The first time I met Des was on the eve of the 1985 Grand National at Aintree. I was a cub reporter with BBC radio and he was already a broadcasting god. I was fleetingly introduced and he was charming but I didn't expect him to remember my name.
The following morning, when he walked into the hotel dining room with his partner, he saw me sitting there and called: "Jeff, come and join us, you can't have breakfast on your own." That first meeting sums Des up: absolutely no ego whatsoever.
After that we'd meet in the street, the office, sporting events and functions. He'd always ask me how things were going and how my career was developing. I found him exactly as he was on screen: calm, reassuring and humorous.
Funnily enough though, he avoided giving me lengthy advice. It's not the sort of thing he'd have done - he'd have thought it would be belittling you. But I learnt so much from watching him at work, watching him perform. Des was the guy who made me realise you could say a great deal without using a single word; having a long pause, a raised eyebrow or a knowing smile. Many presenters, myself included, sometimes resort to non-stop gabbling of facts and figures. His coolness under pressure also impressed me. Even now, you get junior producers saying "sell it, sell it'' having this misconception that shouting things will make the programme more interesting to viewers. Des never got drawn into that: he says everything in measured tones and never gets loud or flustered. His pace is so even, whether it's the World Cup final or some minor match.
Having said this, my manner of presenting is a million miles away from what Des taught me. My show on Sky is a different beast - frenetic, furious without the measured delivery and pauses but I do try to incorporate some of that. It would be silly not to learn from the best ringmaster in the business. Des is the bloke who I aspire to be as good as.
Jeff Stelling is a Sky Sports presenterReuse content