Ant McPartlin and Dec Donnelly are one of the most famous showbiz partnerships in history, first bursting on to our screens in CBBC’s Byker Grove in 1989 when they were 13.
First impressions weren’t great, with Ant later revealing: “I thought [Dec] was too much of a goody-goody. He went to mass every Sunday and did Irish dancing.
“Where I lived, you’d get your head kicked in for that sort of thing. Plus, he’d been on the show for nearly a year before me, so I thought he was smug.”
Rowing on the set and barely speaking to each other in between takes, their relationship had a rocky start.
But they eventually bonded over their mutual love of the Toon Army (Newcastle United FC), and the rest was history.
“We just became mates then,” Dec told The Sun.
“And everything took off. We did a song on the show, we had a laugh. But it wasn’t until we both got kicked out of the show that everything changed.
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“That was the point we knew it was us against the world, and the stronger we were together, the stronger we were as a team. It was as simple as that.”
They were axed for being “too old”, they said, in a brutal meeting that they initially thought was going to be to discuss their potential spinoff.
The Geordie duo feared their careers were over, but they couldn’t have been more wrong.
They went on to host shows including SM:TV, Saturday Night Takeaway and I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!, scooping the Best Presenter gong at the National Television Awards for 20 years in a row.
The key to their success? They really are best friends even after all these years.
“Ours is a professional relationship built on a friendship, not a friendship built on a professional relationship. It’s friendship first and foremost. That’s a solid foundation,” Dec once said.
But that doesn’t mean they haven’t had their challenges.
In 2018, Ant was convicted of drink-driving after a car crash that saw him fined £86,000 (believed to be Britain’s highest-ever drink-driving penalty) and given a 20-month driving ban.
He headed to rehab a second time for prescription painkillers and alcohol addiction, and took time off from his presenting duties, while Dec hosted Saturday Night Takeaway alone and Holly Willoughby stepped in to help him host I’m a Celeb.
Ant later described the period as “an explosion of the worst possible moment in my life”.
He said he felt “shame, guilt, remorse, embarrassment” the second the airbag in his crashed Mini hit his face.
Reflecting upon how the ordeal tested their friendship, Dec said in their documentary that he was “incredibly angry” at the start that Ant didn’t come to him for help.
“It’s been a tough couple of years, it’s really tested the bond we’ve shared since we were 13 years old,” he said in the 2019 doc.
“I was incredibly angry at the start, so angry and disappointed in him that he didn’t ever come to me and say, ‘I’m struggling, I need you,’ because I thought if the shoe was on the other foot I would have gone to him said, ‘I’m in trouble,’ and he never came to me and that hurt me a lot.”
Ant also admitted: “I knew [Dec] was angry and understandably so because my action not only affected home but him.
“There was a point where I thought, ‘That was it’, there were times I wasn’t sure it was gonna survive, times that you didn’t know it needed to survive, you wanted it to survive.
“Focusing on me and repairing relationships and being a better person, working out what was important.”
Dec even admitted he questioned whether his best pal and double act partner might be a liability.
He told The Guardian he “had a lot of thinking to do” while Ant was away.
“Ultimately, the number one thing I wanted to happen was that Ant came back and he was healthy and happy, and we got our relationship back on track and we carried on,” he said.
“That’s the thing that makes me the happiest, working together. I might get a bit emotional,” he added, wiping away tears.
The men explained their friendship had been subjected to the ultimate test – but it had passed with flying colours.
Dec said when Ant came out of rehab the first time in 2017, he knew instantly that “there was still a problem”.
They lived together on the same road in Chiswick, had been each other’s best men at their weddings, and worked together constantly, but they had begun to take each other for granted and rarely discussed anything that wasn’t of a professional nature.
And after the car crash, Ant even told Dec he would understand if he wanted to distance himself and they go their separate ways.
But the accident became a catalyst for Ant and Dec, they said, and their friendship became stronger than ever – which is great news for the millions of viewers in the UK who just couldn’t imagine their partnership ending.
So reliant are they on each other for their careers, they even have a bizarre insurance clause in their contracts against each other’s death, reported by The Guardian to be worth around £2million.
Ant once joked: “It’s six figures, I think. It’s big! But it’s not like anything evil is going to happen.
“I think I would be the first suspect if we were together and Dec suddenly fell off a cliff! I’ve got a big motive.”
Asked if the insurance had “gone through the roof” since Ant’s crash, the pair reportedly “roared with laughter”, with Dec admitting it was “not likely” he’d have to pay the premium.
“Good luck paying for my premium!” Ant added.
Ant, who is celebrating his 46th birthday today, and he’s turned his life around since that dark period.
Now sober, he recently married Anne-Marie Corbett, his former PA, in a lavish £500,000 ceremony in which Dec, also 46, was his best man once again.
Ant played the important role in Dec’s 2015 wedding to Ali Astall, while Dec was Ant’s best man the first time around when he wed Lisa Armstrong, who he split from in 2018.
And Ant referenced his addiction struggles in his recent wedding speech, opening with: “Hi, I’m Ant and I’m an alcoholic.”
Dec also made a heartfelt speech in which he read a prayer and called Ant “the best friend a man could have”.
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