Vernon Kay on working with wife Tess for the first time in 14 years and his new show Game of Talents
HE is the Bolton lad who shot to fame in the early Noughties on teen fave T4 and later fronted primetime hits such as All Star Family Fortunes.
Since hosting ITV’s Splash! in 2014, though, Vernon Kay has spent much of his time working on passion projects, including the worldwide coverage of Formula E racing.
Now, after a hugely successful stint as a campmate on last year’s I’m A Celebrity, he is back in the big time as the presenter of Britain’s Got Talent replacement, Game of Talents.
And for the first episode of the new show, he reunites on screen with wife Tess Daly.
Vernon, 46, says if it wasn’t for the pandemic, he would never have ended up back on prime-time telly.
He said: “It was all luck. If the Formula E season hadn’t been cancelled and had started in Saudi Arabia, I wouldn’t have done I’m A Celebrity.
“I love doing Formula E so much, and I’ve learned an awful lot doing sport.
“It’s always good to have your quill sharpened, and there was lots to learn going back into an entertainment studio.
“You can get kind of stuck in a rut, you know, just stood there reading an autocue.”
Game shows are familiar territory for Vernon, who has fronted more than ten during his 20-year career.
And while his northern accent will be right at home on ITV, it did raise a few eyebrows when he was working in the US on Skating With The Stars.
He said: “I’ve lived down south longer than I ever lived up north. I moved down in 1997 and I’ve never moved back. My accent has actually softened.
But in America, that was a completely different cup of tea.
‘TESS DOES THROW ME UNDER THE BUS’
“I did three network shows and I had three different sessions of elocution lessons, and I ended up talking like Roger Moore.
“It’s one of the funniest things looking back at my accent on the show. It’s priceless.
“They thought I was Scottish. You know, all that is just a great experience, it was just bonkers.”
Game of Talents sees members of the public team up with celebrities to try to figure out the hidden talents of eight mystery performers. And in the first episode, screened tomorrow at 7.30pm, wife Tess, 52, joins the fun.
Asked if he had to be on his best behaviour as he filmed with the Strictly Come Dancing host and her co-star Craig Revel Horwood, Vernon said: “You’d be surprised! We did have a little bit of banter.
“She was with Craig who doesn’t have his judging head on — he had his entertainment head on and had loads of energy.
“Considering it was one of the first shows we recorded, it was one of my favourites.
“Tess does throw me under the bus a couple of times and we get to find out who her big crush is, which was unexpected and caused her to blush a few times.
“We went through it together before. She played the contestants and I played myself, the host, and she was like, ‘Yeah, good stuff’.
“And when we finished recording, she went, ‘Brilliant, it was seamless’.
“And it was nice because other than working together, she’s never actually seen me at work.”
‘I’d do jungle again’
VERNON says it doesn’t matter if the next series of I’m A Celebrity is filmed in Wales or Australia because the contestants will always have a life-changing experience.
Vernon, who came third to vlogger Giovanna Fletcher and Radio 1 DJ Jordan North, said he enjoyed the show so much he would take part for a second time if asked.
He said: “If I was in it, I’d be gutted it wasn’t Australia. I’d like to have that warm experience.
“Like if they said, ‘We’re gonna do it in Australia, would you do it again?’ I’d say yes 100 per cent, because I then get the opportunity to compare and contrast.
“But I’d be devastated if it was a lesser experience than what we had in Abergele, because it really was . . . It sounds a bit soppy, but it really was something I’ll never forget, and will hold really dear and close to my heart.
“I had an absolute blast, and everyone in there was themselves.
“There was no one who felt that they had to be more than they were.
“If the show does go back to Wales, the contestants are in for one hell of a ride. Honestly, Andy, it was a dream.
“If anyone is reading this, who has been asked to do it – don’t even hesitate.
“Yeah, all right, try and push the contract up a little bit.
“I wouldn’t turn it down because it is an amazing experience. Am absolutely amazing experience.”
The last time Vernon and Tess — who have daughters Phoebe, 16, and ten-year-old Amber — worked together was on reality singing contest Just The Two Of Us, in 2007.
She was the main host while Vernon was on backstage duties, chatting to celebrity contestants after their duet with a professional singer.
Now Game of Talents has fired up the couple’s appetite to reunite on screen again.
He said: “When we did Just The Two Of Us, I had the role where you’re pretty much reactive to what you’ve just seen backstage, so I didn’t really have much to say.
“It was all Tess, and she was front of house. Game of Talents was really nice. And after this we thought it’d be great to do something together again. So we’ll just wait and see what happens.”
Vernon says it is only in the last few years that he has been able to relax more on the job, despite useful advice from Virgin Radio host Chris Evans when they worked together on TV’s Boys And Girls almost two decades ago.
Vernon said: “Chris used to say to me, ‘All you’ve got to do is tell the story . . . You just need to know the show’.
“What I thought he meant was learn the script, so I learned it parrot fashion.
“I didn’t really know what he meant until I got into sport. There, you’ve got to tell the narrative, and say who won the last race — and that’s the story.
“So what Chris was basically saying was, ‘You don’t need to learn the script. Just understand what the show is’. And it’s all coming to fruition 20 years later with Game of Talents, because I’m having so much fun.
“I know the show, and I can just tell the story because that’s what I’ve been doing for the past four years on Formula E. It just feels really comfortable, and I’m really excited by it.”
FEELING THE PRESSURE
A prime-time comeback is no small feat, especially with a brand new format.
So does Vernon feel under pressure given Game of Talents is filling the slot of Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway?
I also remind him that Formula E’s viewership is smaller than something like Britain’s Got Talent, but he disagrees.
He said: “You’re wrong. You’re wrong! We had 341million viewers in China alone for Formula E.”
When I suggest, then, that a little light entertainment on a Saturday evening in the UK is a “walk in the park”, he says with a huge guffaw: “Don’t throw me under the bus!
“You’re right, it’s the immediate audience that means the most to me. But the flip side of Formula E is that the audience is massive, but it’s a global audience.
“To be honest, I am surprised I am still there as they made me have elocution lessons. God knows whether people in Kazakhstan can understand me.”
At least there’s no need to worry about taking on his wife in the ratings.
He adds: “Yeah, there was one time where Family Fortunes went up against Strictly. It was like, ‘Oh man, we’re gonna get battered’.
“I’m kind of glad that there isn’t that fuss about Strictly and myself, and Tess and myself.”
And it is unlikely the couple will face competition in the future from their daughters, who have shown little interest in following in their footsteps.
Their eldest, Phoebe, is at drama school, and Vernon said: “We haven’t encouraged them to get into telly or the arts, like broadcast arts. So if they were to find it, I would encourage them, but I haven’t been proactive in getting them work experience.
“Phoebe is doing a drama scholarship but it’s got nothing to do with the fact Mummy and Daddy are on television. She’s actually good at it.”
Away from the day job and parenting, Vernon recently did his bit for The Sun’s Jabs Army campaign at the home ground of his beloved Bolton FC.
He said: “The Jabs Army and NHS have been doing incredible work getting more than 30million their first dose of the vaccine.
“I’ve seen first-hand how much each volunteer cares and goes out of their way to make sure everyone feels safe. I don’t think we can ever thank them enough.”