It almost seems crass to try and introduce Ant and Dec. Where on earth do you start?
Their record-breaking NTA wins? Defining childhoods with SM:TV Live? Being masters of live television, ensuring Pop Idol was a hit and that Britain’s Got Talent and I’m a Celebrity are consistently must-watch TV? Generally being the best-loved double act in the UK? (Sorry Mel and Sue, but it’s true).
Everyone – apart from Jeremy Corbyn, of course – knows Ant and Dec. They are so familiar on TV that it feels strange to see them out of a screen and sat right in front of us.
We’re at The London Studios to speak to them about the new series of Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway – the light entertainment show where they play pranks on celebrities, surprise fans and generally muck about for an hour and a half on a Saturday night.
As they greet everyone in the room and sit on a sofa opposite, they naturally fall into position. You get the feeling that even when they’re at each other’s houses (they live only a few doors down from one another) they sit with Ant on Dec’s right.
They explain it’s good to be back with Takeaway. “There’s a mixture of new stuff and all the favourite old stuff,” says Dec. “We’ve got a new item called ‘Make ’em Laugh’, where we try and make other double acts laugh, and they have to try and make us laugh. Whoever laughs the least are the winners.”
Scarlett Moffatt has joined the show in a starring role, replacing Pussycat Doll Ashley Roberts, and the ever popular Win the Ads is back as well as a new weekly sketch ‘The Missing Crown Jewels’ – a follow-up to the immensely popular skit ‘Who Shot Simon Cowell?’ that ran throughout the last series.
“The idea is basically since we’ve got our OBEs, we get taken into a room and we’re told by Joanna Lumley that we’re now part of a secret organisation called The Honoured,” explains Ant. “And whoever’s got an honour from the Queen has to do secret things, and one of them is look after the Crown Jewels for the night.
Inevitably the jewels are stolen, and so begins another whodunit that’s “full of celeb cameos”.
Joanna Lumley is “hilarious” and a “comedy genius” in the sketch. Elsewhere in the series Jamie Oliver gets the Undercover treatment (“he’s been on our hit list for a little while”) and Dermot O’Leary was “absolutely sweating” in ‘Get Me Out of Ear’. Robbie Williams and wife Ayda Field also happily send themselves up in the ridiculously funny hidden camera segment.
“We know how far to push Rob…” trails Ant. “Which is quite far,” chips in Dec. “We got as far as him on the toilet talking to the party planner, so that’s quite fun.”
Not every celebrity who gets pranked takes it so well, though. “One or two people have had to have a little walk,” grins Dec, as Ant rats out one of the culprits as The Chase host Bradley Walsh.
“He had to be driven around the block, he was that angry,” laughs Ant. “There’s different levels of anger. Gordon Ramsay was quite angry, but he got it. He’s just an angry man, isn’t he? So he’s just quite terrifying when he’s staring right at you.”
“That’s the first time I thought I was ever going to be punched during one, with Gordon Ramsay,” adds Dec. “I thought he could’ve hit me. I came out of his toilet and asked him for a selfie and he looked like he was going to smash my face in! But we’ve never had anything that is unusable. Thankfully.”
The final Takeaway episode last year saw members of the audience taken to Barcelona on a cruise ship, but this series the pair promise the location and scale will be even bigger.
Ant throws a look over his shoulder. “Can we say where yet?”. His panicked PR springs up with a “No, no!”
“I knew that,” grins Ant. “I just wanted to s**t him up.”
Although their TV personas are near-identical, there are marked differences when we meet the pair between Takeaway rehearsals.
Ant is the one who will drop the odd swear word or make a bit of a smutty joke. Dec is noticeably more reserved and conservative, but will throw his head back heartily at Ant’s asides.
They not only finish each other’s sentences but also parrot one another, often repeating a line the other has just said. But whereas Ant uses the word “s**t”, Dec repeats the sentence and replaces it with “poo”.
Despite steady ratings, the 41-year-old pair (Dec is two months older than Ant) decided to take a break from the show after the ninth series in 2009 and the show was off air for four years until it returned in 2013.
“We rested it a few years back because it got to that stage where it needed fresh ideas and we could kind of tell,” reveals Ant. “’Let’s just come off air for a bit and have a good think and come back when it’s freshened up’. And thankfully it worked. But you need to do that I think, sometimes.”
Is that something they’d do again with the show, if they felt it was getting stale?
They laugh in unison.
“I wouldn’t say no to that, because it worked!” says Ant. “Although I’d hate to say take it off air at the moment because we’re just enjoying it so much now.”
They clearly have a ball as hosts of three of the biggest shows in ITV’s stable: Britain’s Got Talent, I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! and Saturday Night Takeaway. But of the three, they admit that this is the show they would call “our baby”.
“We are more creatively in control on this one,” says Ant. “So yeah, I think we’re the closest to this one – I don’t know if it’s the most fun. We have the most fun… and then we get the most stressed and you get the most nervous and all those things combined because it’s down to us and we take so much responsibility for it. But it’s the most rewarding because of that, I think.”
Dec chips in: “Britain’s Got Talent is a very formatted talent show. I’m a Celebrity is the reality show and it has the celebs and it’s got that narrative. With this we can make it different, week on week, year on year. We do some hidden camera stuff, we do some studio stuff, so it can be whatever we want it to be. So of the shows, it’s definitely the most creatively freeing.”
They have achieved so much it’s hard to think of any ambition there would be left to fulfil. A Number 1 single with Let’s Get Ready to Rhumble in 2013 – albeit 19 years after the song was first released – 16 consecutive years of winning the Best Presenters prize at the National Television Awards and last month the pair picked up their OBEs from Buckingham Palace.
After starting out as child actors playing PJ and Duncan in BBC series Byker Grove (Dec was in the first series, Ant only joined in the second), they have been working nearly 30 years, having the sort of career longevity and variety that most TV presenters can only dream of.
“It’s just to keep on having fun and doing what we do,” says Dec of the pair’s future. “This is, honestly, dream stuff for us. Best mate, at work, everyday, having fun, making fun telly, it doesn’t get much better than that.”
“And the longer it goes on,” Ant runs with Dec’s sentence, “the more appreciative you get because you realise that not everybody gets this longevity. So we’re very thankful for it.”
“And,” back to Dec again, “you never know how long it’s going to last, so we’re just enjoying it while we can.
Realistically there’s no chance of it ending anytime soon. Indisputably Ant and Dec are this generation’s Morecambe and Wise – and when talk of doing an Eric and Ernie-style Christmas special arises, they light up.
“We’ve talked about it for a few years but we haven’t had the chance with Text Santa,” says Dec. “But now that Text Santa won’t be around Christmas anymore, there might be more of a chance to do that. So definitely watch this space.”
For now, the sketches in Takeaway give the pair space to stretch their comedy acting muscles.
“Yeah, we’ve really enjoyed it. It’s such a laugh,” says Dec. “And it’s kind of sparked something,” offers Ant.
“We’d like to do more stuff in that vein in the future. Not necessarily in the immediate future, but it reminded us of Byker Grove and early days of being actors. It’s a different discipline which is really enjoyable – very different, but still as enjoyable. So I think we might look at trying to do more bits like that.”
Dec’s keen to insist the pair would be sticking to stuff that’s “quite silly”. “I don’t want to suddenly turn up as a detective on Silent Witness.”
“I do.” Ant doesn’t miss the beat.
Like Morecambe and Wise and almost any iconic British entertainers – The Two Ronnies, Bruce Forsyth, Ken Dodd – the idea of ever retiring is one to be balked at. The pair laugh when the subject comes up.
“We’re moving into the same care home,” offers Dec. Ant’s solution is that they “should do what Bruce does”.
“Six months in Puerto Rico, six months in the UK…And also marrying Miss Worlds,” grins Ant. Dec again erupts with laughter.
“There’ll definitely be a bit more golf involved,” says Dec. “But I think we’re a little way off yet, aren’t we? I hope so.”
Ant agrees: “I hope so.”
Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway is on ITV on Saturday February 25 at 7pm.