Davina McCall's £1m deal makes her BBC's first female chat-show host

Davina McCall has come a long way since she made her name ambushing people in the street and persuading them to go on dates with complete strangers.

The former presenter of Channel 4's dating show Streetmate has been signed for a reported £1m to become the BBC's first prime-time female talkshow host.

In an unlikely departure from programmes ranging from Big Brother to Popstars: The Rivals, McCall is to join the league of big-name chat show hosts including Jonathan Ross and Michael Parkinson.

Her new BBC1 show, announced yesterday, will be shown on Wednesdays at 8pm. It will be the first time since Terry Wogan quit BBC1 14 years ago that the channel has had a pre-watershed talk show.

Davina will run for about eight weeks from the start of next year. Each week McCall will interview guests from the worlds of film, television and showbusiness, as well as a musician who will perform in the studio. The line-up for the pilot, made several weeks ago, included the singer Charlotte Church, the comedian Peter Kay and the EastEnders actor Nigel Harman.

McCall, 38, has made no secret of her troubled youth. Her French mother, Florence, moved to Paris when she was just three, leaving her with her grandparents in Surrey. At 13, she went to live with her father and his new wife in west London and attended the prestigious Godolphin and Latymer school. She later developed anorexia nervosa and her weight dropped to just 38kg (6 stone).

At 18, she moved to Paris, where she became a regular on the club scene, working as a singing waitress, and began to binge on drink and drugs. She later admitted to having been "a complete mess - you name it, I took it: cocaine, ecstasy, even heroin".

It was Eric Clapton, an ex-boyfriend 24 years her senior, who helped her come off drugs.

Newly sober, McCall's television career began in 1992 as the presenter of MTV's Most Wanted. Four years later she became a household name thanks to her energetic approach to match-making in Streetmate. In 2000, she began perhaps her best-known presenting job as the face of Channel 4's Big Brother.

While Big Brother has remained a ratings winner, not all her shows have proved so successful. The 2004 ITV show Love On A Saturday Night never recreated the magic of Cilla Black's Blind Date.

McCall's energy combined with her down-to-earth presenting style has won her many fans, but also a few detractors. The presenter once appeared in a Channel 4 poll of the 100 worst Britons, mainly because of her loud voice.

McCall, who is married to Matthew Robertson, the Pet Rescue presenter, and has two young daughters, features frequently in celebrity magazines.

BBC1 has been searching for a new talkshow presenter since Michael Parkinson defected to ITV last year. Peter Fincham, the BBC1 controller, said he believed the channel was "a natural home for Davina". He has signed McCall in spite of poor ratings for the last show she presented for the channel - a cringe-worthy attempt to turn fatherhood into entertainment called He's Having A Baby.

Mr Fincham said: "There aren't many chat shows with hosts who are women and this is very exciting for us. Since Michael Parkinson left we haven't had a chat show before the news that's in peak time. It's exciting to do a chat show that isn't hosted by a man. I think Davina is rather special and viewers really like her. I'm really glad she's here."

The BBC is hoping that some of McCall's glamour will rub off on her new show, which it describes as bringing "a touch of Saturday night sparkle to Wednesday night".

Highlights of 2006 season

* Stephen Poliakoff has written two dramas set in the 1980s and 1990s. Friends and Crocodiles, starring Damian Lewis, charts the relationship of a Gatsby-like boss and his secretary. Gideon's Daughter stars Bill Nighy as a PR consultant struggling against Labour's election victory and the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

* Planet Earth

The biggest series the BBC's natural history unit has ever made. Featuring the world's greatest sights, it was shot in high definition and is presented by David Attenborough.

* Just The Two Of Us

A singing version of Strictly Come Dancing, in which professional singers are paired with celebrities to perform live duets, before being put to a public vote.

* The Impressionists Filmed in France, this factual drama explores the brotherhood of Monet, Cézanne, Degas, Renoir and Manet.

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