The BBC moved to defend the presenter Graham Norton last night amid growing pressure from anti-drugs groups after he admitted having taken "loads of drugs" and praised ecstasy as "just fantastic".
The comic has been condemned by campaigners following his comments in a magazine interview with The Independent on Sunday's editor-at-large, Janet Street- Porter. The host of hit BBC shows Strictly Dance Fever and How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? said: "I've tried loads of drugs, but it would really bug me if I got busted in the tabloids because I take them so rarely."
In the interview for Marie Claire, Norton, 43, said: "The only time I took ecstasy was years and years ago. It was absolutely amazing. It was just fantastic - really, really fun ... I think that coke is middle-aged stuff. It's quite a slow drug that involves coffee tables. To me, it's a middle-class choice of drug."
Norton recently signed a three-year contract with the BBC after finding his niche with cosy Saturday night entertainment shows.
The BBC stood by Norton last night. The corporation said: "The issues that Graham discusses in this interview are aimed at an adult audience and reflect the frank and open nature of his personality."
However, his comments were condemned by the National Drug Prevention Alliance, which said it was "staggered" by his views, while the charity DrugScope said celebrities should acknowledge that for many people there was "a downside to drug use".
A spokesman for the National Drug Prevention Alliance said: "We're appalled. It's mind-blowing that somebody has said that. He's in the public eye and influencing young people. It's irresponsible. We know that people die randomly from ecstasy - very few, but some do."
Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of Sane, said: "[His] comic talent and ability to communicate should make him even more responsible in talking about drugs which will influence the many young people for whom he is a role model."
DRUGS DISGRACE AT THE BEEB
ANGUS DEAYTON Lost his job as host of BBC2's Have I Got News For You after tales of cocaine-fuelled nights with prostitutes.
CRAIG CHARLES The actor was charged with rape and accused of taking cocaine. He was exonerated and reprised his role in BBC2's Red Dwarf.
JOHNNY WALKER The veteran Radio 2 disc jockey was suspended for eight months in 1998 after admitting taking cocaine but kept his job.
RICHARD BACON The Blue Peter host was sacked after admitting taking cocaine soon after the show celebrated its 40th birthday.