Ant & Dec: The moment we thought our career was over

Ant and Dec are arguably television’s most successful double act since Morecambe and Wise. But why do we love them so much? Catherine Scott finds out.

Ant (left) and Dec
Ant (left) and Dec

They may be one of television’s most successful double acts, but five years ago Ant and Dec thought the bubble had burst and their careers might be over.

Scandal had hit their live ITV show Saturday Night Takeaway in 2008 when viewers paid to take part in a phone-in competition which they had no chance of winning. The Geordie boys weren’t just the presenters they were the executive producers.

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It wasn’t Ant and Dec’s fault but they thought it was the end.

Ant (left) and Dec

“It was the lowest point of our career,” says Dec with uncharacteristic solemnity. “We didn’t know whether we would recover from it or whether the show would.”

“It was the worst time in our lives. If the trust’s gone, that’s it,” reiterates Ant.

They decided to rest the hit show for a few years, eventually deciding to bring it back for a 10th series in February last year.

“We didn’t want to see the end of it,” says Dec. “We thought it still had legs so we decided to bring it back and made it even bigger and better.”

The pair admit that they did have some trepidation about how the show’s return would be received both by the general public and the wider industry.

They needn’t have worried.

At this year’s BAFTAs Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway won best entertainment show and best entertainment performance, confirming once and for all that the pair and the show had been forgiven.

“Winning the BAFTAs was amazing,” says Ant. “Especially after what had happened and after Takeaway had been away for a while. We were over the moon with the first award for best entertainment programme, we certainly didn’t expect the second one.”

Dec adds: “We had no way of knowing really what people thought. You do worry that things move on.

“We do try to keep it fresh and introduce new things, but it isn’t until you get something like a BAFTA that you truly know you have got it right. We now really feel that a line has been drawn under it and we can properly move on.”

The timing of the BAFTAs couldn’t have been much better as it coincided with the announcement that for the duo are taking Saturday Night Takeaway on the road for the first time on an arena tour of the UK. They will be on August 12 and 13 and Sheffield September 2 and 3.

“It is something we have wanted to do for a long time,” say Dec.

“We’ve talked about it for quite a while,” continues Ant. “Takeaway is the one thing people stop us in the street and say they want to be part of it.”

As the show is filmed live the pair see no problem taking it on the road.

“It will have all the usual items, and a member of the audience gets to win a £12,000 car every night,” says Ant.

Although they may be focusing on the Takeaway tour, it is just one string to their very large bow. The 38-year-olds have now won five BAFTAs, 25 National Television Awards – including 13 consecutive Most Popular Entertainment Presenter Awards – and have fronted so much, from I’m A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! to Britain’s Got Talent and SM:TV to name just a few in the quarter of a century they have been working together. Other presenters may have been accused of overexposure. Not Ant and Dec. It seems we just can’t get enough of them.

They even had a No. 1 single last year with Let’s Get Ready To Rhumble!, which they’d first recorded during their brief pop career in 1994. Last month they were awarded a special Landmark Award for 25 years in showbusiness and enjoyed tributes from Prince Charles, Kylie Minogue, Robbie Williams, Simon Cowell and Bruce Forsyth.

They are regarded as national treasures, whose perfect friendship just seems too good to be true. But we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly met as child actors on BBC children’s TV series Byker Grove when they were 14. They both come from from council estates in Newcastle and it may be these working class roots which have kept their feet firmly on the ground despite earning a reported £6m each last year.

Ant’s mum brought up her son and his younger sister on her own, so while she held down two jobs, he did most of the housework. Dec was the youngest of seven and good at Irish dancing which viewers of Takeaway will know.

Their families still live in Newcastle. Ant’s mum is a security guard in M&S. One of Dec’s brothers is a priest, a vocation that Dec toyed with, briefly.

They say they ‘just clicked’ as teenagers and they have been inseparable ever since. Interviewing them is like interviewing a married couple, but without the bickering. They finish each other’s sentences and genuinely seem to love each other.

It could all be a well-rehearsed act but you would have thought after so many years in the public eye something would have got out if they really hated each other.

So why do people find these two cheeky chappies, with an often puerile sense of humor, so watchable.

They say they try not to analyse it too much.

“We are two best mates up there having a laugh and a lot of people can identify with that. Most people have a best friend they have a joke with. People enjoy other people having fun,” says Dec.

“It can be quite infectious,” adds Ant. “We’ve been working together for 25 years this year and we still really love what we do and I suppose that comes across on the television and people like to see it. We love live television, it’s nerve-wracking but that’s what we like about it.”

They seem unable to comprehend that people may find the fact they work and spend their days off together unusual. They even live three doors away from each other in London.

“It’s just because we work in television,” says Ant.

“If we worked in a call centre no one would think twice about us having a drink together or a round of golf.”

Ant and his wife Lisa Armstrong, a makeup artist who works on Strictly Come Dancing and occasionally Britain’s Got Talent, have been together for 18 years and married for eight. Dec was best man. Apparently Lisa has no issue with the boys’ close relationship or their frantic work schedule which is split between filming BGT, Saturday Night Takeaway and I’m a Celebrity in Australia. Dec is currently dating their manager Ali Astall.

However they did manage to get a few weeks off, together of course, to watch the World Cup as they are both mad football fans.

As for the future, they would love to write and appear in a sitcom together, but they say they are too busy with their current schedule to concentrate on it properly.

They are said to be utter perfectionists and it is testimony to their skill that they put their audiences at such ease. They may sometimes annoy like a younger brother with practical jokes and schoolboy humour, but at the end of the day, we love them.