Denise Van Outen interview: The former Big Breakfast presenter on TV without rules, and why she was never really a ladette

Van Outen is an actress, singer, dancer and TV presenter, best-known for presenting ‘The Big Breakfast’ in the late 1990s and for starring in ‘Chicago’ in the West End and on Broadway

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The Independent Online

You've got a short-run production of Sweet Charity coming up, you've just been in EastEnders, and you're a mum. You must like to keep busy?

Yeah, I do keep myself busy. Sometimes I think, oh, here I go again. But obviously it must be in my blood.

You had a lot of fun in the 90s. What did you make of the ladette label that would sometimes be attached to you?

It never bothered me. Everyone has their own opinion of what it is. I get why we were labelled that, because we were party girls and we were a little bit gobby. But I'm not sure that I completely fitted the bill. I never drink beer and I was never massively into football. I think the whole ladette thing was more about girls who behaved like boys. I think I'm far more of a dolly-bird Essex girl than a ladette really. But I did have a gob on me.

Do you think it was about female empowerment?

Yes, a bit. It was the first time women were really making equal money to men. We were making a good living and finally fronting TV shows on our own. There was this strong movement of women who were allowed to be sexy and have a bit of a laugh, and to be have opinions and be witty on TV. It was a fun time to be around.There's not anything like it now.


Yes, TV's gone tame. Where are the rock-star presenters?

I know. It's all the same formula, isn't it, with these judging panel contests. And breakfast TV isn't much fun. There's not a lot there for the younger generation. That's what The Big Breakfast was good for. Most people who watched it were teenagers getting ready for school.

It felt a bit punk, the way that it broke the rules.

There weren't any rules. When I think about what we used to do, we could get away with anything. It was live and that was our out. You could get out of any situation by using that as the excuse – "It's live, anything can happen". Anything that was premeditated, you could just pretend was spur of the moment – so nobody could tell you off.

Was there any incident that sticks out for you as the most outrageous?

I had quite a few funny moments. I was asked to go to Buckingham Palace as one of the young achievers of the year. Johnny Vaughan was presenting The Big Breakfast with me and he thought I was making it up, so I promised that I'd bring him back a souvenir. I stole an ashtray and a tissue-box cover and gave them to him, live on the show. Buckingham Palace's legal department got in touch to say I was handling stolen goods and had to return them immediately. We sent them back – live on air – with a courier and a film crew.

You must have had a few offers over the years to come back. Is it something you'd ever consider?

No, do you know what, it's never happened. There have been rumours but there's never been an actual offer. I don't know if it'd be too weird to do it now; we couldn't really act like we did then because we're all grown-up parents. That streak is still in me but obviously I've had to rein it in a bit, regretfully so.

And I suppose you run the risk of it falling short.

Yeah, you find that a lot, don't you? It's a bit like having an ex-boyfriend. You only remember all the good bits. Then go back out with him, and remember why it didn't work in the first place.

On another note, I read you've started playing golf.

Yes, I have. I wanted to learn something for my 40th that was a little bit different, and social and grown-up. You wouldn't believe the number of people I see when I'm playing golf that I used to see out in nightclubs. It has a real social element to it. You play 18 holes and then you end up back at the clubhouse and have a couple of drinks. I really like that side of it.


Denise Van Outen, 41, is an actress, singer, dancer and TV presenter, best-known for presenting ‘The Big Breakfast’ in the late 1990s and for starring in ‘Chicago’ in the West End and on Broadway. Raised in Basildon, Essex, she attended the Sylvia Young Theatre School. She lives in Kent with her five year- old daughter, Betsy, and will be appearing in ‘Sweet Charity in concert’ at London’s Cadogan Hall from 19-22 August