In the wake of the furore that surrounded ‘Sachsgate’ in 2008, Jonathan Ross decided not to renew his BBC contract, signalling the end of his much-loved Friday-night mix of comedy, music and chat.
Now, however, after a well-earned break, the exuberant broadcaster is back hosting his own primetime Saturday-night entertainment show on ITV1, kicking off on Saturday 3 September with guests Adele, Lewis Hamilton and Sarah Jessica Parker.
TV&Satellite Week magazine caught up with Ross, now 50 but still bursting with boyish enthusiasm, to find out more about his new show…
Do you feel you’ve had a decent break?
“I’ve been far busier than I thought I’d be. I’ve done a whole series of Fool Us with Penn and Teller, and started doing a travel show, which got cancelled. I’ve also done stuff for a French movie channel, as well as writing my own comic books, and just having three kids at the ages they are is time-consuming.”
Was there any time for reflection?
“It did cause me to take stock and realise how lucky I am to be doing what I’m doing. Also that I need to be more prudent and responsible. Maybe it’s a lesson I should have learned some time ago. I’m more cautious now about doing stuff that could be misinterpreted.”
Do you regret leaving the BBC?
“Making the change in my life was probably the best thing that could have happened to me. It opened up a lot of things I wanted to do but never got round to because of my very tight BBC work schedule that had gone on for 10 years.”
Has turning 50 made any difference to how you feel?
“You begin to come to terms with the fact that your period of gainful employment will end. There will be a time when the public don’t want to see you any more, or you won’t have the energy or the inclination to carry on.”
Were you surprised by how big a story your salary became?
“I wasn’t surprised it was a news story, but that people were so negative about it. What wasn’t reported is that I would have earned more if I’d left the BBC.”
You’ve interviewed hundreds of stars over the years. Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
“Everyone puts Stephen Fry on this kind of list, and there’s a good reason for that. I’d also invite film-maker David Lynch, Lady Gaga, David Tennant and Ruth Jones, as you need a glamorous, funny lady at the table. I might have Nick Clegg round to find out why what could have been seen as a political success has turned into a series of disasters.”
Are there any interviews you wish you could go back and do differently?
“The ones where I thought maybe I’d been a bit too mean. I never want anyone to leave the show thinking ‘I wish I hadn’t done that’.”
Is hosting the Comedy Awards tougher than hosting the BAFTAs?
“The BAFTAs is harder work because at the Comedy Awards you’re working with an audience of comedians and, if they can’t take the joke, they shouldn’t be there. There’s sometimes a little testosterone flying around the room – and that’s just from the female comics. But it’s more of a rabble-rousing, ringmaster role.”
Will we see the goatee on the show?
“It’s gone. ITV never asked me to shave it off, but I kind of got that vibe. When you get older, your face gets droopier and it hides that, so I grew it partly for that reason. Also I thought, ‘You’re not working, you can relax’, but I didn’t want to end up with the full-on Tom Hanks in Cast Away look. I’m also dressing a bit more age-appropriate, not wearing such garish clothing.”
Are you using any elements from your BBC show?
“The set is different, but I am carrying on the idea of showing the guests in the Green Room. We did it first. It gives you the chance to get more value from the guests and it’s less stressful for them. But I’m going to try to feel my way a little bit on this show. We’re following The X Factor so we’ve got a family audience. I want to make sure that it feels welcoming to a big audience, but without losing the sense of identity that my shows tends to have.”
How do you choose which projects you work on?
“There’s no kind of TV show I wouldn’t consider doing, but I think you have to approach them with a degree of self-honesty – what do I like about this show, and why would I watch it?”
You were in America when the riots broke out in the UK. What did you make of that?
“It was quite shocking and I don’t really know how to explain it. That’s why I’ve never gone on Question Time, even though they’ve asked me dozens of times. I don’t think we need another celebrity mouthing off and saying what they think is wrong with the world.”
Finally, what do you like to watch on TV?
“The family are all big fans of Doctor Who and House and, the last time we flew to America, Matt Smith and Hugh Laurie were sitting near us. I thought, ‘I’m on a plane with my two favourite doctors’.”