Back in the mid-1990s I was working as a sub-editor at Radio Times when an opportunity came along to enter a writing competition. We were asked to submit copy on a programme that might not necessarily be picked up in the magazine. I chose Supermarket Sweep, which aired on ITV between 1993 and 2000, which I had become addicted to after the birth of my first child. The piece was primarily about the game’s host, Dale Winton, and how he turned what was a very basic idea into a tension-inducing thrill of a trolley ride. It was my big break at Radio Times and I’ve never looked back.
But I am not being strictly fulsome in my information here. I also had a massive crush on Dale – my obsession with the show had little to do with how many giant packets of washing powder or bottles of Liebfraumilch the contestants could pile into their final supermarket dash. It was much more to do with acknowledging he was warm, funny and rather good-looking.
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A year later, Dale got a mainstream gig on Saturday night on BBC1 with Pets Win Prizes. One of my writing colleagues – an out, loud and proud gay man – was despatched to interview him. “Please, please let Dale know how he changed my career and, without making me seem like a stalker, how much I adore him.”
Said writer came back at the end of the day not just with a signed photograph but a handwritten letter from Dale, wishing me the very best for my future and thanking me for making him feel so chuffed.
While I was gleefully skipping around the office, holding aloft the picture, my colleague took me to one side and said, “You do realise that you have the worst gaydar on earth?” “What do you mean?” I responded, baffled. “Dale is gay. He might as well be carrying a giant sign.”
Looking back at so many clips of Dale’s prolific television career I feel both sadness and affection. He brought happiness into my life when I was tearing my hair out with a new-born baby and, unlike many other celebrities, made the time to thank me in person for appreciating his talents. I will not be the only person across the country to feel genuine sorrow at the news of his death.