large laundry room. That’s where, it seems, she was when he was killed. For those who expressed concern about her, she is being cared for. His other pets—Sprouty and Humphers, the rescued cats, and a lovely, quiet Cocker Spaniel named Rock, had all died in previous years.

Gavin Ford

Another happy ending on Gavin Ford in the Morning

I want people to remember Gavin for all the joy he brought, not by his tragic end, and surely not by the leaked images and information that should never become viral content. I think he would have wanted to be remembered that way too. In radio, he always told me we need to end all stories on a high note—we even had a jingle for that: a cartoonish woman’s voice saying “Oh I just love happy endings!” He wanted to keep people happy. He dedicated his life to that.

Gavin made Lebanon laugh and spread sunshine every morning, with his persona, his stories, and even his hilarious rants. He was sharp and witty, always quick to shoot back with a comeback, always ready with a punch-line. He was a wordsmith—even though he regularly mispronounced vanilla as “vallina” and it made me laugh every time. He regularly yelled at his computer and banged on faulty equipment. He gave us his famous “Granny” and all her silly jokes, updated us with news along with funny commentary, told story after story like no one else could, and gossiped with us about celebrities. I’m pretty sure most of our listeners were collectively rolling their eyes every time we spoke about Justin Bieber—but it was light, and fun, and just what people wanted in the morning. I know this because we constantly received sweet messages from listeners expressing their love for Gavin and the show. Since his death, the countless touching, beautiful messages and tributes that have poured out and spilled over on social media are proof that Gavin Ford was so, so loved.

He really was a legend. Please remember him like this. Celebrate the full life of this beautiful man who gave Lebanon everything he had, and so much happiness.

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