Noel Edmonds: Teatime for Mr Saturday Night

The former mainstay of BBC1 joins Des Lynam on Channel 4's afternoon schedule - thankfully with no Mr Blobby in sight. James Rampton meets him
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He is sitting on a golden-hued armchair in the oak-panelled library of a posh West Country hotel. As he sips a freshly brewed cup of Earl Grey, he appears fit and tanned after a spell in the south of France. Edmonds, who started a daily show on Channel 4 last week, looks no older than when he was a fixture on our screens some six years ago.

The 56-year-old presenter starts by conceding that in the wake of his recent divorce from Helen, his wife of 18 years, "I've been to some very bad places." While asserting that rumours of his professional and personal demise have been greatly exaggerated, Edmonds admits that "because of my personal circumstances, the last few years have been very challenging".

Edmonds' misfortunes prompted some introspection and he now thanks his stars he's had the chance of a 30-year broadcasting career and a string of hit shows such as Noel's House Party, Multi-Coloured Swap Shop and Telly Addicts.

"For Christ's sake, I've been so bloody lucky. You know when they do those lightweight magazine articles about '50 Things To Do Before You Die'? Well, I can't half tick off a lot of them. I've driven a Formula One car, flown a helicopter, flown with the Red Arrows, met kings and queens, been to the White House," he says. "I hope my number isn't up yet, but the result of this reflective process was to make me very grateful. Contrary to the image of a neurotic man created in some quarters, I feel very much at peace with myself."

To enhance the impression, Edmonds exhibits an unexpected capacity for sending himself up. At one point he jokes about the fact that he tried out as the presenter of Countdown. (Des Lynam got the gig.) "I've got it on my CV now. What next? Panorama? Let me have a shot at Newsnight."

Edmonds is back on our screens hosting a afternoon game show on Channel 4 called Deal or No Deal, a version of a format already sold in 40 countries. In each show, the contestant must select from one of 22 boxes that house sums of money up to £250,000.

At Channel 4's winter launch, director of programmes Kevin Lygo acknowledged that there was a certain element of risk about reviving the careers of two veteran presenters - Lynam and Edmonds - in consecutive daytime shows. "I woke up in a cold sweat thinking, 'oh my God, I've brought back BBC1's Saturday night from 1982'. But actually it's good to see them both." The ratings for Deal or No Deal, which opened last week with an audience of just under two million, seem to support Lygo's confidence.

Edmonds is adamant that over the past five years he has not pined for TV stardom one bit. "I really, really didn't miss it - in fact, quite the opposite. I've been very fortunate to have had lots of offers over the past six years.

"A couple of years ago, I stood in for Johnnie Walker on Radio 2. I instantly adored it - the producers couldn't believe I was in two hours before transmission time every day. But the moment I finished, the fire went out again. I didn't miss it. That's very me.

"I'm very good at compartmentalising my life. I did motor-racing for a while, stopped, didn't miss it. I did power-boat racing for a while, stopped, didn't miss it. I had such a good run at the BBC. I had a hell of a CV with arguably the greatest broadcasting organisation in the world. But I've never missed it since."

A decade ago, Edmonds was the highest paid entertainer on British television, but he parted company with the BBC in 1999. He now says the reason for his departure - after eight series and 167 episodes of Noel's House Party - was burn-out. "I was doing 50 shows a year, and just lived it. Noel's House Party took 10 months of the year, seven days a week. So I got to the point where I thought, 'no, I want to do other things now'."

Edmonds was said by some to be difficult to work with, a charge that he denies. "I'm quite certain we can all be difficult, and if you claim to be creative, you can be more difficult than most. If I'm demanding and have high standards. I'm happy about that. Maybe that's why I lasted 30 years," he says. "But I'm basically a team player. On Noel's House Party, I used to say that I was the guy who got to lift the cup, but you'd look bloody stupid at Wembley without the other 10 players."

Edmonds has certainly had plenty of other activities to occupy him since leaving the BBC. He oversees a farm in the West Country and runs highly successful TV and radio production houses, a high-end car company, a lobbying organisation and a video conferencing firm. Edmonds is worth a reported £20m, but hastens to add: "Despite what people say, it's not an empire."

The fly in the ointment has been the presenter's often fractious relationship with the tabloids. Clearly well practised in fielding questions on this matter, he sighs, "There has been an image of me sitting in a darkened room, polishing my awards and praying that the phone will ring. Sorry to disappoint, but that has not been the case!"

He acknowledges that he is very much on the tabloid radar right now. "I'm not quite sure why," he harrumphs, "other than the fact that they like to bring you down if you're successful."

He has also had to get used to be being permanently tailed by paparazzi. "I've got one of them following me everywhere at the moment," Edmonds reveals. "Because I recently got divorced, the tabloids are very keen to know who I'm with. Every couple of months, they run an article portraying me as some kind of freak. I've even had calls from Michael Jackson saying, 'back off, you're stealing my territory'."

He acknowledges that the tabloid attention "does get me down. I can take it up to a point, but when journalists become vindictive or tell downright lies, that's bloody difficult to put with".

Edmonds claims not to watch much TV these days. All the same, is he not the teeniest bit irked that Ant and Dec seem to have stolen many of his clothes for theirSaturday Night Takeaway? "They've been very honest about the derivation of their show," Edmonds says. "Their executive producer told me that the first thing they did when they were setting up the show was to get out the tapes of Noel's House Party. We had a laugh about it. I also like the fact that Ant and Dec so clearly love their job and do it so professionally."

Edmonds is not, however, so well disposed towards reality TV. "Big Brother just doesn't interest me," he opines of the best-known programme by Endemol, the makers of his new show. So he wouldn't ever appear on the celebrity version? "No!" he exclaims. "I've declined that one, I'm a Celebrity..., Have I Got News For You and Strictly Come Dancing. I think reality TV and cruelty TV are over now. The consumer is ready for glitz and glamour and, dare I say it, the odd talented presenter."

At this point, Edmonds can't resist a little "in my day" rant. "I do despair of some presenters today," he says. "They quite clearly have talent, but aren't given a chance to settle. Where on earth is the next Kenny Everett going to come from? Is it any wonder that Des O'Connor, Des Lynam and I are all back?"

Edmonds is aware that his return will trigger some criticism. "The usual suspects have groaned about it," he smiles. "But you should judge me by what you see on the screen. If you don't like Deal or No Deal, then I'm sorry, but it's not the end of my world. If I don't deliver for Channel 4, I'll go back to that darkened room, live off stale digestive biscuits and cold cups of Earl Grey and wear a rather unpleasant pair of furry slippers that a viewer gave me."

Deal or No Deal is on Channel 4 at 4.15pm, Monday to Saturday