Clara Amfo: ‘I’ve always done my own thing – I could be a lot more bait if I wanted to’

After a decade on BBC radio airwaves, the presenter is moving to new pastures. We find out what’s next

Clara Amfo wearing a red suit standing in a goat shed
Photograph: Jess Hand for Time Out
India Lawrence

‘I have a calamitous image of falling onto her horns,’ says Clara Amfo, as Gerty the goat – a black and white beast with big curly antlers – trots about behind her. ‘Let me not manifest that!’ 

We’re on Freightliners City Farm in Islington. It’s a sunny(ish) Wednesday afternoon in May and the easy-going presenter is donning a burgundy three-piece shorts suit by Labrum while clomping about in big brown and white cowboy boots. ‘In the summer of Cowboy Carter it feels good to wear cowboy boots,’ Amfo tells me later. ‘I felt very powerful in them.’

In the poky goat shed where the Time Out cover shoot is taking place, there’s that distinct earthy farm smell; hay is strewn all over the floor and a sheep is bleating in the distance. It might not be your typical glamorous photoshoot, but thanks to Amfo’s years of presenting the BBC’s Glastonbury coverage, she’s well accustomed to farm life.

Clara Amfo wearing a pink top in front of pink flowers
Photograph: Jess Hand for Time Out

The star has got a knack for putting a positive spin on things: despite the dressing room (which is actually the farm’s staff kitchen) having a glass façade that causes a sweltering greenhouse effect, she’s not phased. ‘I’d rather be too hot than too cold any day,’ she quips cheerily, chatting away about holidays and festival line-ups while getting ready to a mixture of Solange, Dua Lipa and Beyoncé playing from her portable speaker.

After spending six hours with Amfo, I soon realise it’s this happy-go-lucky attitude that’s helped get her to where she is today. Chances are you’ve heard her voice before: her breezy tones have been punctuating BBC radio waves since she got her Radio 1 Xtra show in 2013. Being on air was the dream from the start: growing up as a radio-obsessed kid, Amfo got her first broadcasting job as the Kiss FM marketing intern. She quickly progressed to being a stand-in presenter, then a drive-time host, before landing a job at Radio 1Xtra and working her way up the ranks, going on to host The Official Chart Show and then Future Sounds.

Amfo admits she has a tendency to overwork, but her tenacity, as well as her likeable, warm character have helped her get to exactly where she wants to be. Now, she’s thriving. ‘I’m feeling supercharged,’ she says. As her new TV show, ITV Studio Sessions, begins airing, we find out what’s next. 

Out and about 

After we wrap up on the farm, we head to Islington Blend in north London. It’s a cocktail bar but Amfo opts for water; it’s been two months since her final Future Sounds show and she’s trying to ‘rebalance her life’. Among relishing her new-found freedom between the hours of six and 8pm, she’s discovering new hobbies, like pole dancing, which she’s giving as much gusto as she puts into her career. ‘I was at Gala festival on Friday but I had pole class the next day,’ she says. ‘I left the festival pretty early, I was home by 11.30pm. Now I’m a bit smarter about where I invest my energy. If I’m going in, I’m going in, but if I have something in the morning…’

Growing up in Kingston upon Thames, Amfo was part of a large family with five siblings (four of them brothers). Both parents from Ghana, her dad was a microbiologist and her mum is a retired hospital cleaner. Her earliest memories of the Big Smoke come from tracking down Ghanaian goodies like Shito – a ‘very hot but essential’ condiment – as well as Maggi cubes, fish and crab with her mum. ‘Pretty much every weekend as kids was spent outside of Kingston, because my mum would drag us around Brixton market and Tooting Broadway market,’ Amfo says. ‘That’s where we would always go and get Ghanaian ingredients. They’ll always be sentimental places for me.’

I've fallen asleep on the night bus a few times

Growing up, Amfo would listen to the radio in her bedroom and pretend to be a presenter – so it was only natural for her to be drawn to the capital’s thriving music scene. ‘Club culture changed my life,’ she says. ‘I remember the first time I went to fabric, I was just like: ‘‘yeah’’. I belong here.’ Other fond memories come from after-dark spots like Plastic People – the influential Shoreditch club that was an early adopter of dubstep – and 93 Feet East on Brick Lane. ‘All those spaces were so pivotal to me, [in terms of] the music I got into and meeting some of my best friends for life,’ she says. ‘Any chance I could get, I was on the train, on the bus. I just needed to be outside and in it. I've definitely fallen asleep on the night bus a few times – you haven’t lived until you’ve got the night bus.’

Some of Amfo’s best (and haziest) late-night memories come from Benji B’s legendary party Deviation at Shoreditch club The Gramaphone, circa 2010. ‘One of the first times I went to Deviation, honestly, I was like, great: I’ve found my people,’ she says. ‘And YoYo at Notting Hill Arts Club! Oh my God.’ Her eyes light up, suddenly remembering the bass and hip-hop party that ran at the west London club until 2012. ‘Everyone’s got a YoYo story, it was incredible. Artists would go there to just hang – people like Pharell, Mark Ronson. Lots of incredible artists would pass through.’

Clara Amfo cover
Photograph: Jess Hand for Time Out

These days, she takes a quality over quantity approach to nights out. ‘Even though I’m quite a gregarious person, the pandemic made me go a bit more introverted,’ she says. But Amfo is very much still out and about. ‘It seems like this year more than ever, people are like, ‘‘okay, I’m up for it. Inject me into life. I want to have fun’’.’ As for her personal party rituals? ‘I’m definitely more about the afters rather than the pres,’ she says. ‘I’m not really a pregame girly. If the party’s good, I’ll stay out until three or four.’ (Her current favourite party spot is Moko in Tottenham). 

And after years of standing around interviewing artists in muddy fields, Amfo is well versed in the chaos and calamity that comes with festival season. ‘I never try to go to festivals with groups larger than six – you always end up seeing everyone [there] and then rolling in a gang of 15-20 anyway,’ she says. Although she’s finished Future Sounds, Amfo will be returning to Glastonbury this year to present the BBC coverage. ‘Glastonbury is magical, there really is nowhere else like it,’ she says. ‘It’s like being in a love bubble filled with music, friendship and oversharing with strangers in a field.’

Nightclubs and gig spaces are essential – the government needs to take that more seriously

She roots around for her phone to load up the line-up poster. ‘It’s solid, I love that it’s so female heavy,’ she says. She’ll be on an intense schedule when she’s there, but is hoping to peel away for an hour or two to catch headliners SZA, Dua Lipa and the ‘icon, legend, the moment’ Shania Twain. Amfo also gushes over slightly newer faces on the bill like Nia Archives, recalling a special Maida Vale session she did for Radio 1: ‘She’s a really compelling artist to watch.’

Despite her excitement for 2024 festival season – she’s most looking forward to All Points East in London – Amfo acknowledges it’s not been an easy time for the music entertainment industry. ‘Anytime there is any sort of global issue or financial crisis, the irony is never lost on me that the first place cuts are made is in art spaces,’ she says. ‘I find that really jarring. These are the first places we run to when we need respite from all the shady things happening in the world.’

Since the pandemic, more than 3,000 clubs, gig venues and late night spaces have shut down in London. It’s not a happy sight for someone who made their name by going out and discovering new music. ‘Nightclubs and gig spaces are essential,’ says Amfo. ‘The government needs to take that more seriously. Going out is not a frivolous thing. There needs to be more done to support creative people, because they create the culture that elected officials want to show off about.’

Moving on up

In March, Amfo decided it was time to pass on the Future Sounds baton so she could focus on other interests (she’s bursting with them). Last month saw the launch of her new TV show, ITV Studio Sessions: a Top Of The Pops style programme with live performances and interviews with of-the-moment artists like Cat Burns, Becky Hill and Yungblud. ‘I still believe in music telly,’ Amfo grins. ‘I’m as addicted to TikTok as the next person, but I still love watching performance TV.’ 

Clara Amfo kicking hay in the air with a goat behind her
Photograph: Jess Hand for Time Out

She’s also been cooking up a new BBC Sounds podcast, set to launch on June 25. ‘Make Me a Mixtape’ will see Amfo go head-to-head with her friend – the actor, presenter and former Rizzle Kicks member Jordan Stephens – to compete to make the perfect playlist under a theme chosen by the listeners. ‘I only like to work with people that I rate professionally and personally,’ Amfo says. ‘And Jordan is incredibly bright. He’s really funny.’

We’ve got to give ourselves our own flowers

As for the future, a holiday is definitely on the cards. But she’s also pursuing other passions, like fashion. Apart from a wardrobe malfunction featuring a pair of stick-on undies at the Brit Awards, which Amfo presented for the first time in 2024 (‘Before going live the pants started falling off – my producer had to put her hand in my dress and yank them off’), it’s been a good fashion year for the Time Out cover star. The presenter curated an upcoming exhibition for London Fashion Week called ‘Sound & Harmony’ which will open to the public at the Institute of Contemporary Arts on June 8, celebrating garms, photography and music all by Black talent. ‘Clothes tell stories,’ she says. ‘I roll my eyes when people think clothing is just frivolous. Not to do the Miranda Priestly speech: “that’s cerulean blue”, but it’s true. When I see someone in a band T-shirt I’m like, yeah good, tell me what you’re into. Wicked, I wanna hear your story.’

It’s Amfo’s love for storytelling – through clothes, music and radio call-ins – that has helped cement her as one of the best broadcasters around today. Much of her affability comes from her dedication to championing pop (her last played song on Spotify was the relentlessly catchy ‘Espresso’ by Sabrina Carpenter). To listen to Clara Amfo is to know that liking pop music is cool and scoffing at it will get you nowhere – and it’s perhaps why some of the biggest pop stars on the planet want to talk to her (Billie Eilish personally requested Amfo to interview her in her BBC documentary, for example).  

Clara Amfo wearing an all-demin look walking under an archway of trees
Photograph: Jess Hand for Time Out

‘I’ve always done my own thing,’ Amfo says, speaking with a self-assuredness but also a deep gratitude for getting to do a job she loves deeply. ‘There’s a very particular way of playing the game in my industry, but I’ve always chosen not not to do it. I could be a lot more bait if I wanted to.’ It’s not always been an easy road: she notes how she still has to deal with sexism and colourism in the industry on the regular. ‘That’s a constant, to be honest,’ she says. ‘I’ve always known where I belonged and I often think that I should be in this room because I earned it. But it’s been other people’s problem with me being in certain spaces that I’ve had to deal with. People have wanted me to feel like an impostor.’

Greener grass

Back at Freightliners Farm, Amfo could not act less like an imposter. Cool, calm and collected, she’s sure of herself, but never cocky or over-bearing. ‘I don’t think I’m gonna be hugging any chickens today, but I will smile at them,’ she says assertively when the Time Out team tries to coax her into posing with the unruly farm animals. ‘Hey babe!’ she calls to a sheep, snapping a picture of it on her iPhone.

For now, it certainly seems like the presenter is focussed on treasuring every moment. ‘It’s lovely getting external validation from people,’ she says. ‘I cherish it and I’m so grateful for it. But we’ve got to give ourselves our own flowers as well.

‘I can be hard on myself because I know what I like, but I’ve also learned to be like, you know what Clara, you did that really well, well done. Because otherwise what’s the point?’

Photographer: Jess Hand @jesshandphotography
Design Director: Bryan Mayes @bryanmayesdotcom
Senior Designer: Jamie Inglis @818fpv
Photo Editor: Laura Gallant @lauramgallant
Video: Mashana Malowa
Stylist: Keira Liberati @kieraliberati
Hair: Kevin Fortune @kevinfortune_london
Make-up: Yasmina Bentaieb @yasminabmkup
Location: Freightliners Farm @freightlinerscityfarm

In look one Clara is wearing @kanikagoyallabel denim set and @casadeiofficial.

In look two Clara wears @cultgaia suit and flower top and @casadeiofficial shoes.

Clara wears @ahluwalia boots, @labrumlondon co-ord and @marksandspencer earrings in look three.

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