At Ant McPartlin’s wedding to Lisa Armstrong, best man Declan Donnelly brought the house down when he read out the telegrams. One ran: ‘To Ant and Lisa, our best customers, we hope you have a wonderful day. From everyone at Thresher.’
There were similar joke missives to their ‘best customers’ from the Hounslow Bottle Recycling team and the Crown and Anchor pub.
The joke doesn’t look so funny now, with McPartlin, 42, back in rehab having allegedly failed a breathalyser test and the future of Britain’s most popular and lucrative double act hanging in the balance.
The Mini Ant was driving crashed on Sunday at around 4pm as he returned from taking his labrador Hurley for a walk in Richmond Park, South West London, with his mother, Christine.
She has been living with him on and off at the house in Chiswick he rented after coming out of rehab last August. Sources indicate that she has been acting unofficially as her son’s ‘sober coach’ – making sure he stays on the straight and narrow.
Alison Boshoff asks: Could the boozy lifestyle that Ant refuses to give up destroy his £120m double act with best man Dec?
Some say that Ant and Dec are opposites. Dec is the adored child of a staunchly respectable Catholic family. Ant is rather rock’n’roll and a bit of a bad boy. He once said that without fame he might have ended up in prison
Now Ant’s career is under threat. This week’s Saturday Night Takeaway has been cancelled and he will not be a part of the rest of the series, including the finale on April 7 to be beamed live from Florida. An ITV spokesman said that Ant ‘is taking time off to seek treatment. We very much hope that he gets the help that he needs.’
McPartlin’s publicist Simon Jones said: ‘Ant has decided to go back into treatment and step down from his current TV commitments. He has spoken with Dec and ITV today and asked for time off for the foreseeable future.’
One senior ITV source said: ‘He cannot be back on the screen. He could have killed somebody.’ Another executive said, ominously, that lessons have been learned since the decline of Michael Barrymore. The entertainer was supported by ITV through numerous problems, alcohol addiction and sex scandals over eight years.
Indeed, it is highly doubtful that Ant will be well enough to appear on Britain’s Got Talent in April. He and Dec are its presenters, and arguably the best thing about the show. Awkwardly, the pair have already filmed numerous auditions, giving programme makers another headache – last year Ant was so addled during the final that he introduced one contestant by the wrong name.
Will Dec do either Saturday Night Takeaway or BGT on his own? The complex format of the former makes it virtually impossible and, more importantly, would Dec even want to?
Officially they are ‘reviewing options for the last two episodes’ of Takeaway. Until now Dec has refused to countenance appearing without Ant, but there is some hope that he might be persuaded to make the last two out of loyalty to the show.
However, people who know Dec say that there is ‘no chance’ that he will do Britain’s Got Talent without Ant. He would rather wait a year – or longer – than strike out without his partner.
The stark fact to consider is that McPartlin’s accident may have serious repercussions: it is even possible he could face jail. He has a previous driving ban, in 2002, when he was caught driving his Audi TT at 127mph an on the A1.
One senior ITV source said: ‘He cannot be back on the screen. He could have killed somebody’
One showbusiness veteran last night called the crash Ant’s ‘Tiger Woods moment’ – a reference to the US golf star’s troubles – which one can only hope is an exaggeration. He faces a minimum eight-week stay in a clinic, most likely the £50,000 per cycle private rehab in West London that he went to last summer.
Then, he went in to conquer drugs addictions, having become dependent on prescription painkillers and tranquillisers following a knee operation in 2015. However, he has been unhappy since leaving the clinic. His 11-year marriage to teenage sweetheart Lisa Armstrong is heading for divorce and he’s been leaning on a well-established love of alcohol.
Another problem seems to be the squeaky-clean straitjacket his handlers at James Grant management have helped him into. McPartlin is said to chafe against the constraints of the ‘nice-boys-next-door image’ which has helped him and Dec amass a £120million fortune between them.
One friend said yesterday: ‘Ant likes a good time, he likes being a normal guy. He’s a bit of a scallywag, the sort of person who is the last one out of the bar. He’s a fish out of water in showbiz really, all of that keeping your nose clean isn’t him at all.
‘I know that he has been drinking heavily since he came out of rehab. He goes to High Road House, part of the Soho House group, in Chiswick. He’s not wanted to give it up, maybe he’s not been able to.
‘I think that he has needed to drink because he came back to TV much too soon after rehab. He was only out for a few months before he went to Australia for I’m A Celebrity, and then went straight into preparations for Saturday Night Takeaway.
‘Also I know that he has been feeling very guilty about the break up of his marriage to Lisa. He’s a nice guy and he feels bad because she is heartbroken.’
Another source said this week: ‘He wants to be a man again, and not be stuck in such a rut as a former child star who is Mr Family Friendly. He has been very depressed since he came out of rehab and is reassessing everything about what his life is, and who he is.’
This week’s Saturday Night Takeaway has been cancelled and he will not be a part of the rest of the series, including the finale on April 7 to be beamed live from Florida
The fact is, McPartlin’s drinking started when he was 16 and his legendary nights out are among his fondest memories. It is no exaggeration to say that booze is the third leg of his double act with Dec. Indeed, they became friends aged 16 after an alcoholic mishap. Dec, then filming Byker Grove with Ant, was diagnosed with alcohol poisoning following a family christening, when he had drunk three pints of lager.
Ant said: ‘When I heard the words “alcohol poisoning” right there and then I knew one thing: me and Dec were going to be friends for life.’
His friendship with Dec has always been founded on ‘heavy nights’ – in pubs and clubs when they were younger, more recently behind the closed doors of each other’s houses in Chiswick. He is misty-eyed to this day about his time sharing a flat in Fulham with Dec, when they would pop down to their local for eight pints and then go for a curry.
In later years, Ant’s kitchen in Chiswick became known as the Vortex because time stood still when they had drinking sessions. They put in 5.30am finishes after awards ceremonies.
Perhaps it is easy to forget that when he was a young pop star he was known for being a party animal, enjoying hanging out with other celebrities, and getting into scrapes with women. However, with ambitions to crack prime time television, he and Dec were persuaded to sign up with James Grant. The offer was explicit: ‘They didn’t just represent clients but took over every bit of their life,’ Ant explained.
Still they managed to have a good time. They have hard-drinking sessions while filming Britain’s Got Talent and have even admitted to indulging in a tipple while making I’m A Celebrity in Australia. One night in 2016, they made a not completely convincing denial that they were ‘still drunk’ from the previous night after a notably giggly presenting stint.
Worryingly, on emerging from rehab last summer, Ant announced proudly that was looking forward to his first pint. ‘The great thing is, I spoke to a lot of the medical team and I’m not an alcoholic,’ he said.
‘I was just drinking too much to numb the pain. It was never crazy – I wouldn’t wake up in the morning and have a drink. But it was the mixing pills with alcohol that was deadly.’
It may be significant that he has not kicked his dependency on Regal cigarettes – he was spotted smoking again last weekend after filming Saturday Night Takeaway.
It’s a habit which, again, he has to take pains to cover up as it’s seen as not right for his image.
He was also spotted hanging out with the crew without Dec, another fairly new development that may again indicate growing pains between the two men. Dec, now married to Ali Astall, a manager at James Grant, is more domestic and less rebellious.
Some say that Ant and Dec are opposites. Dec is the adored child of a staunchly respectable Catholic family.
Ant faces a minimum eight-week stay in a clinic, most likely the £50,000 per cycle private rehab in West London that he went to last summer
Ant is rather rock’n’roll and a bit of a bad boy. He once said that without fame he might have ended up in prison.
Of immediate concern to his team at James Grant – who also look after Phillip Schofield, Zoe Ball and Holly Willoughby – is the fact that he was with his mother when the accident happened.
It was thought that Christine’s influence would be enough to keep Ant from giving in to his demons, but now it seems he is on a spiral that even she is struggling to save him from.
I’m told that recently he had a heart to heart with another of TV’s stars to have hit rock bottom, Noel Edmonds.
Noel, 69, spent over an hour ‘counselling’ McPartlin in January. A friend said: ‘Noel’s always been a huge fan of Ant and Dec. He thinks they are terrific presenters. It deeply saddened him to see the anguish and pain Ant was going through last year. When he heard Ant would appreciate a chat, he was only too happy to help.
‘Noel has admitted reaching rock bottom when the BBC axed House Party and feeling pretty low. His marriage to wife Helen also broke up and he found himself in a dark place.
‘Although he is too straight to touch drugs, Noel knew there is a slippery path you can go down. Ant was keen to hear from Noel about how he can best come back from his problems. Noel offered some friendly counsel and words of advice.
‘He basically told Ant that he wasn’t alone. He advised him: “Go back to being the person you once were and surround yourself with people you trust and who love you.”’
The question is, how far down must he go before that can happen?