He torpedoed his career, lost his wife and blew a fortune. But is he down? Is he hell!

Yes, he made a bit of a hash of things. But he's back, and doing what he does best. Vincent Graff on the rehabilitation of Chris Evans
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The Independent Online

How are you feeling, Britain? Cheesy or classy?" The sun is shining, it's a bank holiday Monday, and a matey disc jockey - the holiday stand-in - is asking us to choose between a really naff song and something a little more tasteful. He has persuaded three politicians to nominate their choices, which is the sort of thing you might hear on hospital radio, with the mayor suggesting Abba. But this is Radio 2, the revamped station that has become the nation's favourite.

How are you feeling, Britain? Cheesy or classy?" The sun is shining, it's a bank holiday Monday, and a matey disc jockey - the holiday stand-in - is asking us to choose between a really naff song and something a little more tasteful. He has persuaded three politicians to nominate their choices, which is the sort of thing you might hear on hospital radio, with the mayor suggesting Abba. But this is Radio 2, the revamped station that has become the nation's favourite.

And that's not any old DJ; it's the best - and the worst-behaved DJ of his generation, a man variously described as a broadcasting genius, a millionaire waster and a has-been. Chris Evans. He used to be really big, didn't he? Until he went off with his young, popstrel wife and blew a lot of money on living it large. Well yes, but now he's back. And proof of that could be heard last Monday when the three guests identified themselves as Charles Kennedy, Michael Howard and Tony Blair. The leaders of the Lib Dems and the Tories, and the Prime Minister. On Radio 2. Talking about Kid Creole and the Coconuts. In election week. Only Chris Evans would have dared ask. And only Evans would have got a yes.

Evans, 39 last month, is on the BBC again eight years after being fired by Radio 1 and four years after a similarly acrimonious departure from Virgin Radio. The star whose ego eclipsed him, and who twice found turning up for work just a little beneath him, was once again playing records on Monday and being brilliant in between. His rehabilitation is going extremely well.

Not long ago, Evans's brilliant life was disintegrating in front of everyone. When he married Billie Piper in May 2001, five months into their relationship, cynics said the match was a publicity stunt. They were wrong: Evans and Piper were madly in love. The marriage burned itself out, but they remain great friends. Their honeymoon lasted two years. What began as a bender ended as a chance for Evans to clear his mind, to escape the studios and his self-confessed addiction to adrenaline. Returning to London, he began to clear out his life in a rather less metaphorical manner: last winter, he took a stall in Camden Market and manned it himself to sell unwanted property worth £1m from his former life.

The market stall can be considered a success, both financially and emotionally. His other "work" since leaving Virgin cannot. Every project he has touched as a producer since - including Five's Live With Chris Moyles and The Terry & Gaby Show - has nose-dived.

And yet somehow the old magic appears to have returned. Since the start of the year, Evans has hosted the Brit Awards, taken part in Comic Relief and interviewed the Prime Minister for a radio show in aid of the tsunami victims. He has also, without a great deal of fanfare, found a place on Radio 2 on bank holidays. He will be back on at the end of this month, and again on 29 August.

Last week it was reported that Evans was to join forces with Trevor Beattie -the advertising brain behind FCUK and New Labour - to launch a new pan-media "creative agency". Evans will not in fact be involved in the Beattie project, says a partner in the firm. But the very existence of the rumour demonstrates that his name adds glamour to a venture.

Lewis Carnie, head of talent at Radio 2, says there are no vacancies at the station but if Evans is interested in doing a regular show "we'd certainly look at it".

Carnie says Evans is once again capturing the essence of brilliant radio. "You feel that the show is quite special and personally directed at you, even though he's obviously talking to millions of people. There's a warmth that engages you and brings you in."

Carnie downplays rumours that Evans is being lined up as an eventual replacement for Terry Wogan, who has an audience of more than eight million. But he admits that, when the time eventually comes, Evans "is a possibility, obviously". So are other people, Carnie adds quickly.

Despite having spent an estimated £45m since 2000 - largely in court costs, thanks to his decision to take the owners of Virgin to court - Evans remains a multimillionaire. But employing him is not about money, for either side. "The problem with Chris is that when he is being the jolly, cheeky-chappie down the pub he is very engaging and you love him," says a former colleague. "But at Radio 1 and Virgin he stopped being a cheeky-chappie and turned into a plutocrat, a golf-playing whingebag who lost his connection with his audience."

"Arrogant was what everyone said about me," Evans has admitted. "I suppose that's what I was." That arrogance sometimes surfaced as cruelty. When he suspected a member of his staff of fiddling expenses, Evans humiliated the employee live on air. Many of the games on his Channel 4 show TFI Friday - such as "Ugly Bloke" and "Fat Lookalikes" - appeared to be based on the assumption that Evans was more important than the low-lives who made up his audiences. A former friend says: "What you have got to remember is that he is a terrible bully and that is why, in the end, everybody who works with him leaves him."

Evans says he is now a mellower human being, and attributes that to Piper. Aldo Zilli, the restaurateur, says his friend is itching to get back into radio. His ambitions could easily be fulfilled.

At Radio 2, Lewis Carnie says: "Chris Evans is a maturing talent. He seems to be in a place where he wants to use his talent. If he is keen, let's see what we can do together."

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