Justin Lee Collins: My Life in Media

'I'd love to have a crack at the Jonathan Ross-type chat show. I want to be the guy behind the desk'
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The Independent Online

Justin Lee Collins is the co-presenter of The Friday Night Project on Channel 4, with the comedian Alan Carr and a celebrity guest host each week. The fourth series begins in January, with the actor David Tennant. Collins, 32, also presents the Bring Back... series, which has reunited the casts of popular shows such as Grange Hill and The A-Team, and he has just returned from a stint in California on the trail of Dallas's Bobby and JR Ewing. He is married to Karen; they live in Bristol with their 18-month-old son Archie.

So what inspired you to embark on a career in the media?

A simple craving for attention. I'm an only child, so growing up I was king in my house. I suppose I wanted that to continue.

When you were 15 years old, which newspapers did your family get, and did you read them?

We got the Mirror and the Bristol Evening Post and I always read them. Every Sunday we got the Express.

What were your favourite TV and radio shows?

My favourite radio programme was a late-night phone-in show hosted by Dave Barrett on GWR. On a Tuesday, he did a thing called Fun on the Phones and I would call in as a character. One night, he did a bit where he posed the question: "If you could go up in a hot-air balloon with a famous person, who would it be?" I called in and spoke in a high-pitched voice saying I wanted to go up with Bob Holness. I was trying desperately to be surreal because as a kid I loved Vic and Bob. The TV was on all the time when I was a kid. I loved The Twilight Zone and Channel 4 showed old episodes at the weekend.

Describe your job

I get labelled a comedian but my job is TV presenter. I dislike being described as a comedian because I feel like a charlatan. I started out as a stand-up comic and that got me into TV, but I was never very good.

What's the first media you turn to in the mornings?

At home, it's television. I'm not a morning person so I sleep through breakfast TV, set my video and watch it in the evening. I'm a big fan of Magic FM, so I wake up to that when I'm away from home. Most of the time it will be some kind of MOR mellow soul, like Boris Gardiner singing "I Want To Wake Up With You".

Do you consult any media sources during your working day?

I'm not very good on the internet, although a friend has just started a MySpace account for me because there were at least three imposters communicating with people as me. During the day I read lots of newspapers. One day I'll buy The Sun and the next I'll buy The Independent or The Daily Telegraph. I usually buy two or three.

What is the best thing about your job?

I love the variety as I get bored really quickly. Over the past three months I've done The Friday Night Project; a show called The Convention Crasher (where I went to Florida to take part in an international convention for celebrity impersonators, as Tom Jones); and I've just come back from Los Angeles, where I reunited the cast of Dallas.

And the worst?

The uncertainty. In 2004, I did the crossover show for Strictly Come Dancing on BBC3, which changed my life - before that I was completely skint and my wife was paying every single bill.

What achievement in your working life are you most proud of?

As a little boy, I was a fan of The A-Team so to get the opportunity to reunite the cast members on a television show was amazing. I don't tend to feel pride, but it was certainly a "pinch me, is this really happening?" moment. I never thought I would be doing the kinds of shows I'm being offered now.

And what's your most embarrassing moment?

I suppose it would have to be the time I witnessed a man in a gimp mask masturbating with stinging nettles on a show for Bravo. I had to travel down to New Order's old rehearsal space in Manchester to interview this middle-aged IT consultant with the gimp mask on his head and white sports socks on his feet. He wasn't at all embarrassed, but he was definitely in agony.

What is your Sunday paper? And do you have a favourite magazine?

I buy about five Sunday papers and all sorts of magazines. I buy Rolling Stone, and I'm a big film buff so I'll buy Total Film or DVD Review and virtually every month I will buy GQ, Arena and FHM.

Name the one career ambition you want to realise before you retire.

I'd love to have a crack at a chat show. The Jonathan Ross/David Letterman type of show - I'd like to be the guy behind the desk.

If you didn't work in the media, what would you be?

An actor. At school, I wasn't good at anything apart from drama. When I was in the second year my school in Bristol decided to axe the entire drama department. That was my one outlet completely written off.

Who in the media do you most admire, and why?

Jonathan Ross. When I was a kid I used to watch The Last Resort and I still think it's one of the best things that he has ever done. I think Noel Edmonds does the most amazing job on Deal or No Deal. He succeeds in adding all this sense of jeopardy to a show that's essentially about 22 people opening boxes.

The Friday Night Christmas Project is on Christmas Eve at 10.10pm, Channel 4

The CV

1990: Leaves school aged 15 with no qualifications and starts working at M&S

1993: Leaves M&S for Filton College and a B-Tec in performing arts

1996: Does his first open mic slot at a stand-up comedy club in Bath

1997: Reaches the finals of the BBC New Comedy Awards and gets first job in television with MTV

2002: Makes various shows for Bravo

2003: Begins an Xfm show in the 1am-3am Sunday morning slot, fulfilling an early career ambition

2004: Gets first big break as the host of Strictly Come Dancing's BBC3 spin-off show

2005: Moves to Channel 4 with Bring Back... Grange Hill and The Friday Night Project with Alan Carr

2006: Makes The Convention Crasher and Bring Back... Dallas