Adrian Chiles: Comfortable on the ball

He's the most relaxed sports presenter since Desmond Lynam. And now ITV is hoping that his easy-going charm will at last make the channel contenders in the great World Cup TV ratings battle
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When England open their World Cup campaign next Saturday against the United States in South Africa, the most eye-catching signing of last season will be facing up to the biggest game of his career, and the eyes of much of the nation will be upon him. But then a lot of people take notice of Adrian Chiles these days. He is courted by politicians, loved by television viewers and revered by football fans, and his defection to ITV in April threatens to snatch the World Cup from the grasp of the BBC. The corporation's coverage might be hosted by one of England's greatest strikers, who starred at Italia 90 and has Winston as his middle name, but even Gary Lineker must be worried.

There are few occasions in history when the greatest statesmen of the day stand in line to eulogise on the end of an era, but Chiles's departure from the BBC was one such moment. Referring to Chiles's enormous appeal as the presenter on the The One Show, Gordon Brown, who was still inside No 10 at the time, was quite misty-eyed. "Adrian, I last had a long talk with you at the Olympics when you did such a marvellous job presenting there, but you've done amazing things on The One Show and sports and everything else you've done in reporting, and you've simply done a great job that makes us all proud," blathered the then Prime Minister with a verbosity that had one yearning for Chiles's ability to cut to the chase.

Brown wasn't finished, desperate as he was to be associated with the West Midlander's everyman appeal. "When we talk and meet up, you talk about West Bromwich Albion all the time and I talk about Raith Rovers all the time," the premier continued, less than a week before a general election. "At least West Bromwich are going up; I'm afraid Raith Rovers are stuck where they are. But my best wishes to you in everything you do in your future career."

The other party leaders were at it too. "It's been great appearing on your show, wonderful watching you on The One Show," gushed David Cameron. "I don't know how they are going to do without you." Nick Clegg attempted humour, but without Chiles's dry delivery. "Adrian," he said. "One of the most unforgettable things I've done since becoming leader of the Liberal Democrats is handling miniature hedgehogs on your One Show." Yes Nick, sure.

Chiles appeals to politicians and broadcasters alike because of his extraordinary ordinary touch. He's like a garden gnome who turned out to have a bag full of pixie dust.

Thirteen years ago, pollsters decided that the key to No 10 was held by a mythical Mondeo-driving man in the Worcestershire town of Redditch. Since then, activists have sought Mondeo Man's female relative: Worcester Woman. This is Chiles country – he grew up in Worcestershire and went to the same comprehensive as the former home secretary and Redditch MP, Jacqui Smith.

Chiles, 43, hits other demographics too. The One Show, which has become BBC1's best-performing magazine programme since Nationwide, is a hit with seniors, who have thrilled at the chemistry between Chiles and his Ulster-born co-presenter Christine Bleakley. Erroneous tabloid rumours hinted at romance.

Today Bleakley is stepping out with footballer Frank Lampard and preparing to host The One Show with a new co-presenter, Jason Manford. Chiles is arm in arm with a new partner, ITV, for whom he will be the face of its World Cup coverage, reporting on the adventures of Lampard and chums in South Africa. He has another sofa too. ITV's director of television, Peter Fincham, who as BBC1 controller offered the presenter his spot on the couch at The One Show in 2006, has given him the starring role in GMTV's imminent re-launch as ITV's branded breakfast show.

The £6m over four years signing has been a coup for ITV, which is rumoured to be heavily courting Bleakley as well. The BBC has been deprived of the football presenter whose observations most resonate with ordinary fans. Chiles watches his favourite club side with Frank Skinner – they sit by the halfway line, the comedian's instinctive expectancy contrasting with Chiles's ingrained pessimism. "We are the yin and yang of West Bromwich Albion," says Skinner.

Chiles is a self-confessed "worrier", a more complex figure than the easy-going, comfortable-in-his-own-skin guy familiar to viewers, who must think he has the perfect job, hanging out with football stars and bantering with glamorous women. Bleakley has said: "It's no secret that I didn't like Adrian at all to begin with. I found him intense." Chiles has a "natural ability to communicate" but is "riven by self-doubt" and demanding of himself, says Doug Carnegie, former editor of The One Show. "Nobody will give Adrian a harder time than he gives himself. He's a strong and ambitious character. Don't be fooled by the affability."

Chiles thinks about the industry and his career within it, unlike many other on-screen stars who leave such things to their agents. His sense of his worth is born of the fact that, having started work in his father's scaffolding firm, his career in broadcasting has been a long climb. His first steps – Radio 4's Financial World Tonight, BBC2's Working Lunch – gave him a grasp of business. This dimension of his skill set was recognised in his role as presenter of The Apprentice: You're Fired!, where he contrasted with Alan Sugar's abrasive persona in the main programme.

So Chiles understood his value to the BBC after revitalising the corporation's early-evening schedule by making a success of The One Show. "Getting a factual programme to deliver in peak time, that's the school of hard knocks that is," he told me in a BBC wine bar two years ago. "Now I suppose commissioners are bound to like me more because I've had a hand in delivering a big audience."

It was around this time that ITV began banging on his door, and Chiles was sorely tempted, upset that the BBC would not allow him to continue with The One Show while also hosting the commercial broadcaster's football coverage. "Nobody likes being backed into a corner," he complained, noting that Fincham had moved to ITV and, "I know he rates me". He was also in difficulties in his private life – Chiles and his broadcaster wife Jane Garvey, with whom he has two daughters, were heading towards divorce.

It's not that he thought The One Show was all about him. At that wine bar meeting he summoned a then relatively unknown Bleakley from the office, so that she might be included in the ensuing article. Temporarily, he stuck with his wide-ranging role at the BBC. His reason for hanging on to his third job at You're Fired! – he would have felt cuckolded if someone else took over "his" show – gave an insight into his deep relationship with his work.

BBC top brass failed to understand this when it started angling for Chris Evans to be the face of the Friday edition of The One Show. Chiles was insulted by the implication that he did not have the glitter to make the required link with the weekend schedule. He was on holiday when – in spite of his wishes – BBC bosses announced that they'd be uniting Evans and Bleakley, the presenter he had mentored. Chiles wasn't going to stand for that, another bloke in the nest he'd built so meticulously. In vain the corporation tried to keep him, offering him a BBC2 chat show to add to his portfolio.

It wasn't enough. After his first outing for ITV, hosting England's friendly with Mexico a couple of weeks ago, TV critics noted that he was in "impish form". Chiles can rescue the network's previously inferior football coverage, just as he can raise the profile of GMTV. "I'm a jack of all trades, really," he said in 2006 when The One Show launched. "No one wants me to be their absolutely main man." That's no longer true. The everyman presenter has become the main man. Politicians and broadcasters know it and, in his better moments, Adrian Chiles knows it too.

Adrian Chiles

Born 21 March 1967, Quinton, Birmingham.

Education Attended Haybridge High School, Worcestershire, before studying English at the London University and journalism at Cardiff.

Family Born to an English father and Croatian mother. Married Jane Garvey, a presenter of Woman's Hour on Radio 4, in 1998, but they divorced in 2009. They have two children, Evelyn and Sian.

Career Worked as a sports reporter for the News of the World before joining the BBC's Business Breakfast, originally on work experience. Career highlights since include presenting The One Show, The Apprentice: You're Fired and Match of the Day 2. He left the BBC in April to front ITV's football coverage and be the face of GMTV

He says "It's going to be fun. I can see it, probably as Des Lynam used to see it – through the eyes of a fan, rather than through the eyes of a player."

They say "Adrian is a brilliant presenter, journalist and a football fanatic. He has the rare talent of being able to make television presenting look effortless." Peter Fincham, ITV director of programmes