Last Sunday ITV once again took ten well known celebrities from their world of glitz and glamor and swapped them for the feral and sometimes unpredictable world of the Australian jungle for the heavyweight I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here. Of course this year’s series was always always going to be tinged with the sad news of the ongoing downfall of Ant McPartlin following the presenter’s arrest for drink driving earlier in the year forcing him to pull out halfway through the series of Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway and the live finals of Britain’s Got Talent. This resulted in Ant and Dec being forced to part for the first time in their nearly thirty year career.
Originally put together on the early nineties BBC children’s series Byker Grove, Ant and Dec have become one of Britain’s best loved double acts with unrivalled versatility. They can sing, dance, present and be funny which are the vital elements that TV executives look for when creating a shiny floor spectacular and the boys from North Shields have it in bucketloads. Dec joined Byker Grove in 1989 playing the part of schoolboy Duncan alongside future Geordie stars Jill Halfpenny and Donna Air but it would be another year before new pupil PJ (played by Ant McPartlin) would make an appearance. PJ and Duncan had instant chemistry and producers realised that with these two loved characters, they had scope for tackling big issues which children should be aware of. This included PJ’s paintballing attack resulting in tragic blindness.
PJ and Duncan’s popularity was so immense that in 1994 they spawned their own number one hit single Let’s Get Ready To Rumble which gave the public the opportunity to see Ant and Dec outside the world of Byker Grove for the very first time. Appearing on entertainment shows like Top Of The Pops and various culture programmes of the day offered the public an insight into the real life relationship between the guys. There was obviously something that the audience was able to latch on to and it wasn’t long before the pair were offered their own television vehicle. Gimme 5 was a children’s magazine programme for CITV originally presented by Jenny Powell and the pair soon joined her. Surviving for just two series, Gimme 5 gave the guys the opportunity to develop an on screen partnership which they would hone in succeeding years.
Ant and Dec were slowly becoming a television commodity and one of the most popular double acts in Britain. Never before had we seen a pairing with so much versatility who were determined not to be pigeonholed for just their one talent. In 1999 the pair secured their own Saturday night game show Friends Like These in which two teams of friends go head to head in a series of challenges to see which will be victorious. The pair presented four series of the programme between 1999 and 2001 when they moved to ITV to present the hugely popular talent show Pop Idol which discovered the voices of Will Young and Gareth Gates. Not to mention introducing Britain to the costic tongue of Simon Cowell on his first ever British television show. Pop Idol ran for just two series until Cowell revamped the format and transformed it into The X Factor leaving the boys to concentrate on personal ventures.
With their status as prime time entertainers assured, the pair really enjoyed their newfound power of having more control over the shows they were offered and in 2002 created and starred in their own extravaganza Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway. Mixing the excitement of Noel’s House Party with the glitz and glamor of The Morecambe and Wise Show, Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway had something for the whole family and cemented their status as all round entertainers. Having such a tight contract with ITV meant that the broadcaster had the power to put them in charge of any format and for a while it seemed that ITV should have been renamed ADTV! Programmes included: Gameshow Marathon, Pokerface, Red or Black? and Text Santa.
Yet in 2002 they presented a brand new show in which eight celebrities were stranded in the wilderness of the Australian jungle for two weeks completing tasks to win yellow stars in exchange for meal vouchers. The surprise hit I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here first aired in August 2002 and starred comedian Rhona Cameron, model and actress Nell McAndrew, politician wife Christine Hamilton, entertainer Darren Day, former IT girl the late Tara Palmer-Tomkinson and broadcasting legend Tony Blackburn who eventuality won the series. The series proved a big hit with the public interest in the interaction between this diverse group of celebrities growing by the day.
One of the other key components to the show was the effortless sparring which developed with Ant and Dec. In a similar way that Bruce Forsyth would mock contestants on The Generation Game, Ant and Dec would find the idiosyncrasies in all the celebrities and use them as in-jokes between them and the audience. Knowing each other so well, they could make the jostling between themselves look natural and make the audience feel like they were there with them. Presiding over the last twenty-four hours could be extremely laboured and boring but with these two cheeky chappies you always feel like you’re at a party and this may be one of the key elements to making the show what it is today.
Ant and Dec were riding high as one of the most popular entertainers in Britain. But in 2017 Ant dropped a bombshell when he revealed a long term battle with alcoholism and checked himself into rehab. This threw a massive curveball in one of the most enduring success stories in British Light Entertainment. Luckily he recovered and was well enough to present the 2017 season of I’m a Celebrity but whilst filming the 2018 series of Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway, the star was arrested for drink driving. The presenter was fined £86,000 and banned from driving for 20 months, the BBC reported.
This promptly raised questions surrounding the future of Ant and Dec and sparked a new era for television duos as a whole. For an act who were such a tight union, it’s still bizarre to see one without the other. The ever-present cost of fame has once again reared its ugly head and at least for the moment has ruined yet another television star and as we look to the future, it’s important to ask can anything be done to protect our favourite stars from the downside of fame? As for Declan Donnelly, will his star continue to shine as a lone performer or will he too become a victim to the trappings of entertainment? Or are such questions even relevant? After all, having made such an invaluable contribution to British television irrespective of what’s next for both of them they’ve already made an indelible mark across the entertainment landscape and for that they should both feel extremely proud.