Melanie Sykes : Not your typical face for radio

Melanie Sykes has come a long way from the Boddington's beer adverts. Now Des O'Connor's daytime partner is is branching out into radio. Ian Burrell meets her
Click to follow

But Melanie Sykes, it may surprise some to know, wants to be "a creative" and, from next month, she will be taking her career to places where her looks are of decidedly limited benefit; as a radio presenter, as a magazine writer and as an author.

"I'm very into the creative process. I'm very interested in creativity and what moves and inspires people," she says, talking of the opportunities she has had to question guests during her eight-year television career.

It has been the opportunity to put words on the page that has tapped Sykes's own creative reservoir to the point where she was able to declare: "That's really what I want to do with my life."

Blooming Beautiful, which she has co-written with Hilary Boyd and which aims to give mothers advice on retaining vitality during and after pregnancy, will be published by Penguin next month. Sykes has just written a long piece for Brides magazine on love and marriage, which left her feeling exhilarated.

"I've always known that I can write and have joy from it but it's only been the past two years that I have truly actually believed that I could do it. It was a bit of an eye-opener when I worked that one out," she says. "It has given me confidence in all areas of my life because I know I have found the thing that really moves me." She is now planning a novel.

But from next Sunday she has a more immediate priority, co-presenting the first network radio chart show to be launched in 20 years. The A-List, broadcast on commercial stations from 4pm-7pm, will be based on airplay, downloads and DVD sales, as well as singles and albums sales. Although Mel is reluctant to acknowledge any rivals, the show will go head to head with JK and Joel's chart show on Radio 1, which traces its roots back 38 years.

She reminisces on listening to BBC Radio's weekend top 40 ("it was an event") but when asked if she remembers her favourite presenters, her answer might not be quite what Kid Jensen and co would like to hear. "I absolutely don't. Oh, my gosh. We couldn't afford singles so we used to just tape the charts. That's not good is it?" she says, laughing. "Things have changed, things are more personality-led now. Back then it was more 'That was...' and 'This is...'. Well at least it was when it was taped - it was cut to ribbons."

Sykes, 35, says she would have no interest in doing the show "if I was just a links person" and that she has already struck up a close relationship with her co-presenter Nick Snaith, newly recruited to Heart 106.2. "It's very 'lifestyle'. Our market is women and men of my age. I know exactly what's going on with them; family and day-to-day living, really," she says.

There will also be A-list interviewees, she promises. "I would like to think that whoever does the booking says, 'It's with Melanie Sykes.' I've pretty much met everybody and I would imagine that there's no fear of talking to me. I would imagine we'd do all right on that front. I just want to have fun with these people. I've no intention of making them uncomfortable."

This is the essence of Sykes's approach to Today with Des and Mel, ITV's only answer to Richard & Judy now that Paul O'Grady has decamped to Channel 4. She says: "For me the main thing I achieve 99 per cent of the time is that people feel relaxed with me. It's more of a conversation than an interview, I've never felt I was doing Q&A.

"It's almost like as an interviewer you are the enemy but not me. I don't bring that to the table." It is no surprise that she admires the cosy, armchair interviewing style of Terry Wogan.

Sykes joined a London modelling agency at the age of 19 and her "huge break" was being picked for the Boddington's bitter commercials, which enabled her to make use of her Lancastrian accent. (She was born in Bottom Mossley, Manchester.)

She seems disarmingly self-confident talking of her presenter skills ("I would be so much better at it now, and I was flippin' good at it then...") and writing talents ("when I finally write without distractions I think it will be pretty damn good..."), but hints of self-doubt appear when she mentions her looks, astonishing as that might seem.

Thus Sykes seems less than convinced that men's magazines would still consider her pin-up material and seems flattered that the discount retailer Matalan wants to put her face on its hoardings. Sykes raises her voice slightly with excitement that, "for the first time" in the UK, she will appear on billboard ads. "I'm a model," she says, before correcting herself slightly. "I used to be a model. I was a model for eight years. If they think I look good fine, I'm cool with that." The billboard comes out next month, just like the radio show and the book.

"It's that feast and famine thing," says Sykes, who minutes earlier had given the impression that she was always inundated with work. "I have loads of ideas, not just for books and TV, but mad, crazy ideas for things I'd like to do. I've got so much on sometimes I feel I'm going to explode."

It should be no surprise that someone so marketable, with such desire to challenge herself, should keep her agent busy with offers of work. But Sykes admits there was a time not long ago when it hadn't been so. "I felt like the jobs were bitty. There was no real game plan," she says.

She has desires to host a chat show on her own, although she would want the kind of "freedom" that she enjoys on Today with Des and Mel, a show she says, gratefully, is "not formatted within an inch of its life".

She sympathises with O'Grady. "He didn't have a contract and he was asking for it. He's a friend of mine and I love him to bits. He's not money-motivated."

Sykes and O'Connor are still waiting to hear if they will be re-hired. "I don't know whether Des and Mel is coming back. I would hope so but every time it comes off air we never know."

Competition in the daytime market is not something that plays heavily on her mind. Sykes says she is "constantly bombarded with people's approval of the show". Ratings don't bother her, she says.

"I'm liked. The ladies dig me," says Sykes, who is married to actor Daniel Caltagirone, with whom she has two sons, Roman and Valentino. During her career, she has consistently been sent pictures of herself, clipped from men's magazines and accompanied by requests from women for autographs, purporting to be gifts for boyfriends.

Given that she has the security of being "liked", would the Des and Mel presenter consider working on something more cutting edge? She says she is not targeting any demographic or trying to build a Melanie Sykes brand. When considering a project she relies on gut reaction. "I know what I can do and what I can handle," she says. "The ultimate point for me with any job is 'Can I put my heart into this?'. 'Do I feel this?' If I don't, I can't possibly do it."