Jeremy Kyle is, oddly enough, someone I can call a good friend. I say oddly because you may not be aware that we worked together twice in my radio life and first time round was when he was nowhere near settling rows between warring factions of families happy to air their dirty laundry to ever-increasing audience figures.
The doyen of early morning DNA tests and ill-conceived homemade tattoos is very much a man in demand these days. 10 years ago, his successful late-night radio show was being syndicated across numerous UK stations, but that success is chicken-feed compared to where he’s at now – and where he’s about to be.
I remember very clearly the night where Jezza’s life changed irrevocably from that of an early-evening DJ taking requests from listeners to hear the same songs we’d been playing all day and interviewing the latest Pepsi Chart no-hopers up to the present day where, frankly, Rupert Murdoch and his media mogul contemporaries will need to watch their collective backs.
The year was 1998 and yours truly was BRMB’s Flying Eye travel reporter and Sunday early evening show trainee. I was truly dreadful, learning the ropes, making mistakes and grateful to the boss for allowing me the space to be so dreadful as I developed my on-air style. Jezza was scheduled to start a new show after I was done at 10pm, but the exact content of said programme was somewhat shrouded in mystery. And so, at about 9.40, he came into the studio to plug what was coming up – a phone-in based on solving listeners’ relationship problems and sexual dilemmas.
This maybe wasn’t a gutsy step for BRMB, as Michael Hartley & Nick Meanwell had pioneered such formats on the station during the 261 LW days of the 80’s, but for Jezza you sensed this was make or break for him in his mind. I’ve no doubt he was tired of the “that was/this is” style of broadcasting he was mired in and wanted something to get his teeth into.
And bare his teeth he did come 10 o’clock. I left the studio to drive across the city to the Xposure Rock Café in order to meet up with my girlfriend and our pals at the end of the pub’s dodgy rock karaoke night. But as I drove over Lancaster Circus flyover with the radio blaring, Jezza opened up his show with an extraordinary admission – that he’d once walked in on a girlfriend of his in bed with another man. Just the kind of thing you see him dissect at 9.25 every weekday morning with varying degrees of sweariness.
The more he laid himself bare, the more intriguing it became and I parked up at Xposure but continued listening for a further 20 minutes as Jezza went on about his most heart-wrenching moment, and evidently it struck a chord with the listeners who started ringing in with their issues and problems.
The telling moment came when a woman called with her tale of drug dependency and adultery. Jezza listened to her outpourings and then quietly asked her “Do you want me to be honest about this, darling? Because I think you sound like a liar and a crack whore.”
Bingo. I envisioned his producer and phone-op putting their heads in their hands whilst Jezza took the caller to task and ‘laid it on the line’ as he so often put it. The lines (as producer Lucy told me) went into total meltdown and a format was born, which was to eventually catapult Jezza into a national institution, but also maybe entrap him in a chav-infested bubble that he may never truly escape.
And in America, such stories of crack whores and shagging around are 10 a penny, as we know from the Springer/Lake/Povich/Rafael/Geraldo collective. But how about an Englishman putting America’s family disputes right? That is the plan for Jezza, who flies out to New York next week to start a 6-month run of a US version of his show with the powerful Fox Network.
I met him in the week up in Manchester after he invited me for dinner and to watch a taping of his UK show beforehand. The crafty bastard only stuck me front and centre in the audience rather than let me watch from the wings as the show, entitled “How can she be MY daughter? I was in prison when you got pregnant!” Nice little window on Great Britain there. Glad I ironed my shirt though, as Jezza deliberately stood in such a position after an adbreak that I was very much in vision as he welcomed his next guest onstage.
And it's no wonder he's ITV's golden child at the moment - the audience in the studio was an advertisers dream - nearly all 20-something males & females, brand-concious and lots of disposable income. Not to mention a hankering for salacious stories about incest adultery and goodness knows what else - why else would they have queued for an hour to get in?
At dinner afterwards, Jezza was clearly both excited about the prospects over the pond whilst also aware that he didn’t want the crew he’d worked with on the show here to be out of a job. And it was clear from watching him with the crew that they all love him. ITV really do love and need him too, it seems – he’ll be back for a new run of shows in the New Year as well as a game show format he’s also recorded at Granada TV studios.
I like Jezza. A lot. Even though I tell him consistently he’s the original card-carrying member of the “Do You Know Who I Am?” club and that I’m amazed he still remembers my name. Yes he’s big-headed, but you need a certain level of ego to do what he does. He’s dreadfully insecure and vulnerable at times, quite willing to put himself down, but generous to a fault when all’s said and done. He paid for dinner after all. Which wasn’t cheap.
He may well be one of the most hated TV presenters of our time, but as George Bernard Shaw once said “The secret of success is to offend the greatest number of people”. Whether you’re Lady Gaga, Ricky Gervais or Jeremy Kyle, the adage holds true in showbiz if you’re willing to be hated as much as you know you are loved. It’s a tough line to walk – he knows the pressure’s on as he jets off to New York not to fail as it appears another Englishman, Piers Morgan, is doing having succeeded Larry King on CNN.
You may not like it, but I think the Jeremy Kyle success story will continue on its upward trajectory for some time to come. Not bad for a bloke who used to do BRMB roadshows in Tesco car parks and implore people to come and talk to him as they pushed their trolleys past him with total indifference. But as usual with success stories in this country, we’ll knock him down sometime in the future. Even if there’s no News Of The World to harass celebrities anymore.
Sometimes life simply isn’t fair.
How come it’s the good people, the ones who make a difference in life who are made to suffer whilst those who’d rather molest, kill and maim maintain a clean bill of health?
It’s a question I’ve asked myself before – specifically after the death of my father 3 years ago. Now I’m asking it as a true dear friend who lives in Dubai has been given the most devastating health news. He’s only just found and married the girl of his dreams and also taken on a beautiful step-daughter who’ve both moved out there with him – wouldn’t blame them for all feeling very lonely and vulnerable out there right now, thousands of miles from family and friends.
That said, Dave’s response to the news has been overwhelmingly positive and ‘fists up’ – this attitude was borne out by a former BRMB colleague who I met up with on Friday night in Brum at a get-together of some old pals. She is just about to receive the all-clear from her doctors after months of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and she firmly believes the psychological aspects of fighting an illness such as cancer are just as important as medicine – if not more so in her opinion.
Medical advancement in treating cancer has been huge in recent years, but it appears there is no substitute for a good dollop of positive mental attitude to go along with that. Quite how you can be positive is beyond me looking from the outside in, but I guess you have to be in the middle of the maelstrom to know how to feel.
Dave, if you’re reading this, you deserve nothing but the good stuff in life from hereon in. And let’s face it, mate, if your lot Wigan Athletic can beat the odds year on year… :o))