Noel Edmonds launches scathing attack on ‘total mess’ BBC
‘No Botox, no facelifts. I’ve had two laser surgeries for my eyesight, that’s it. The rest is down to good genes and my unique personal formula for good health,’ said Noel Edmonds, 65, on his appearance
It is universally acknowledged that it is terribly rude to stare, but faced with the grinning presence of Noel Edmonds, it’s hard to do anything else.
At almost 66, he looks spookily unchanged from the woolly-jumpered, red telephone days of Multi-Coloured Swap Shop or as the garishly shirted best friend of Mr Blobby in Noel’s House Party.
The highlighted mane of hair bursts in abundance from his head, the trademark beard – now with a smattering of salt and pepper – is as fulsome as ever and underneath a light veneer of TV foundation there are remarkably few cracks or lines in his skin.
Like Mick Jagger, his slim-fit jeans are the same waist size as those he wore in the Seventies.
So after we crack through bloodbaths at the BBC, how ITV lifted his telly format, why Britain is suffering from dementia, why he won’t vote or buy a TV licence, his plans to buy the BBC, his fury with Jeremy Paxman, piloting Concorde, Jimmy Savile, Dave Lee Travis, Jonathan Ross, David Cameron, drugs at Top Of The Pops, and Top Gear (he was an early presenter), we need to talk about Noel. The Face, the body and whether or not he’s had some sort of surgery.
He laughs: ‘No. Nothing. No Botox, no facelifts. I’ve had two laser surgeries for my eyesight, that’s it. The rest is down to good genes and my unique personal formula for good health.’
‘I haven’t voted for two years. We don’t get told the truth. Westminster is telling us right now the recession is ending. I can tell you, from what I know… that we are far from out of a recession,’ said Noel
His regime involves spending 15 minutes a day lying on an EMPpad Omnium 1 (two grand buys you a mat which infuses your body with electromagnetic energy), drinking Grander Water (water restructured back to its ‘natural source state’), meditating, avoiding red meat and drinking health shakes (prepared in his NutriBullet blender) in a mainly alkaline diet (predominantly vegetarian), and exercising very slowly for a total of an hour a week in darkness while listening to electronic pulses.
‘When I first started talking about all this everyone said I was going the way of David Icke,’ he says.
‘But I’ve actually taken the time to go into the science of it. I’ve spoken to people in sport, like Jenson Button’s team, and this is the way forward.
‘I started using the EMPpad a year ago and I thought it was useless at first, but my wife, Liz, said she could see a difference so I stuck with it.
‘Then I could see my hair was thicker, my nails were stronger, the exercise I was doing in the gym was becoming easier and less painful.’
There is an aspect of Edmonds that sets him apart from being simply a very rich, very successful, very famous broadcaster.
Like Simon Cowell with his oxygen tanks, vitamin injections, and colonic irrigations, Edmonds has a uniquely off-the-grid maverick side.
He believes in cosmic power and cosmic lists (his triumphant decade with Channel 4’s ratings banker Deal Or No Deal is, he says, down to him writing to the Cosmos asking for a hit show) and the power of positivity.
He does not, however, believe in those signs and markings on his hands that caused an internet meltdown from fans of the show trying to work out their significance.
‘I’ve never taken drugs, ever. Of course, I was offered them, but I actually hate to lose control. I was never into that party scene,’ said Noel (pictured presenting Top Of The Pops in the Seventies)
Two years into the making of Deal Or No Deal, he appeared on screen with a variety of symbols ‘tattooed’ on to the palm of his hand. Viewers and TV commentators believed they were spiritual markings designed to harness cosmic powers.
In fact, they were randomly written on with a Biro a few minutes before he appeared on camera.
‘That was a p***-take because I know everyone thinks I’m bonkers,’ he says.
‘I just drew anything on my hand – triangles, clouds, sometimes something that looked a bit willy-shaped. It was my little joke.’
His unchanging looks could also be something to do with a distinct lack of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll over the years. Edmonds was never that sort. And it didn’t make him popular among his peers.
‘I’ve never taken drugs, ever,’ he says. ‘Of course, I was offered them, but I actually hate to lose control. I was never into that party scene.
‘I’d turn up for work and then leave. It was always a job.
‘I remember going to one birthday do at Top Of The Pops in 1971 and the director was handing around a cigarette. I remember thinking: “Can’t they afford to buy their own fags?”
‘I was incredibly straight, even at 20 when I was one of the five DJs on Radio Luxembourg. People thought it was wild but I never even got drunk. It’s only years later I realised what else was going on.’
Surely this cannot possibly be true? He shrugs.
‘I didn’t have any friends when I was at Radio 1. I didn’t hang out with anyone and I didn’t hang around after work.
‘The other DJs hated me because first I was given the Breakfast Show, and then I got on television.’
He was also the station’s youngest-ever DJ – given his first contract at just 21.
‘You didn’t have friends at the BBC back then. Everyone was on 13-week contracts; it was ultra-competitive, everyone was paranoid about being stabbed in the back and everyone was happy to stab you with a smile.
Noel with SwapShop team members, MaggiePhilbin, Keith Chegwin and John Craven in 1979
‘Tony Blackburn has only recently become a friend (he DJ-ed at Edmonds’s 60th birthday) and he apologised for the way he was to me back then. If you had any success you were a threat.
‘Even John Peel refused to speak to me. He was supposed to be on the Late, Late Breakfast Show (Edmonds’s first Saturday-night entertainment show in 1982, which ended in 1986 after the death of a stunt man when a bungee jump went wrong) but the whole thing was a disaster and he got cut. He never spoke to me again after that.’
In the light of recent events you have to wonder what the hell went on at Broadcasting House back in the Seventies and Eighties. Was he aware there were so many rotten apples on the roster? Did he witness or even suspect anything about Jimmy Savile or Dave Lee Travis (who recently received a suspended sentence for groping women)?
Edmonds shakes his head but wants to make a point.
‘Dear Dave, if it hadn’t been for pirate radio he’d have ended up digging roads in Manchester.
Noel with Mr Blobby in 1993
‘He was never the brightest spark, but he’s not a nasty guy. There was no bad vibe about him. I was never aware of anything remotely sleazy about Dave.
‘OK, he was possibly misguided, but you can’t talk about him in the same breath as Savile. Savile was the absolute depths of depravation. That’s a whole different story.’ He pauses.
‘I never liked him. I found it insulting the way the rest of us would turn up to functions at the BBC on time, dressed in suits and he’d turn up late in a gold lamé tracksuit.
‘I also thought he was a s*** broadcaster. He had no command of the English language. He couldn’t speak properly. He’d come out with those awful expressions like “Howzabout that then?” and I used to wonder why he even had a job.
‘What transpired was unspeakable, but it’s wrong to entirely blame the culture of the BBC. Savile was in deep with the Royals, with Mrs Thatcher, with the hospitals and with Broadmoor.
‘There’s a whole establishment that let him into its heart. Not just the BBC.’
As for the outcry over his fellow Radio 1 DJ Mike Read’s song for Ukip, withdrawn after people complained over its racist content, he shakes his head: ‘Jesus. Mike Read. I could say a lot more but it’s all there really.’
He explains his own views on Ukip as: ‘Ukop – you keep your opinions private.’
He doesn’t, however, vote.
‘I haven’t voted for two years. We don’t get told the truth. Westminster is telling us right now the recession is ending.
‘I can tell you, from what I know, the people I meet, the place I live, that we are far from out of a recession.’
He speaks with absolute confidence in his opinions. There is very little angst about Edmonds, who has, very quietly, very clearly come into his personal prime.
A man who has nothing to lose and who couldn’t care less what the television industry thinks of him today.
He is worth £75 million – the result of shrewdly combining business (he formed the Unique Group in 1985, which has various arms including a motor company) with broadcasting (as well as Deal Or No Deal, he is about to be launched as a health and positivity guru on a new digital channel, HULU, into which a U.S. network has poured millions).
Noel with Noddy and Big Ears at the opening of a Crinkley Bottom theme park in 1994. After three decades of being the BBC’s biggest light entertainment figure he was kicked out in 1999
He spends most of his time at his home in the Alpes-Maritimes region in the South of France, and has lived long enough to see every TV trick he pioneered (from the hidden cameras in House Party’s Gotcha strand, to viewer phone-ins, to stunts, live competitions and presenters who view themselves as brands) clogging up the television schedules.
Yet for three decades Edmonds hosted, created and – in the case of Noel’s House Party – owned the shows (Swap Shop, Telly Addicts) that regularly received 17 million viewers.
Simon Cowell refers to him as ‘the grandmaster of light entertainment’ and Declan Donnelly told me: ‘As a kid the one show I waited for every week was House Party.
‘To me, Noel Edmonds was a genius. That’s the show I always think of when we are trying to make something really exciting.’
Edmonds isn’t used to being valued by his peers, only by his audience and his family. He looks rather unnerved by Cowell and Donnelly’s comments.
‘Well, I think Ant and Dec clearly liked me because Saturday Night Takeaway is basically Noel’s House Party.
‘Nigel Hall, the show’s producer, told me when they were working on the show they got out all the tapes of House Party and pulled out all the things they wanted to use. It’s all there.’
Noel with his first wife Gillian Slater, a physiotherapist, in 1973. They were married for 11 years
He says he no longer chases TV opportunities and is passionate about Deal Or No Deal because he single-handedly turned it into a hit with his dramatic, patter (‘Play the money, don’t play the game … don’t be seduced by the board’) which keeps the 2.5 million audience (a giant share for Channel 4 in the daytime schedule) glued.
He doesn’t have a script, never works from an autocue and films three shows in one day with an hour break in between.
‘This show works exactly as I want it to. It was never expected to be a hit, it was supposed to last a few months, and ten years on we’re still making it.
‘When we started off we were in an old paint factory and we’d have to stop taping every time a lorry went past. It was insane.’ He did, however, make it fly.
He says he no longer really watches TV. ‘I’ve seen X Factor but I don’t watch it. I don’t watch Takeaway either.”
He does, however, watch Top Gear, a show he originally hosted in the mid-Seventies.
He relishes the controversies of Jeremy Clarkson, from the recent Argentinian debacle (he drove through the country with the date of the Falklands war on his number plate) to his use of the ‘N’ word on camera. Clarkson has got off scot-free on each occasion. Edmonds shakes his head.
‘I love it. It’s unbelievable. When I did that show I was hauled over the coals for spinning wheels too fast on a car. Now they get away with anything.
Noel at home in 1994 with second wife Helen. They were married for 18 years
‘I just watch and think of the poor person sitting by the complaints phone and the switchboard going into meltdown and they still do nothing about it.’
In view of the fact he no longer possesses a TV licence (he stopped paying in 2008 as a protest against what he perceived to be ‘bullying’ ads telling people to buy a licence or face prosecution) he tends to watch on catch-up.
His wife, Liz, however, does own a licence.
Rather endearingly, the very decent Liz Davies, 45, who met him (‘11am, October 6, 2006’ she remembers) when she stepped in as his make-up artist, sits next to him as he talks.
She is part of the reason for a sea change in the man who up until his departure from the BBC was always defined by his high-profile shows, his TV Midas touch. In recent years he has turned down most offers (including regular begging letters from Strictly Come Dancing).
‘I’m not interested,’ he says. ‘I’ve got better things in my life.’ He looks at his wife.
They were never supposed to get married. Edmonds has been through two divorces, from his first wife of 11 years (Gillian Slater, a physiotherapist) and from his second wife of 18 years (Helen Soby, mother of his four grown-up daughters).
Soby had an affair – with her cross-dressing Pilates instructor – just months after Edmonds was torpedoed by the BBC after 20 years as one of its most successful presenters.
He doesn’t talk about Soby. What he does say is: ‘I told my friends if I ever said I was getting married again to hit me with a shovel. But then I met Liz [who was divorced with two young children] and I knew our relationship was extraordinary.
‘She didn’t want to get into a relationship, I didn’t either and we ended up married. I never expected to be this happy.’
Edmonds is fascinating company. He tells a good anecdote. Usually against himself. One of his most embarrassing moments came during Live Aid in 1985. His job was to transport the stars back and forth by helicopter and introduce Phil Collins and Sting.
‘I remember running on stage. It was massive, there were so many people out there and the atmosphere backstage was incredible but completely chaotic.
‘As I ran on [promoter] Harvey Goldsmith was in the wings shouting at me: “It’s Phil Collins, and you’ve got to take him in the helicopter when he goes.” I went to the front and shouted out “Phil Collins!” turned round and saw Sting walking towards me. He just looked at me and said: “Wrong.” The biggest blooper of my career.’
Noel with his daughter Charlotte in 2001
Edmonds is a completely lateral thinker and his opinions are often as unexpected as they are devastatingly direct.
He doesn’t avoid any subjects and he also absolutely accepts that a certain strata of the broadcasting world views him as a total joke.
He was mauled by Paxman on Newsnight when he went on to talk about the BBC in March this year. Edmonds wants to buy it and has, he says, been backed by a business conglomerate to do so.
He believes when the Royal Charter is up for renewal in 2016, the Corporation will lose its licence fee. But, to quote Paxman, why should a beardy daytime presenter, Mr Blobby no less, be running the BBC?
On Newsnight, Edmonds was interviewed in a satellite studio (‘I wished I was there in person,’ he says) and was bombarded with insults by Paxman. who wanted to know what he would do with the World Service and why on earth anyone should take him seriously.
Then, like now, Edmonds refused to give a catagoric breakdown of his vision.
‘It’s a business plan and I’m not going to publicly go into it at this stage.
‘The BBC is a total mess,’ he says. ‘There are too many chiefs, they throw money around, but they don’t know what they are throwing money at.
‘For me it’s all about business. I want to run it because I understand business, I have a track record, I am genuinely excited by the new direction broadcasting is going and the BBC has no concept of how to evolve in the age of Apple.
‘I just don’t want to see the BBC disappear for ever. For me it’s not a question of content, it’s a question of structure and a real understanding of how to move forward in a totally different age.’
Noel with his current wife, Liz, who he married in 2009. ‘She didn’t want to get into a relationship, I didn’t either and we ended up married. I never expected to be this happy,’ he said
Paxman, however, would not be welcome in Edmond’s BBC.
‘No way,’ he says. ‘He’s a total hypocrite. So are the Dimblebys. Paxman has a go at me attacking the BBC on Newsnight and then he writes a piece a few weeks later slagging them off.
‘As did the Dimblebys. They take the money and then attack the people who pay them. It’s unreal.’
It would be fair to say that the veteran broadcaster has a love/hate relationship with the BBC.
After three decades of being the Corporation’s biggest light entertainment figure he was kicked out in 1999 when a new broom swept through the BBC and ratings for House Party slid down from a peak of 17 million to nine million (Ant & Dec pull in 7.5 million for Saturday Night Takeaway in the primetime slot today).
Edmonds was asked by the then BBC1 Controller Peter Salmon to leave – despite having a year left to run on his contract.
Edmonds’s high-earning, high-flying, tabloid-friendly persona did not chime with the dawn of a new decade at the Corporation.
‘Salmon wanted me out. It was more of a statement of intent about the future of the BBC. I didn’t want to go.
‘They were paying me £1.8 million. I asked if I could do something else, work on a different show.
‘The answer was no. Go away. I wasn’t liked.
‘I talked about myself as a brand, about viewers as customers. No one liked that then. It was seen as wrong, cynical. Now they all talk like that. It has become the norm.’
Edmonds was devastated. Vowed never to go back into a studio. His marriage ended. He spent three years completely out of the media.
‘I worked on various businesses, got into the community. It wasn’t a great time.’
But he refuses to be negative.
‘You’ve got to remember I’d had the most incredible life, the most incredible career.
‘I’d piloted Concorde, flown with the Red Arrows, done all those shows.
‘It’s why I’m so passionate about the BBC still.
‘I don’t want to lose it and it will be lost if it carries on as it is.’
The only child of teachers, Edmonds was educated at the same Essex public school – Brentwood School – as Sir Robin Day and Griff Rhys Jones.
He skipped university and instead joined Radio Luxemburg, first as a jingle writer, having been obsessed by DJs such as Kenny Everett. It wasn’t long before he was at the BBC.
And the Corporation the young Edmonds started out in was all about respect and discipline – like his school.
‘We were all kept in line. Producers were held in awe and they would be straight into tell you if you needed to calm down, tone down.
‘I was given the b******ing of a lifetime because on the Breakfast Show I intimated that [newsreader] Reggie Bosanquet had delivered the ITV news a little worse for wear. I was pilloried and I was mortified.
‘A few years later I was reliably informed that most of the great ITV guys read the news after quite a few drinks. They all had those big drinkers’ noses, for God’s sake!’
When Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand called Andrew Sachs live on air in 2009, leaving insulting messages over sleeping with his grand-daughter, Edmonds was appalled.
‘It should never have happened. The producer should never have let it happen.
‘Jonathan is a good presenter but a presenter should never have control over the producer.’
He pauses. ‘But the biggest crime in that whole episode was that the BBC was fined by Ofcom and it was the public who paid. The people who complained ended up paying. Unbelievable.’
At this stage in his life, Edmonds dares tell it as it exactly as he sees it.
The BBC’s loss was simply Channel Four’s gain. Deal or no Deal, Edmonds remains his own legend.
‘Deal Or No Deal’ is on weekdays, Channel 4 at 4pm