Baftas and Brits: And the winner is...

The UK's brightest stars will be out this week, for the Baftas and for the Brits. And we're not just talking about the prize-winners. Guy Adams compères and contrasts the top-of-the-range hosts

Judi Dench has her fingers crossed. So have Helen Mirren, Leonardo DiCaprio, Meryl Streep and the elegant Kate Winslet. Not to mention Robbie Williams, George Michael, Lily Allen and, oh, half of the British film and music industries.

Yes, it's awards season again. Unroll the red carpets, and put the champagne on ice. Tomorrow, we've got Baftas at the Royal Opera House; on Wednesday, the Brits at Earls Court. In a blizzard of publicity, several of the world's most famous backs are about to get vigorously slapped.

At the centre of that whirlwind, you'll find a pair of superstar TV presenters. One is Jonathan Ross; the other, Russell Brand. They are today's compères without compare, two men whose knockabout banter will make or break each multi-million pound event. On their quickfire one-liners rest the hopes of a celebrity nation.

Nothing captures the zeitgeist quite so reliably as the identity of Brits or Bafta hosts. In the 1980s, we had Noel Edmonds and Sam Fox, in the 1990s, Chris Evans and Ben Elton. The naughty Noughties have been the era of Ant n' Dec and Stephen Fry. But no longer: Ross and Brand now represent the true spirit of our age.

For each host comes the certain knowledge they have reached the summit of their profession. Whoever's names may be contained in the gold envelopes, the real winner at every showbusiness awards do is the man, or woman, behind the microphone.

Ross and Brand will both be paid tens of thousands for their troubles. To some, that's a staggering sum for a few hours' work on an autocue; others see it as a fair reward for their immense talents. Either way, it's nice work if you can get it.

"Awards shows are a barometer of the industry, and of people's popularity," says Jeremy Lee, one of Britain's leading after-dinner speaking agents. "If you command a sense of being of the moment, you can attract a huge premium. It pushes your fee up, and puts you in huge demand. Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand are of the moment, and that's why they got these jobs."

Ross is very much the old stager, having been a "face" since the 1980s. In recent months, he has hosted the British Comedy Awards for ITV, and the Q Music Awards. Both were performed with trademark potty-mouthed brio. Brand is a pretender to Ross's crown. He is a relative newcomer to fame and the Brits are the comedian and former heroin addict's first big awards booking. However, he has also been handed the weighty responsibility of co-hosting the live Comic Relief show, on 16 March.

"The Brits is the first event like this that Russell has done," says Brand's publicist, Barbara Charone. "Obviously, he does stand-up, a lot of live TV, and a Saturday night Radio 2 show. Jonathan already has superstar status but this puts Russell on the up-and-coming list. Provided he does it well, of course."

Both men share a useful unpredictability. Although their viewer profile is reassuringly mainstream, organisers of major events can rely on occasional forays into controversy to generate valuable headlines.

Ross, for example, jazzed-up the British Comedy Awards in December by eyeballing special guest Madonna, who had recently adopted a Malawian orphan. "Congratulations on your little lovely black baby David," he said. "Are you stopping there or getting more? When I went to Africa, all I got was a wallet."

A couple of months earlier, he kicked off the Q Awards by strolling up to the microphone and saying: "Heather Mills McCartney - what a fucking liar. I wouldn't be surprised if we found out she's actually got two legs."

Both gags were greeted with only muted applause. Yet both attracted blanket coverage in the next day's papers. In the first instance the feisty Queen of Pop threatened to give Ross a black eye; in the second, the disability lobby condemned him for setting a "bad example".

Like Ross, Brand is also reassuringly edgy. In a press conference before the Brits, he promised to restore the event's tradition of excess, which has been in abeyance since the glory years of the 1990's.

With a nod to the era when Jarvis Cocker "mooned" at Michael Jackson, and the anarchic pop group Chumbawumba tipped an ice bucket over John Prescott, Brand said: "I'll do my best to tear it up. It's going to be like the rock 'n' roll Brits of old, returned to controlled mayhem and danger."

Yesterday, Ms Charone explained: "Russell has a strong leaning towards music. He's friends with Noel Gallagher, and isn't going to feel out of his element. He's very rock 'n' roll, not just in his appearance, but also in his thinking. If you look at what he's been saying, you'll appreciate what he wants to do to the Brits."

Since both events are to be broadcast live, expect a smattering of controversy in next week's papers. However, an organiser of the Baftas said yesterday that a short time delay had been built into the "live" broadcast of tomorrow night's ceremony, meaning the plug can be pulled on anything unacceptable.

The fee commanded by Ross has already filled column inches, too. Noting that the BBC already pay him £18m a year, the Daily Mail recently claimed that he was demanding £200,000 to do the Baftas. Yesterday, the paper was forced to print a retraction

In fact, those responsible for booking hosts such as Ross and Brand say the fees are considerably smaller. Matthew Davies, the Director of Events at Haymarket Publications, organises 40 magazine awards ceremonies each year.

"We used to use Jonathan for some of our bigger awards but the problem is he quite reasonably sees himself as being at the top of the market, so is quite picky about the events he now does," he said. "Obviously, he loves doing broadcast, because it keeps him on top of his game. He also gets invited to do a lot of corporates. The going rate is £25,000 for the first 15 categories, and thereafter it is extra. It's not £200,000 but it's still an awful lot."

Although TV bookings are worth more, thanks to the rehearsal required, they also carry a danger: displays of potty-mouthed wit can kill a career.

"We don't like people who eff and blind and, without naming names, a few celebrities have been removed from our list," says Mr Davies. " We can sometimes have an elderly audience and they will be genuinely offended. Also, audiences can become jaundiced. A lot of people might soon start thinking, 'oh no, not Ross again.'"

So as they tread the red carpets, Ross and Brand will be painfully aware that, like all tall flowers, they may have but a short time in The Sun.

Jonathan Ross

THE BAFTAS, SUNDAY (9PM. BBC1)

FORM: "Wossy" bestrides British broadcasting like a colossus. Famed for his flamboyant dress sense, extravagant lisp, and fruity one-liners, he presents a TV chat show and a Radio 2 show. Ross, 46, was born in Leytonstone, to a TV family. His mother, Martha, was an extra in EastEnders for 20 years. Brother Paul is a quiz-show host. He came to prominence in 1987 with The Last Resort with Jonathan Ross on Channel 4 , and went on to host a string of shows including the Comic Relief extravaganza, They Think It's All Over and the weekly film review programme.

FEE: The highest-paid man in telly, with an £18m-a-year BBC contract.

HIGH POINT: Appointed OBE in 2005 for services to broadcasting.

LOW POINT: Last year, sparked controversy in a chat with David Cameron, by asking the Tory leader if he had ever masturbated while thinking of Margaret Thatcher.

Russell Brand

BRITS, WEDNESDAY (8PM, ITV1)

FORM: Brand, 31, is a former heroin addict who became a successful stand-up comedian and anarchic TV presenter. A vegetarian, he does yoga but looks as though he has been dragged through a hedge backwards. He claims to have slept with over 2,000 women, including Kate Moss. Brand began his TV career on MTV, before hitting the big-time with Big Brother's Big Mouth in 2004. Now has his own television show, as well as writing newspaper columns and hosting a radio show for BBC Radio 2.

FEE: Reported to have a "six rather than seven" figure contract with Channel 4.

HIGH POINT: Persuaded Ken Russell to run around a TV studio shouting " touch my knob" on Big Brother's Big Mouth this year.

LOW POINT: At the 2006 NME Awards, Bob Geldof strode to the stage, cleared his throat and declared soberly: 'Russell Brand ... what a twat.'

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