■ The broadcaster, 52, celebrates 18 years of The Wright Stuff, talks rivalry with Victoria Derbyshire and recalls George Michael’s surprise phone-in
What’s this new-look Wright Stuff all about?
The show is 18 years old this year and due to our former building being sold to convert into luxury flats we’re now at ITN and the show has been overhauled. We’ve got a new set, new guests and we can now do live links to the US to interview people like Meghan Markle’s sister.
Is this because of Victoria Derbyshire? Are you deadly rivals?
You’ll need to ask her. It seems to me the BBC introduced the Victoria Derbyshire show as direct competition to our small-budget commercial television show. They struggled to get more than 80,000 viewers but despite them moving the start time earlier, our viewing figures are still three times higher. People should be asking why they’re wasting licence fee-payers’ money on a show no one watches that’s been put up as a spoiler for The Wright Stuff.
What makes you think they’ve done it just to compete with you?
If you put on a show that few people watch and you stick with it year after year, you have to ask yourself why. They move it earlier, hardly anyone watches it, they get loads of broadsheet press and still hardly anyone watches it. Why are they wasting so much money on a show no one watches? Pointless.
What’s the secret to lasting 18 years?
Weak opposition on BBC2. And it’s probably that we listen to the viewers. We’ve developed a style within the show that is sarcastic, irreverent and naughty — three adjectives you can’t use to describe any other daytime show.
Have you had any shocking phone-ins recently?
The most shocking thing is the so-called prank caller we’ve been having, which has generated a few headlines. I am not amused because he isn’t a prank caller — he’s been the subject of legal action and he keeps phoning in and naming the woman he blames for that action. This woman doesn’t deserve the abuse and we’re doing everything we can to rein him in.
How often has he got through?
It’s been going on since autumn. He’s been on twice this year. It really isn’t funny. The people who find it funny wouldn’t find it amusing if it happened to their mother or sister.
Why did George Michael phone in?
It’s just so sad — he was a year older than me and he’s gone too soon. He phoned in and said he started watching the show when he was in prison. The phone-in was something about manual versus automatic cars.
Have any guests said anything surprising?
Nigel Farage was on recently and came out with the line that he was open to a second EU referendum. It’s still having reverberations. I was astonished.
Are there any guests you wouldn’t have back on?
Frankie Cocozza, an X Factor contestant. He turned up looking fairly dishevelled. When I asked him a question he said he wasn’t very interested. I said I wasn’t very interested in him and that was the end of the conversation. If you don’t want to engage with the show, then sit there quietly or go home.
How has the job changed in 18 years?
Freedom of speech is a much trickier area to deal with because people will now say ‘I’m offended’ and they expect something to happen — they expect the cause of their offence to be torn apart. In the old days, if you didn’t like something you’d turn the page or change the channel and get on with your life. It’s a dangerous place to be where people can shut down the legitimate, lawful activities of others just because they are offended.
Have you offended anyone recently?
Every day people are offended — that is inevitable. I will engage with those who I think have been truly emotionally affected but the ones who just abuse others because they don’t like something you’ve said — I don’t have time for them. Safe spaces and things like that are an absolute nonsense.
What lessons has your career in broadcasting taught you?
The top three things are being true to myself, listening to the viewers and the importance of hard work.
The Wright Stuff is on Channel 5 weekdays at 9.15am