IT was long odds against me writing about Ant and Dec this week.
But things happen in life that take you by surprise and reading about the current plight of Ant – aka Anthony McPartlin – in the papers yesterday left me genuinely very moved.
For those who haven’t caught up with the story, the 41-year-old has checked into rehab suffering from the effects of ‘substance abuse, prescription drugs and drinking’.
But his problems have at least one other major root – a botched knee operation a couple of years ago that apparently has left him in extreme pain.
Firstly, it takes guts at any time for a ‘celebrity’ to admit he is human and needs help. It removes some of the glossy image which is so much a part of show business.
Ant and Dec are the undisputed kings of light entertainment. The one thing you can always rely on is that they have smiles on their faces – so owning up to something as grim as this goes against the grain.
The pathos in the newspaper article was extended, however, by their reporting of how Ant insisted on carrying on over the last few months even though his health, both physical and mental, was getting worse and worse.
That phrase ‘the show must go on’ sounds great, but has a lot to answer for.
It’s one of the lesser appreciated facts about celebrity and vast wealth that it often becomes a trap – whether that is a self-imposed one is a matter for debate.
I believe, for example, that many Hollywood stars are basically owned lock, stock and barrel by the firm. They are groomed for success and they literally belong to their employers. The true story of Marilyn Monroe was one of servitude and wrestling emotionally against the system – which, as we know, won in the end.
Whether it is as bad in this country I really don’t know. I’d prefer to think that it was ego pure and simple that kept Bruce Forsyth going for so long and an addiction to the adrenalin of the live show and a genuinely good heart that explains why Ken Dodd still cracks his jokes long into the night.
It must be tempting for ‘stars’ to hang up their boots and enjoy the fruits of their success rather than maintaining schedules much younger folk would struggle with. But it is also a large part of their identity, their DNA. The one common regret of football managers, albeit paid massively whether successful or not, is that they are no longer players. It’s difficult, probably impossible, to replicate the buzz from being the main centre of attention on the field. Entertainers don’t necessarily have the same problem – there’s room for older musicians, actors and comedians and we tend to love them even more.
I’m guessing there was another obstacle to Ant confessing the full extent of his problems earlier – being part of a double act. More in the mode of The Chuckle Brothers rather than Morecambe and Wise or The Two Ronnies, Ant and Dec are genuinely very close as human beings off the set.
They live next door to each other in West London and still socialise together. It was after a few jars down the local with his soul mate that Ant slipped home to drink into the night. Sad times, but how many of us have been there?
For Ant to have turned down Britain’s Got Talent this year would inevitably have had implications for his partner. Corbett, without Barker, was possible but Dec, without Ant, is much more like Wise minus Morecambe. Let’s face it, that never happened.
Entertainers also frequently have irrational fears about work. Not for them the familiar cycle of going back to the office as usual on Monday morning. Many famous names of the past were obsessed about the possibility that they’d never work on. They may have needed the money – unlike Ant and Dec – but the feeling of being not wanted was the one that gnawed away inside their souls.
Given all this, Ant has shown huge courage to take the first step towards potential recovery – admitting his problem. It sounds like a cliché but it most certainly isn’t. Countless hours have been spent trying to help people clearly in dire straits but who have still not hit ‘rock bottom’ in their hearts. I’m thinking here about Gazza – footballer Paul Gascoigne – but, again, I may be wrong. It’s genuinely hard even if a person knows the score to turn things around but, without that initial acknowledgement, it’s impossible.
I can live quite happily without Ant and Dec on my TV screen. I love a Chinese or even an Indian, but Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway leaves me cold. I’d much rather half the Z-listers on I’m a Celebrity Get me out of Here were actually left in Australia after having my fill of that programme a few years ago.
But this isn’t about Ant the celebrity but Ant the human being – that’s far more important.
Everyone will presume that he will be back on our screens as chirpy and happy as ever – and given the amazing treatment now available to those who can afford it, he largely will.
But he will carry the scars of this experience for the rest of his life. I don’t know anyone who has had a nervous breakdown who has bounced back the same – it doesn’t work like that.