Rylan Clark-Neal on Supermarket Sweep, Big Brother and living with the pandemic

He’s been labelled one of the hardest-working people in showbiz – and it’s a title Rylan Clark-Neal more than lives up to.

Rylan Clark-Neal, who returns as host of ITV’s Supermarket Sweep next month. (Picture: PA//ITV/Talkback Thames).
Rylan Clark-Neal, who returns as host of ITV’s Supermarket Sweep next month. (Picture: PA//ITV/Talkback Thames).

Take the last few weeks, for example. The former X Factor star and Big Brother presenter has just finished filming 25 episodes of Supermarket Sweep in eight days.

It’s no easy task, but the 33-year-old hasn’t ever been one to bat an eyelash at hard graft. “There are times when I definitely have overworked myself,” he says down the phone, days after filming on the second series of the rebooted popular show.

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“But at the same time, I remember how lucky I am. I love my job, not many people can actually say they love their job. This won’t last forever, it might not last forever. I could break both legs in the morning, I don’t know, so I’d rather just do it, just do the right things. Believe me I say no to a lot as well!”

The TV presenter has broad appeal with the public. (Credit: PA/ITV/Talkback Thames).

Such is Clark-Neal’s appeal that the series is “returning home” when it airs on weekdays in the autumn, following news it will move from ITV2 to ITV.

Originally hosted by the late Dale Winton, the series ran from 1993 until 2001, and was revived for a short period in 2007.

Now, the reboot features many of the original elements, including the inflatables in the fake supermarket, the catchphrases, the trolley dash and the “memorable jumpers” worn by the contestants.

Clark-Neal is the host once again, with Coronation Street star Jennie McAlpine on the tannoy.

It is reported to be among the first productions to resume after filming ground to a halt across the board due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s been lovely being back, I’m just grateful I’m back in the studio, and the team have been unbelievable so (I’m) really happy with it,” he says. With social distancing and wearing masks now a mandatory part of life, what was like on set like?

“For us to be Covid-secure there’s been a lot of changes in how we work, how the day runs, how teams work. They’ve all got to be from the same household – if they’re not, they’ve got to be tested and put in hotels,” he explains.

“But actually, for the viewer, (there’s) no change whatsoever, which is unbelievable.

“I don’t know how we’ve managed to do it but we’ve done it within the parameters and the way we shoot it that it’s not going to look like a lockdown show, there’s no Zoom involved, no masks. So it’s going to look like the Sweep we know and love.”

Presenting aside, Clark-Neal’s priority on set was the contestants. “I mean look, my job as the host is to make contestants feel comfortable anyway. I’m always on their side, I’m never not on their side,” he says.

“But I think this year, more so than ever, it’s just making them feel comfortable in those first couple of seconds that you meet them, and lucky enough I did and they were comfortable, the contestants were great – all ages now we’re back on ITV, which is brilliant – it was a real pleasure, hard work but (a) proper pleasure.”

And again, he seems completely non-plussed that he’s just ticked off a long few days of work. Instead of sounding weary, he is, he says, grateful.

“Because at any minute, something could change at any second of the day. There could have been a local lockdown, there could have been anything, so we just said right, three shows a day, eight days, let’s do it and then … we’ve got a whole series and a whole celebrity series done, so we’re over the moon.”

Today, Clark-Neal is a household name and one of the most recognisable faces on our TV screens, so what was it that drew him to the world of show business?

“I think it was the drama of it all. I was a little bit obsessed, and I loved Big Brother from day one. Originally I wanted to sing but I quickly realised I wasn’t going to be the best singer, so let’s just have a bit of fun.”

Having risen to fame as a contestant on The X Factor in 2012, he gained a legion of fans and went on to win Celebrity Big Brother in 2013.

He looks back on that fondly. “I always think back to winning Big Brother. I think after The X Factor it was an opportunity to show people that I’m actually quite normal. That was the start of what I do now, so I look back on it really fondly.”

The presenting gigs have flowed thick and fast ever since, from stints on ITV’s This Morning to the BBC’s You Are What You Wear.

With reality TV a fixture in his life, he went on to host Celebrity Big Brother’s Bit On The Side and last year joined Zoe Ball to co-host the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing companion show, It Takes Two.

But now, as the second outing of Supermarket Sweep nears, with the main series on weekdays and six celebrity specials (featuring I’m A Celebrity winners Scarlett Moffatt and Jacqueline Jossa, Roman and Martin Kemp and more) later in the year, are there still traces of nerves?

“You never know as a host if something is going to work or not, and the amount of shows that I think every host presents that only ever last one series, is probably more than the ones that don’t,” he says matter-of-factly.

“It was a shock to me but it performed really well for ITV2 for the demographic they were after, which is obviously a lot younger, but now it’s time to sort of bring it home… now it feels like it’s grown up and we’re ready to come back properly.”

Asked about lockdown, he says: “I don’t really think it has ended yet, which is a bit strange. But I did exactly the same as everyone else for those first few weeks. I was housebound, following the rules, doing what I needed to do, cleaning out drawers like everyone did. I was lucky enough to do some remote work. But there’s no complaints from my end – I’ve got a garden so I’ve got outdoor space, a lot of people have had it a lot worse.”

Clark-Neal has come a long way during the past seven or eight years, so what’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

“It was from Barbara Windsor, of all people. I was in Selfridges buying underwear, and I bumped into her after meeting her on X Factor a few weeks before. Her husband Scott was there and I said, ‘Oh, nice to meet you’, and she said, ‘No darling, you’ve met him before’. She told me, ‘Always nice to see you, never nice to meet you, because you’ve probably met the b******.’ That’s got me out of so many scrapes – I think I’ve actually got jobs with it.”

These days he’s the one likely to be offering advice to those hoping to make a success of things. And his advice is refreshingly straightforward: “Just be nice to people. The only reason I do well at my job is that I’m nice to people.

“I don’t care if you’re my runner or my exec, I treat everyone the same. Especially be nice on the way up, because when you have a fall – and everyone has a fall – they won’t be there to pick you up if you aren’t.”

Nineteen episodes of Supermarket Sweep will air on ITV from September 1 at 3pm, with the six celebrity episodes later in the year.

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James Mitchinson