Sport on TV: Determined Davina McCall completes the mother of all challenges


As tests of human endurance go, it was like Big Brother. Lots of tears and moaning, numbing sensations and a desperate need for affection – and that’s just the viewers. As we watched Davina McCall, the presenter of that reality show, suffer on her 500-mile triathlon in aid of Sport Relief on Davina: Beyond Breaking Point (BBC1, Thursday), it was at least some kind of payback for all the agony that execrable programme has inflicted upon us down the years.

McCall, who was raising money to help girls in Kenya gain an education, has previous in this regard. She took part in the Million Pound Bike Ride, a relay from John O’Groats to Land’s End in 2010, and helped John Bishop row across the Atlantic when the comedian had to get from Paris to London by bike, boat and running two years ago. But this time she was doing the task on her own, which made the challenge far more daunting. She was accompanied by the sports scientist and Olympic modern pentathlete Greg Whyte but since he fell off his bike on the first morning of the week-long challenge, it was questionable how useful he was as a pillar of support.

The heptathlon gold medallist Denise Lewis joined McCall for the last 20 miles of her bike ride into Windsor Castle, which was frankly not much of a contribution from one of Britain’s greatest female athletes. She was probably thinking: “Triathlon? Blimey, I had to do seven events. Piece of cake.” Talking of which, the best of her support team had to be Joe Brand, who was driven along beside her in a rickshaw during her final marathon to the finish line, offering helpful comments like: “Let’s go to the pub. It’s only half past seven but…special circumstances.”

McCall probably wasn’t in the mood for drinking, having swallowed half of Lake Windemere during the 1.5-mile swim section. She had had an anxiety attack after just 60 metres in the 5C water, and her core temperature dropped so dramatically that her body shut down at the end and she had to be dragged up the steps on to dry land most unceremoniously.

An “emergency recovery plan” was put into effect but after an hour she was back on her bike to cycle another 60 miles. If anything showed what an extraordinary feat this 46-year-old mother of three had undertaken, it was that. The fact that her destination at the end of the day was Accrington made it all the more heroic.

Davina had to battle her way through high winds, torrential rain, sub-zero temperatures and snow. As her father Andrew observed: “She overcame the weather, which is absolutely extraordinary.” Never mind the physical and mental torture, this was very much a British test of nerve. If only the stiff upper lip provided some protection from the elements.

Football managers need to have a sense of humour these days, given that their average job expectancy is about six weeks and their chairmen are intent on turning the game into a complete joke. Sport Relief also gave us Some Football Managers With Jokes (BBC4, Thursday) which is running for four episodes. Some of the gags will be very old by the end.

It’s fair to say that David Beckham probably didn’t hear too many jokes in the Old Trafford dressing-room. On the Beeb on Friday night he was with Del Boy and Rodney in Beckham’s Peckham. “Dave”, as Trigger would have called him, managed to be even more gormless than Rodders. They signed off at 1am and though one hates to say it, was a relief when it was all over.  It was quite exhausting.