Don’t expect Jeremy Kyle to be making any apologies over the Philpott tragedy. The television presenter who gave national notoriety to a man who would go on to kill six of his own children is in the business of mending families, not destroying them.
Many people love The Jeremy Kyle Show. With a consistent audience of about 1.5 million it has been a staple of the ITV daytime schedule for almost a decade. Younger viewers, in particular, seem to find the presenter addictive. You can buy T-shirts with slogans such as “Don’t mess with Jezza” and “No matter how bad my life gets I can always be happy knowing that I’m better than the people on The Jeremy Kyle Show”. And perhaps this is the show’s appeal – the pleasure viewers get in placing themselves above dysfunctional figures such as Mick and Mairead Philpott.
But Kyle, 47, is convinced he is on the side of good. He made that much clear on Thursday. As the Philpotts were being sentenced for manslaughter, the latest edition of The Jeremy Kyle Show – one of the most successful products in British daytime television – was picking up the pieces of broken Britain. “Why has it taken so long? Why have we only got here today?” he asked a pair of guests who had come before the cameras to air a parental dispute. It was as if Kyle saw himself as the ultimate courtroom for resolving familial disputes and the safety net to cover the failings of the nation’s social services teams.
By the end of the sequence, Kyle was alone in a corridor with his microphone, having – through a DNA test – identified his young male guest as the father of a two-year-old girl who was brought on camera. “That’s the point of The Jeremy Kyle Show,” he said. “Right, good luck to them as a family.”
It was like a big two fingered-salute to Kyle’s critics. The ones who dragged him into the Philpott tragedy and saddled his programme with yet another controversy in its contentious eight-year history. The Jeremy Kyle Show, he was telling us through this happy ending, made damaged lives better.
But moments earlier, Kyle had knelt in front of the same toddler’s teenage mother and set out her sordid sexual history for the amusement of a national television audience. “You were having unprotected sex in glamorous locations like a park and a caravan trailer park. What the hell, do you think, sort of message that sends out?” he stammered, almost incoherent with rage.
“Well not a very good one, but I was single,” began his guest.
“Darling! You slept with 70 men. You’re 19!”
The young mum began to cry as her daughter appeared on screen, filmed by cameras backstage. Reinforcing the impression that she was on trial, Kyle set out the charges. “You can cry but you’ve said things to our teams backstage – I obviously have sheets and sheets of paper,” he said before claiming the little girl’s father could be one of three of her mother’s sexual partners.
The young dad – who later declared himself a recovering alcoholic – didn’t escape either. “You were so off your face you had a quickie in a churchyard!” Kyle spat at him.
When the family was finally united, the child heard a male voice soothingly ask her: “Hello sweetheart! You all right?” It was, of course, Kyle. Alongside his damaged guests, the presenter is a suited and booted symbol of solid family values and correct fatherhood. His own parents, he once said, “showed me each and every day what it takes to be a proper, respectful and decent human being”.
He is, as he reminds his audience when it suits his argument, an unlikely paragon. This former heavy gambler had a short-lived first marriage. His former wife, tired of Kyle’s repeated references to their relationship breakdown and how he would drive “through the dark” to see his daughter, spoke out to the Daily Mail, saying he seemed incapable of telling the truth. “The man I married wouldn’t have been out of place as a guest on his own show. The programme is crass and embarrassing, and for Jeremy to act like some kind of agony uncle is sheer hypocrisy.”
When Kyle published his autobiography, I’m Only Being Honest, he revealed that he suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder. “I get up and mop the kitchen floor at 2am. I lick my mobile phone to make sure it’s clean – I know it’s disgusting. I did lick golf balls too until somebody told me a guy in America who did that died because of the pesticides,” he told a journalist from the Manchester Evening News when publicising the book.
He is a former travelling salesman who switched from the commercial department of a local radio station to presenting a show, and then worked his way up the broadcasting ladder. His radio career ranged from Orchard FM in Taunton to Capital FM in London. He is a survivor of testicular cancer and of a car crash in 2008 which left his chauffeur-driven BMW in the central reservation of the A1 and a Mazda, with which it collided, on its roof. Kyle was reportedly “shaking like a leaf”. He met his second wife Carla after she took part in a disastrous radio show series in which she agreed to be a bride. When the relationship failed she turned to Kyle, who worked on the network, and they are happily married with three children.
He has led a complex and eventful life, a pre-requisite for a talk-show host. Yet part of the reason why Kyle attracts so much criticism is that he has had “high class problems” in comparison with the great majority of his guests, who seem to come overwhelmingly from the ranks of the lowly paid or the long-term unemployed. In America, where his show has now been dropped, observers noted a preponderance of poor African-Americans among the guests.
Kyle, or “Jezza” as he is known, is not like his subjects. Although it is sometimes erroneously reported that he was born in the gritty East End area of Canning Town, he grew up in suburban Reading with a father who was an accountant and personal secretary to the Queen Mother, and he has childhood memories of Clarence House and Windsor Castle. Buckingham Palace remains his favourite building. (“I love it as architecture, and as a symbol for our nation.”) He was teased for his royal connections by fellow pupils at the independent Reading Blue Coat School, where he suffered from “crippling shyness”.
One of the most damning critiques of Kyle’s show was made by a Manchester judge, Alan Berg, in 2007 as he sentenced David Staniforth to a £300 fine for headbutting a fellow guest on the programme. “It is for no more and no less than titillating members of the public who have nothing better to do with their mornings than sit and watch this show, which is a human form of bear-baiting which goes under the guise of entertainment.”
Kyle, who cites Michael Parkinson as a role model and claims that his show is milder than the Jerry Springer product that clearly spawned it, strongly disagrees. “For those that say it’s exploitative, I don’t think it’s a freak show at all. Personally, I think that misses the point.”
And though he often seethes with righteous anger – especially over any perceived abuses of the benefits system – he is also quick to rebut the idea that the show thrives on violence, pointing out that there is a strict adherence to the rules of the broadcasting watchdog Ofcom, despite the headbutting episode. The point of his autobiography, he says, was to highlight the good work done by the programme’s aftercare team, headed by psychotherapist Graham Stanier (whose name has become as familiar a feature to regular viewers as the lie detector and the “all-important” DNA test). “We don’t just hang ’em out to dry,” he says.
Stanier was called in to help the young couple united this week around their red-headed toddler. “Don’t mess it up. Listen to Graham,” the presenter told them sternly. The audience clapped and cheered but, as Jeremy Kyle well knows, life is far more complicated than that.
A LIFE IN BRIEF
Born: Jeremy Kyle, 7 July 1965, Reading, Berkshire.
Family: Father was an accountant and personal secretary to the Queen Mother. Married Kirsty Rowley in 1989; they had one daughter before divorcing in 1991. Married Carla Germaine in 2003; three children.
Education: Reading Blue Coat School, Sonning, Berkshire. Studied history and sociology at University of Surrey.
Career: After working in recruitment and insurance he started presenting on local radio before moving to BRMB, Century FM, Virgin Radio and Capital FM with shows including Jezza’s Confessions and The Jeremy Kyle Show. Moved The Jeremy Kyle Show to ITV in 2005. His first book, I’m Only Being Honest, was published in 2009.
He says: “I can look myself in the mirror and know my show has helped a lot of people.”
They say: “The whole purpose of The Jeremy Kyle Show is to effect a morbid and depressing display of dysfunctional people.” Manchester Judge Alan Berg