Monday, 26 March 2018

Ant and Dec - has the crown slipped?

From the day gritty teen drama Byker Grove first hit our screens in 1989 to dominating the ITV entertainment schedule, two cheeky chaps have held the nations hearts in their hands.

The show that launched their careers was groundbreaking and the story of PJ, played by Ant McPartlin, losing his sight during a game of paintball was a memorable telly moment. The firm friends from the screen then kept their names from the show to kick off their pop career, and PJ and Duncan were high in the charts for a few years.


Then came the presenting work and over the past two decades, Ant and Dec have risen in their status as the golden boys of telly. Big grins, shiny faces and an equally squeaky clean image. Because, of course, to be the poster boys of one of the biggest national broadcasters is to have a wholesome family friendly image.

Three key things have been central to Ant and Dec’s success; they have always been a duo, and never booked and worked as individuals unless one has been unwell; they have never put a foot wrong, or at least no big controversy has come to light, until Ant’s struggle with painkillers hit the headlines last year; and they know their niche, playing off their perfect pairing on every show they host with a unique mix of wit, cheekiness and hijinks.

Up until this point, there is no Ant without Dec and no Dec without Ant. It’s common for people to joke about not being to tell which one is which. They are like fish and chips, good by themselves but much better when they’re together. You can’t bottle what they have; a genuine bond of friendship that they can play off for our entertainment.

Of course there’s many pairing in the entertainment world that the nation has loved dearly or enjoyed watching on the box; Richard & Judy, Ruth and Eamonn, Mel & Sue, Paul & Mary and the current stalwarts of morning chat shows, Holly and Philip. 

In many cases, these duos first became famous as a duo so it can be hard to see them as individual stars worthy of our affection. It can feel like something is missing - the spark without the fizzz

As time moves on, shows change and stars want to strike out on their own, and some have gone on to be successful in their own right. Mel and Sue gradually took on solo work and made appearances on panel shows before coming back together as pair to reside over Great British Bake Off, for instance. The transition wasn’t sudden and as a result, they are probably better known now as two presenters who occasionally collaborate.

In the case of Ant and Dec, we have never seen them apart - they even live on the same street! - so the idea of them going solo is something we really aren’t used to, but Dec has a glittering legacy and the goodwill of the public so there’s no reason why he can’t carry on without his best friend by his side, either for now or for the long term.

As we have access to the lives of those we watch on screen more than ever before, maintaining a positive public persona is quite a feat and many stars, sometimes for the smallest of perceived misdemeanours, can become subject to trial by social media. Take the backlash that Jesy from Little Mix received just last month when she shared a picture of herself with dreadlocks, with fans slamming her for cultural appropriation. Or the quite vile treatment of Alexandra Burke during her stint on Strictly, for crying too much and appearing false. The moment a star shows signs of weakness or dips a toe over some line of what is acceptable of them, and the media, and public, are quick to pick them up and often, the response can be quite devastating.

In the case of Ant, memories aren’t short and his spell in rehab for painkiller addiction, and his impending divorce from his wife Lisa, have all been brought up to add to his drunk driving charge woes. No longer does he seem to be a cheeky chappy, one half of the nation’s favourite duo. He is a real man with real issues and taking a step back to really assess and work on his issues is the best course of action for him, for his own wellbeing as well as his professional reputation.

But of course, he comes as a pair and when he is in the firing line, unfortunately Dec will be collateral damage of some sorts. ITV has publically been seen to support Ant through his past problems – perhaps not just out of genuine affection but, to be cynical, to protect their cash cow, as Ant and Dec are synonymous with good, clean family entertainment for the channel. The serious nature of this week’s incident, where it’s wasn’t just Ant who was impacted by his actions, but members of the public including a young girl too. When the circumstances of Ant’s arrest, and the events leading up to it, are confirmed, it will be a tough decision for ITV to make and there’s no doubt that public opinion will have some sway. 

But now it’s a case of let’s get ready to rumble. The ITV bosses and Dec have declared the Saturday Night Takeaway show must go on. Dec has enough charisma and status to do well but it is a bit like fish without the chips; it’s just not the same if one is missing.

Whilst we may live in a culture public outrage comes and goes with the next controversial headline, and celebrities can rise and fall just as quickly, the track-record held by Ant may not be enough to protect his credibility. Other stars have suffered similar fates as disturbed or complicated individuals, such as Michael Barrymore or George Michael, whilst others have risen from the ashes and made amends, like Cheryl Cole and even Robbie Williams. Both of these popstars have chequered pasts but have been able to turn events in their favour; in Robbie’s case, it’s his honesty in discussing his demons that makes him endearing once more with the public.

So, will this latest turn of events have a dramatic impact on Ant’s image and career trajectory? Sadly, the answer, at least for the immediate future, is why aye man. That’s why Dec distancing himself and carrying on the show solo is the best for everyone concerned... and it’ll be for the public to decide if they can accept a Saturday night with just one cheeky Geordie rather than the two we have been used to for so long.

Comment by Kelly O'Hanlon, Senior Lecturer in PR
Media coverage in: Daily Star and New! Magazine

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