After a week of tabloid cat-and-mouse culminating in his sacking by the radio station that once proclaimed him its saviour, Chris Evans is already planning his comeback. The DJ has told friends he intends to relaunch his career on the airwaves within months.
And as he and his wife, Billie Piper, 18, prepared to leave for a holiday in Portugal last night, Evans was vowing to sue his former bosses at Virgin Radio for up to £10m. In addition to 4.9 million shares he says the station owes him, he intends to claim up to £1m for earnings he would have received had he been allowed to work his notice period.
But as he sketched out plans for his latest rehabilitation, former friends and colleagues warned that Evans might never be trusted by a broadcaster again. In the wake of saturation newspaper coverage of the days-long drinking binge he indulged in while off "sick", critics ranging from his ex-wife to his former Radio 1 boss described him as untrustworthy.
Last night's developments emerged after a week in which the DJ appeared to actively court his dismissal from the station that, until a year ago, he owned.
The fun and games started on 21 June, when Evans, 35, who was unhappy with recent management changes at Virgin, failed to turn up to present his breakfast show. It later emerged that he had called in sick after falling asleep the night before while watching topless dancers at London's Stringfellow's club. Virgin chiefs put a brave face on his absence, but nearly a week later Evans had still failed to re-appear.
After days of procrastination, Scottish Media Group, the company that last year paid Evans £75m for his Ginger Productions empire, brought the matter to a head last Thursday. A terse statement pronounced Evans's contract terminated without notice. Spokesmen confirmed that the company would not be handing him a "pay-off" or the last of three tranches of shares he had been due to receive in respect of the Ginger sale. At yesterday's prices, the 4.9 million SMG shares Evans was in line for next March are worth £8.9m.
Aldo Zilli, the restaurateur who was drinking with Evans on the night of the Stringfellow's escapade, said: "Chris will definitely be back as a broadcaster, but on radio, not TV, because he finds that too much work. He wants to say what he thinks, without being censored, so he is likely to come back with an evening show. This is just the beginning for Chris Evans. He'll come back stronger than ever."
Another friend said Evans was contemplating a claim for unfair dismissal, and would be suing "not for money, but for pride". The friend hinted that Evans was also considering setting up another media company of his own.
"Will there be another Ginger? Possibly," he said. "To Chris, the most important thing is artistic control."
However, speaking from Italy, where she is on holiday, Evans's ex-wife, Carol McGiffen, said: "Chris can't work with other people, because he won't be told what to do by anyone. If he doesn't want to take instructions, he shouldn't have sold the company. I've got no sympathy for him at all. He will never learn."
The former Radio 1 controller Matthew Bannister said that last week's episode was a disturbing reminder of when Evans "flounced out" of his breakfast slot on the station four years ago after his request to take Fridays off was refused.
"With Chris, there are two moods: one is the fresh, different, original mood and the other is the unpredictable, impulsive one," he said. "You put pressure on him to be more disciplined on air and he thinks that's an interference with his creativity, when what you are trying to do is to make him as good as possible.
"His career has been a series of adrenalin rushes, from the early days, with The Big Breakfast and Don't Forget Your Toothbrush, to the whole Radio 1 thing, buying up Virgin and selling Ginger Productions. All those things gave him the rush he needed to keep him out of the pub.
"The one thing he's always done is come back and surprised us. Either he'll come back with something completely new, or he could stay down the pub and become the next George Best."
He added: "I would have thought any media business I know would be deeply sceptical about Chris Evans's reliability after this."
It is this unreliability that his critics say is his Achilles heel. As an example, they question his recent pledge to give up to £46m of his estimated £73m fortune to good causes. Six months after telling a tabloid he had handed Comic Relief £1m to kickstart a "Chris Evans Fund", a spokesman for the charity confirmed that the initial donation is all that has been received so far.