The Blue Peter scandal follows me everywhere: As his new TV show begins, Richard Bacon says he’ll always be known as the man who was sacked
16:30 EST, 13 April 2012
18:44 EST, 13 April 2012
Unfortunately, and perhaps a little unfairly for Richard Bacon, this intelligent and likeable 36-year-old will always be remembered for one thing. He is the only Blue Peter presenter to be sacked in the programme’s 54-year history, after he was exposed for taking cocaine in a nightclub.
It was, as he points out, 14 years ago, before his four-year marriage to Rebecca and fatherhood which, he says, has given him ‘balance’ and ‘an equilibrium’.
His indiscretion was exposed by a ‘best
friend’. They no longer speak. ‘He was bright and charming but also a
cad and a liar,’ says Richard. ‘I’ve always been attracted to people who
have a dark side, but that was when it bit me on the backside because
he betrayed me.
Richard Bacon is the only Blue Peter presenter to be sacked in the programme’s 54-year history, after he was exposed for taking cocaine in a nightclub
‘I was 22 then, now I’m 36. You go through enormous changes. At 21, 22 you’re working out who you are. I went through a time where I wasn’t that happy. I had this instinct to subvert everything. Now I’m in my 30s I’ve shed quite a lot of that. But it [the Blue Peter sacking] follows me around. It doesn’t matter what I go on to do, that will always be the thing I’m known for predominantly: Richard Bacon, the only person to be sacked from Blue Peter.’
Richard had been ‘messing around’ on Kelvin MacKenzie’s L!VE TV when he applied to Blue Peter in 1997. ‘I wrote something like, “They say when you’re tired of London, you’re tired of life. When you’re tired of L!VE TV you’ve been there a year.” I also sent in a rather bold tape of stunts I’d done. They weren’t very Blue Peter, and it should have set alarm bells ringing, but it didn’t. They hired me. But I think after me they largely hired kids of clergy.
‘When you’re the subject of a scandal it’s all quite surreal as it kicks off around you,’ he says. ‘There were some very distressing elements in terms of how it impacted on my parents. It was very upsetting for them, particularly my dad who’s a very proud lawyer involved with criminal defence. This was a legal matter so it caused him particular distress. That was definitely the worst element of it – worse than losing my job. There was so much publicity.’
‘At 21, 22 you’re working out who you are. I went through a time where I wasn’t that happy. I had this instinct to subvert everything,’ says Richard
Richard, who was educated at the private Worksop College, was one of those lucky, cool kids who didn’t have to try hard at anything. Instead, he put his energy into being ‘badly behaved and having fun’. Which didn’t go down well at home given his father’s profession.
‘The people I hung around with had the same outlook. Some of the kids at school were expelled for joy riding. I was off ill, but to be honest if I’d been there I’d have probably gone too because that’s the sort of child I was. When my dad knew I was hanging around with people he was defending in court, he got very angry with me. That did have an impact. I wasn’t completely out of control. I wasn’t burgling houses.’
We’re actually meeting to talk about his
new Channel 4 show Hidden Talents, which does what it says on the tin:
identifies individuals who have talents they weren’t aware of.
Contestants undergo a series of psychometric tests to establish where
their talents might lie, before the most promising candidates are
trained in their potential area of expertise.
When you’re the subject of a scandal
it’s all quite surreal as it kicks off around you. There were
some very distressing elements in terms of how it impacted on my
‘We found this guy James,
who’s 19 and was living in a homeless shelter,’ says Richard. ‘It turned
out he had a gift for languages and we sent him off to learn Arabic. He
could speak it fluently in 19 weeks.
‘We discovered another lady in her 60s
who’d retired from her bridal shop and had a natural instinct to spot
when somebody is lying. We sent her to train with a CIA agent and gave
her a test where she had to say who in a room full of people was lying.
She nailed it. Another amazing
facility is art appreciation.
‘A tiny number of people have an ability to
look at a piece of art and tell if it’s a fake. We found a guy called
Lee, who worked in a factory in Essex building tractors. He’d never been
in an art gallery and knew nothing about art. We put a real Monet
alongside two incredibly good forgeries that some of the best art
experts in the world couldn’t identify. He looked at them and said,
“That’s a fake, that’s a fake.”’
Richard is animated when he talks about
the show, which will invite viewers to log onto a Hidden Talents website
to try the tests themselves. ‘This series has made me realise there’s a
lot of people out there looking for something else,’ he says. Which is
what Richard was doing, really, until he met his wife. After
‘jumping around radio stations for a bit’ when he left Blue Peter, he
wound up at Capital Radio at the age of 30, where Rebecca worked in
marketing. He was dating former Blue Peter presenter Konnie Huq at the
Family man: Richard with his son Arthur
‘Thirty was a funny age,’ he says. ‘I changed jobs, sold my house, ditched my agent and a relationship came to an end. People say 30 is a turning point. A lot of things happened that year and one of them was me thinking, “It’s about time I settled down and became a parent.” That’s when I met Rebecca. I’m so glad I did. She’s had an enormous impact on my life.’
Richard says he knew he wanted to marry her even before they started dating. ‘We were both in other relationships but I think we knew where it was going to end up before it even started,’ he says. ‘When I was presenting the radio show I’d often play two records back-to-back which gives you six minutes instead of three so I could run out and talk to her for a bit, then run back in and carry on. It was very intense very quickly. She moved in straight away and we got engaged quite soon after. I proposed when she was blow-drying her hair in her underwear in our bedroom.’
They married at Babington House in Somerset with a mix of celebrities and old friends. ‘Our anniversary was in January. Rebecca’s brought this natural equilibrium to my life and made me a much better person – much happier. It’s amazing how much you can change in four years.’
The only shadow cast over this happy existence is the internet abuse he and Rebecca have had to endure recently. For the past two years, an anonymous idiot has been taunting them over the Twitter network, posting messages about Richard dying in a plane crash, or threatening to kill him in front of his son. Indeed, Richard was so traumatised he made a hard-hitting documentary about the phenomenon, The Anti-Social Network, which was shown on BBC3 last month. ‘I’m a broadcaster,’ he says. ‘You expect criticism. If no one slags you off you’re actually a bit bland. That’s fine, but this is illegal.’
Richard now has a desire to ‘be a bit more mainstream’ as he puts it, and, of course, there’s baby Arthur. ‘He’s got great rolls of fat on his legs,’ says Richard, scrolling through the photos on his iPhone. ‘That’s when he’s brand new. If you look at him recently he often has this quizzical look on his face. See how his eyebrows are up? You can’t really tell what they’re going to look like when they’re babies, can you?’
No Richard, you can’t. And nor can you imagine what life will throw at them – but if Arthur is anything like his father, I’m sure he’ll cope.
Hidden Talent starts on Tuesday, 24 April, on Channel 4.
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