■ The TV presenter, 40, on his Hits Radio breakfast show, wrestling an alligator and digging holes in Bridgend
What’s Hits Radio?
It’s a new station — I’m doing the breakfast show with Gemma Atkinson. It’s the first national radio station to come out of Manchester on the Key 103 network and also on DAB around the country.
Have you moved to Manchester for this?
I have. I went to university in Manchester and my dissertation was about the regeneration of Manchester, and now I’m living in one of the redeveloped areas that didn’t exist last time I lived here. I wanted to have a change, get out of London, so it’s a new job and a new city.
That sounds like a big commitment…
The world is getting to be a smaller place. I lived in the US for three years and managed that. I’m committed to the show — it’s something new and has real potential, and they’re giving us time to let us grow, which is quite rare in this industry. There’s so much happening in the city, Manchester is a really cool place to be.
One of your earliest jobs was on Blue Peter. Have you stayed in touch with anyone from the show?
Everyone’s gone off and done different things but when you meet again it’s like nothing has changed because you’ve had such amazing and unusual experiences together. One of the old editors is one of my closest friends. I stay in touch with Konnie [Huq], Liz [Barker] and Andy [Akinwolere]. We’d go on the big summer trips for six weeks to places such as Bolivia and Japan, and we’d have to find our way through a jungle or look for shelter in a wilderness. We’d go through huge frustrations with each other but that’s what you’d talk about after. When you’re doing things such as a submarine escape or getting attacked by an alligator, you’re putting your life in the production team’s hands, so the hug at the end is pretty special and the bond lasts forever.
Which of the presenters was most annoying to camp with?
We all had our strengths and weaknesses. Some people didn’t like the cold. I’m really bad when I don’t eat — I can get pretty grumpy. We all had our moments. What goes on tour stays on tour.
Where was the alligator?
In Louisiana. We went to rescue alligators who get out of the swamps and into people’s gardens. Our job was to bring the alligator back to the swamp. The rescue team told me to jump on the alligator. The alligator didn’t like it, shrugged, headbutted my ankle and looked like he was going to bite me — but apparently he’d just eaten so he didn’t. I had a scar on my ankle for a while where he hit me. It was pretty frightening.
Have you ever considered turning your back on showbiz?
I feel very blessed to have been doing this for this long. I work really hard but sometimes you need luck on your side as well. It can be tough sometimes. You don’t always get the job you want and there can be a million reasons for that so it’s about hanging in there. I love the process of making TV and radio. I also appreciate that having some kind of profile affects the other work I do — such as the autism charity I started.
What’s the charity about?
It’s called Nai, which is Welsh for nephew. Me and my best friend both have autistic nephews and we set it up as a fundraising charity. We’re not experts, by any means, but we’re in a position to help raise money. We raise money for seminars for parents with autistic children, we give money to schools for equipment that helps with the development of autistic children and our long-term goal is to build an autistic school in Wales.
What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
Digging foundations for houses in Bridgend. I’d left university and didn’t want to just ponce about and a neighbour got me the job — it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I’d be there for 6am, come back at 5pm and put my hands in hot water for 20 minutes just to get the feeling back into them. It was proper hard work in the p***-wet cold.
What are your ultimate career ambitions?
I also run a rugby events company and I want to see that grow. But right now the focus is on making the breakfast show a success. I loved doing 71 Degrees North, that’s one of my favourite programmes I’ve done. I’d love to stay involved with Strictly [he danced in series five] and I love my sport, so something involving all those things would be ideal. And just to keep on doing it.
Jones co-presents the weekday breakfast show on Hits Radio at 6am