That look on Lorraine Kelly’s face when Piers Morgan asked her this week if she remembered working with Esther McVey was priceless.
Within minutes, social media was ablaze with speculation that the sainted Lorraine hadn’t liked her former colleague and current Tory leadership candidate.
Let me set the record straight. The truth is few people at GMTV back in the Nineties liked Esther McVey, then a presenter who’d appeared on children’s TV.
Esther McVey trying out the GMTV couch before she took over from Fiona Phillips as a presenter.
She was widely perceived as the girl who took someone else’s job from under their nose. Worse than that, she exuded the same lack of warmth that, to me, has characterised her political career. Esther had no empathy.
I should know. In the Nineties, I was the agent for nearly three-quarters of the talent at GMTV, including Esther. Establishing any real relationship with her, though, was difficult — the emotional coolness you saw on screen was the same in real life.
This all came to the fore when it was announced GMTV co-host Fiona Phillips was about to take six months’ maternity leave.
Everybody expected the editor of the breakfast show, the late Peter McHugh, would promote Penny Smith — who, at the time, presented the hour-long slot from 6am — on to the sofa with Eamonn Holmes for the main event, a two-hour show that kicked off at 7am.
But, 72 hours before Penny was due to start, Peter called me. He’d changed his mind and instead wanted Esther. In his eyes, she was a safer pair of hands.
Penny was a maverick presenter. You could never predict what she was going to say and her sense of humour was decidedly quirky. That, of course, was what viewers loved about her, but it made the top brass nervous. And McHugh didn’t think he could risk too many of her off-script antics.
I thought he was wrong, and told him so. Penny was also one of my clients and, by coincidence, I was having dinner with her that evening. It was the most horrible dinner of my professional career.
Lorraine Kelly’s face when Piers Morgan asked her this week if she remembered working with Esther McVey was priceless
When I broke the bad news, there were tears. Penny is resilient and a professional, but she couldn’t disguise how upset and betrayed she felt. She was also popular around the studios.
Everyone loved her and, when she wasn’t sitting beside Eamonn on Monday morning, there was a lot of muttering backstage.
So, knowing what I do, I was amazed to now read that Esther seemingly attributes any bad blood between her and Lorraine Kelly to jealousy over that bad business — as if Lorraine had ever wanted to be Fiona’s stand-in. That’s plain ridiculous.
Lorraine had fronted her own morning show for years. She was a far bigger star than Esther, and at least on a par with Eamonn.
Esther knows that perfectly well. She also knows it was Penny she pipped to the sofa at the last minute. To say anything else, in my view, is sheer fabrication.
But Esther’s stint in the limelight was not a happy one. A disgruntled McHugh soon called me to confide that all his audience polls and focus groups showed that viewers didn’t like Esther.
He blamed her Scouse accent: many people said they found it hard to understand. Maybe he was right, but I don’t recall it did Cilla any harm.
The problem wasn’t the voice, it was the tone behind it. Esther had none of that cheeky warmth we associate with Liverpudlians.
But I’d already guessed that the public hadn’t taken to Esther — after three months, I hadn’t received a single job offer for her following her sudden rise to be Eamonn’s co-star. TV exposure such as that usually generates a flood of calls.
Esther couldn’t understand it. She and her boyfriend at the time, BBC producer Mal Young, insisted that I handle her career: all myself, in person.
But the phone still didn’t ring. I’m not a miracle worker.
These days, there’s a perception the MP for Tatton looks down her nose at her ‘showbiz years’. Only she will know if that’s true.
What I can say with certainty is that she has fallen out with several former colleagues — not least because of her conservative positions on gay marriage and other LGBT causes.
Homophobia is never tolerated in the entertainment business. A significant number of television celebrities are gay or lesbian, as are some of the most important interviewees.
By voting against gay marriage, Esther has made herself a pariah among her old colleagues. Though it must be said: they didn’t really like her to start with.
- Jon Roseman is a former showbusiness agent and author of the memoir From Here To… Obscurity.