Capital Venture: Johnny and Denise are reunited

Denise Van Outen has joined Johnny Vaughan's breakfast blast for Capital, but is the old chemistry still there?
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The Independent Online

It is breakfast time in London and the literary buff that is Johnny Vaughan is regaling his listeners with his tragic version of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner; a rapid fire commentary on the demise of John Hewer, the actor best known for his portrayal of that bearded seadog of advertising, Captain Birds Eye. It's not an easy listen, though it sounds funny at the time.

"He's up there somewhere with a ship o' kids," shouts the radio presenter in an "ahoy-there" accent. "Fishy fingers is what I'm going to feed them!" Reminded by his co-host Denise Van Outen to show more respect, Vaughan, a father-of-two, adopts a faux gravitas: "As a parent, I would say 'No! You're not taking my kids, Cap'n!'"

Despite Ms Van Outen's off-air plea to The Independent "Please, no, it's not normally like this," the Cap'*Birds Eye exchange, captures the essence of Breakfast with Johnny and Denise, the flagship show on London's under-pressure network Capital 95.8. For four hours each morning, from 6am until 10am, Vaughan is hyper-charged. Though Van Outen valiantly tries to curb his excesses, the reality is that the presence in the studio of his old colleague and great friend, gives him an opportunity to perform that leaves him almost bursting with excitement.

Today is even worse, with the attendance of not just a national newspaper but a celebrity guest in the form of actor Sean Maguire. Whenever a commercial interlude or piece of music allows Vaughan to step away from the microphone he bounds across the room loudly pouring forth risqué monologues about porn cinemas, rent boys and trips to Amsterdam.

He then tells listeners that John Terry's boots, which are being offered by the show as a prize to raise money for London children, are thigh-high and were bought by the footballer in a fetish shop in Soho. When he is warned by his production team that the show is running "horrendously late" he breezily replies that he's "on a late train to Latesville, via a sub route to Leytonstone". The team later confide that when the show finishes, an exhausted Vaughan has been known to lay down on a bean bag in the station's busy office, falling asleep while meetings take place around him.

The arrival of Van Outen at the start of the year, represented an important play by the new Capital 95.8 managing director Paul Jackson, who recognised from her appearances as a guest on the show that she could give a fresh impetus to Vaughan, 41, who has spent four years trying to defend the position he inherited from Chris Tarrant as presenter of London's biggest commercial radio show.

In a volatile market, Capital has at times lost pole position at 6am-9am to both the current leaders Heart (Jamie Theakston and Harriet Scott) and to Magic (Neil Fox). Capital points out that, having added a fourth hour to his show, Vaughan still has the biggest audience overall and that, in any case, his closest rival in terms of presenting style is Chris Moyles, who does not enjoy the same success in London that he has elsewhere in Britain. Capital's owners, GCap Media, are hoping that a surge in listener interactivity by phone and online is an indicator of audience growth since Vaughan was joined by his soulmate.

Vaughan's solo show had been criticised for being too blokey and Van Outen, 33, is there to counteract this. "She has all her showbiz and fashion stuff, the high street stuff, she really brings in that girl thing," he says.

But the Essex girl and proud seems happy to see herself as Vaughan's foil. "I'm not selfish or greedy with air-time, I'm quite happy to sit back. There are no massive egos," she says. "It's like any kind of duo act, you have the straight person and the person that does the funny. It's give and take."

Since the heady days when they made their names as the boy and girl presenters of Channel 4's The Big Breakfast in the mid-Nineties, the pairing have had some unsuccessful broadcasting reunions, most notably the BBC1 Saturday night show Passport to Paradise. But Van Outen says Vaughan was happy to make her a permanent part of his radio career. "He was really up for it because it's nice for him to have someone to show off in front of. He works his best when he does that," she says. "There's a lot of time that he's talking but he needs me to pull him back and rein him in. I completely get his humour, which is completely off the wall."

So the double act goes on, and not just in the studio. They outline some of their favourite japes, such as barging in on gatherings of GCap suits. "Do you want to come to a meeting with us, for the full experience?" asks Denise.

"We wander round the building," explains Vaughan, "and there'll be marketing guys having a meeting and someone there from personnel. We just burst in really quickly..."

Denise: "... saying sorry we're late, what have we missed?"

Johnny: "... then we say to them (looking round) I think we're in the wrong meeting aren't we?"

Well, it works for them. "We find it really funny," says Johnny. "We only do that joke for our benefit."

Another wheeze involves heading into clothing shops that play loud music and dancing extravagantly for 20 minutes whilst refusing all invitations from the staff to browse the rails. "We're like kids really," says Denise.

Much is made of the "special chemistry" between the two presenters and, though the relationship is more matey than flirty, Vaughan takes the opportunity to tease Van Outen over her new boyfriend Lee Mead, who like her is from Essex and has a background in musical theatre.

He is the lead in Andrew Lloyd Webber's West End revival of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Vaughan falsely informs listeners that Mead is outside the radio studio in London's Leicester Square, trapped in a telephone booth singing "Close Every Door To Me".

Radio is new to Van Outen. "I'm trying to get used to it," she says. "We're both having to adjust because he's used to having complete control. He's having to make space for me and we end up talking over each other at points but in time that will all iron itself out."

Best known to some as Roxie Hart for her role in the hit musical Chicago, she is currently working on Lloyd Webber's BBC talent show I'd do Anything and has a West End play and the offer of two other television presenting roles under consideration.

Though her looks have never done her any harm, working in the invisible medium of radio has its advantages too. "It's quite nice not to have that pressure, not to have to smile and look great for the cameras," she says. "There are other things I've noticed with radio. I've got quite a silent laugh sometimes and I'm having to laugh out so that you can hear I find things funny. I'd normally just snigger to myself."

With The Independent's photographer in the building, she puts on her make up in the radio studio. She has a fashionable white coat and a black cardigan slung over the back of the chair and is wearing a black dress and tights and patent leather ankle boots. Vaughan dresses as he is, a public schoolboy with street smarts collected at such locations as the terraces at Chelsea FC and HMP Lincoln, where he did part of a four-stretch for cocaine. The laces of his brown brogues are undone and his hair is cropped ("less hair, more power", as he was apparently told by a German psychotherapist he met on holiday in Portugal).

When The Independent photographer asks the golden couple to stand closer together, Vaughan does not relent with his lewd patter, complimenting the snapper on the length of his lens and suggesting that he previously worked for Knave magazine.

Johnny Vaughan is – he points out himself – obsessed by words. And although one might imagine that his book of choice, should he ever be invited onto Desert Island Discs, might be The Profanisaurus, a thick dictionary of obscenities compiled by Viz magazine's vulgar cartoon TV presenter Roger Melly, Vaughan is genuinely well-read, liking to quote William Makepeace Thackeray and W H Auden.

Indeed, he has just "bought a library", as he puts it, "my big treat to myself for 15 years in the business". This is in actual fact a room above the offices of World's End, his TV production company in west London, where he takes down volumes from the shelves and reads them in a huge double chair that once belonged in the Upper Class segment of a Virgin aeroplane . "I've got Alice's copy of Alice in Wonderland. Alice Liddell – she became Alice Hargreaves – and she lived next door to Lewis Carroll. I've got her copy which I quite treasure."

Among Vaughan's random streams of consciousness is the revelation that his English master at Uppingham public school was the son of J R R Tolkien and had a great aptitude for nicknames. He dubbed Vaughan "Shogun" but warned him he might amount to nothing.

The presenter also owns the only copy of the treatment for the film Withnail & I, complete with doodling by the director Bruce Robinson. After losing his film column in The Sun, he is anxious to put his movie expertise back to work. "I'd love to do another film column I really would. I'd love to do a film show because I just think it's really badly handled on telly, though Jonathan (Ross) is good, obviously."

He enjoys writing and is currently working on a sitcom, though it's one thing that he doesn't wish to talk about. His previous adventures in this field have met with mixed success. His 2001 BBC2 project 'Orrible has the following brutal epitaph on the BBC's own website: "The show was panned by critics and had low ratings. It ran for one series." Top Buzzer, which he wrote for MTV, has fared better. The first set of ratings for Breakfast with Johnny and Denise are due in May and will provide an indication of whether Londoners enjoy this high-octane mix as they start the day.

The in-demand Van Outen declined a longer contract to sign up for just a year – but says she is confident the venture will succeed. "We made a bit of a mistake working on Passport to Paradise because what we are best at is not having a script and improvising," she says.

"This gets us back to the freedom we had with The Big Breakfast. We have a running order for the show but that goes out the window at two minutes to Six because, when you're in the studio with Johnny, anything can happen."

Breakfast with Johnny and Denise is on Capital 95.8, 6am-10am