2021’s best podcasts to inspire and broaden your horizons whilst at home

Whether you’re looking for fascinating interviews, a burst of motivation or help for better sleep, these are the podcasts to download now

During these unpredictable times, audio platforms are a valuable source of escapism and inspiration, and as we enter the new year, there are plenty of podcasts to help expand your thinking. From the entertaining to the educational, the motivational to the soothing, these are the best podcasts to subscribe to now.

For Culinary inspiration:
Desert Island Dishes
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If you’re missing the joy of culinary discovery in London’s diverse restaurant scene, this is the podcast for you. Each week, host chef Margie Nomura invites a new food-loving guest to talk about their most cherished food memories and the one meal they’d have to take with them to a desert island. With appearances from familiar names including Allison Roman, Isaac Carew and Stanley Tucci, as well as a library of recipes available on the podcast’s website, this podcast is sure to tempt you back into the kitchen.

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For Motivation:
Power Hour
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Author, TedX speaker and wellness expert Adrienne Herbert’s podcast aims to help listeners find inspiration to go after their goals. The weekly podcast features Herbert in conversation with prominent coaches, innovators and business leaders, including Liz Earle, Tom Daley and Poppy Jamie as they discuss their secrets to success, including the routines and rules they live by. Whatever your ambition, Herbert is determined to motivate you to achieve it. 

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For true crime lovers:
Death of a Starlet

Ever since NPR’s Serial, true crime podcasts have proven to be among the most popular franchises. To kick off the new year is this latest spine-tingling addition, where co-hosts Tracy Pattin and Josh Lucas investigate the death of 20-year-old Playboy Playmate Dorothy Stratten, who was found murdered in August, 1980. How did Hollywood dreams turn into such a tragedy? You’ll have to catch all six episodes to find out. 

For great conversations:
Grounded with Louis Theroux series 2
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Following the success of the acclaimed documentary-maker’s first lockdown podcast, Grounded with Louis Theroux is back for a second season and more fascinating conversations. As with the first season, Theroux’s guests are wide-ranging, from I May Destroy You creator and star Michaela Cole to Australian pop star Sia. Undoubtedly, Theroux’s curiosity, dry wit and unmatched ability to ask the perfect questions make his interviews stand out in the vast landscape of cosy conversation podcasts, with some revelations that are highly unexpected.

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For discovering great writers:
The New Yorker Fiction Podcast
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This long-running monthly podcast from the American champion of short fiction is a fascinating meeting of writers old and new. Each month, The New Yorker fiction editor Deborah Treisman invites one of the magazine’s current fiction writers to pick a story written by another and read it aloud. The picks can come from issues that are decades old, or were published just the previous month. Treisman and the author kick off the episode with a discussion about the piece and what about it caught their eye. A clever concept, it’s an intriguing listen for any bibliophile.

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For much-needed escapism:
The Art of Travel
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Los Angeles-based writer and influencer Olivia Lopez has long inspired travel lust with her stunning Instagram posts of her adventures abroad. But with most of us grounded, Lopez decided to offer her followers an armchair travel experience with a new podcast. Each episode of The Art of Travel presents a conversation between Lopez and a fellow nomad, such as YOLO magazine founder Yolanda Edwards and perfumer Frederick Malle, exploring the transformative impact of travel, memories of cherished past trips and dreams of adventures to come.

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For country music fans:
Dolly Parton’s America
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Following the news that the country music star’s hefty donation helped make the COVID-19 vaccine a reality, love for Dolly Parton has arguably never been so strong. While this podcast was created before the Jolene singer became 2020’s hero, it’s a must-listen for anyone fascinated with what led to Parton’s success and how she managed to remain so universally beloved. Featuring interviews with those closest to her and the star herself, it’s the definitive Parton biography.

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For reflecting on the lessons of 2020:
Archewell Audio
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The much-anticipated debut of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s audio-first production partnership with Spotify landed just after Christmas. For the Holiday Special, the couple invited a slew of famous guests from around the world to share what the trials of 2020 taught them, how it impacted their own lives and their hopes for the new year. With testimonies from Sir Elton John, Tyler Perry, Stacey Abrams, and more, it’s a heart-warming reminder of the importance of compassion and an intriguing taste of what Archewell Audio might offer in 2021.

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For music obsessives:
Straight Up

There’s a plethora of podcasts about every genre of music, but for those looking for a peep behind the curtain of the music industry and its biggest artists, try this new podcast hosted by music journalist Kathleen Johnston (GQ) and Eleanor Halls (The Telegraph). Every fortnight, the duo invite a behind-the-scenes industry shaper such as Ed Sheeran’s manager Stuart Camp and Dua Lipa music video director Harry Scholfield to discuss their career and to answer wide-ranging questions about the state of the UK music scene and what goes into making a star. 

For a dose of self-care:
The Happiness Lab

Maintaining your mental health is always important, but the pandemic era has made it all the more essential. Yale professor Dr Laurie Santos’ podcast uses scientific research to challenge our notion of happiness, how it’s measured and how to achieve it. While the first season explores the history of our concept of happiness, the second offers much-needed insights into how to improve your mental state. There are also 10 bonus COVID-related episodes, covering everything from keeping your relationship healthy to beating lockdown loneliness.

For career inspiration:
Second Life
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This hit podcast from Who What Wear co-founder Hillary Kerr puts the spotlight on entrepreneurial women who’ve made impressive career changes and asks how they knew when to make the leap. Now entering its third year, Kerr takes care to invite a range of successful women to discuss how they’ve pulled off their pivot, with recent guests including Ouai founder Jen Atkin and tennis champion-turned-investor Maria Sharapova. Offering valuable insights into impressive career journeys, Second Life serves as a great reminder that exciting career moves can come at any age. 

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For help winding down:
Sleep With Me...
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Despite the suggestive title, this is one of the most innocent podcasts available. Essentially a series of bedtime stories for adults, there are over 940 episodes available to lull you to sleep. The combination of ASMR techniques and host Drew Ackerman’s soporific voice reading mostly mundane tales (the recap of The Great British Bake Off’s biscuit week is particularly effective) distracts listeners into a peaceful slumber which, now more than ever, is a self-care essential. 

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