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Ben Shephard on This Morning: The safe pair of hands after the show’s tumultuous year

After spending two decades on breakfast television, Ben Shephard will now become one-half of the new presenting duo for ‘This Morning’ alongside Cat Deeley. Katie Rosseinsky looks back at how he got here

Friday 23 February 2024 14:22 GMT
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Top job: Shephard has been announced as one of the new permanent hosts of ‘This Morning’
Top job: Shephard has been announced as one of the new permanent hosts of ‘This Morning’ (PA)

Ben Shephard is finally getting a bit of a lie-in. After spending the best part of two decades discussing the day’s headlines at the crack of dawn on ITV, the?GMTV?and?Good Morning Britain?stalwart has landed one of the broadcaster’s biggest jobs. From next month, the 49-year-old will be setting his alarm a little?later?to present?This Morning?alongside Cat Deeley. “This really feels like a very special moment for Cat and I to be part of the next chapter of?This Morning,” he said when the news was announced.?Will “Cat and Ben” soon be referred to in cosy first-name terms like their predecessors “Holly and Phil”?

Of course, this “next chapter” of?This Morning?follows a tumultuous year for the daytime show, previously presided over by golden couple Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby. Last summer, Schofield stepped down after more than 20 years on the?This Morning?sofa, following his confession that he had lied about an “unwise, but not illegal” affair with a younger colleague. Former employees said they’d had to contend with a toxic work environment (claims which ITV denied). Then in October, Willoughby decided to leave after a man was charged over an alleged plot to kidnap and murder her. Ever since, the programme has had a revolving line-up of stand-in presenters.?

After all this turmoil, ITV needed the safest possible pair of hands?–?and Shephard is just that. He is likeable and zero drama, the sort of guy that grandmas across the nation probably describe as “you know, that lovely man off the telly”. Although?Good Morning Britain?often devolves into shouty contrarianism (the legacy of one Piers Morgan), he’s never less than level-headed. The most controversial he gets is the odd accidental swearing slip-up during a live broadcast, the sort of incident that’s then gushingly written up by the tabloid press as a “hilarious gaffe”. Even his self-confessed “most embarrassing” on-air moment is pretty jolly: he once “fell over the back of the?GMTV?sofa one morning, pretending to be Tom Cruise”. And his workmates seem to love him too. “Ben lifts my spirits,” co-presenter Susanna Reid has said, while his?X Factor?colleague Kate Thornton even named her son after him. There are no skeletons in this closet, it seems.?

Shephard grew up in Chigwell, Essex, but his first brush with fame came when he was studying dance at the University of Birmingham (here, he was classmates with the actor Claudia Harrison, who played Princess Anne in later seasons of?The Crown, and met his wife Annie Perks, an interior designer and writer with whom he has two sons). He was scouted to film an ident for a local weather network, where he later landed a summer job as a runner. “A producer there suggested that I should go into television and that I could make a good presenter,” he told?The Independent. “I think at the time I was still secretly hoping that I could make it as an actor.”

His first gig was as a presenter on?The Bigger Breakfast, the school holiday spin-off edition of Channel 4’s Nineties morning show, where he appeared alongside the likes of Melanie Sykes and his future?This Morning?colleague Dermot O’Leary. Next, he moved over to?T4. You can still find old clips on YouTube: there’s something a bit disconcerting about seeing the usually besuited Shephard wearing a massive baggy hoodie, rating the year’s celebrity calendar offerings and talking about?Fifa 1999. After about a year, though, his boss told him: “It’s not working and I don’t think it’s ever going to.” The firing was “brutal because it came out of nowhere”, he later told?OK!?“I was about 25 and thought I was going to be with Channel 4 for a couple of years.” This early knockback has stayed with him since. “I still constantly question if I’m good enough,” he admitted. “Nobody is more critical of me than I am of myself.”

After that, Shephard jumped ships to ITV to appear on the newly launched?GMTV?as an entertainment presenter in 2000.?It was a role that?even?landed him a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo in?Friends, brandishing a microphone at Matt LeBlanc’s Joey Tribbiani in one red-carpet scene. He eventually became one of the show’s main hosts, paired with Fiona Phillips and later with Kate Garraway. He also cut his teeth on a real grab bag of light entertainment shows, from?Soapstar Superstar?to?The Xtra Factor,?before a stint on Sky Sports and the launch of his long-running, strangely absorbing game show?Tipping Point?in 2012.

Co-stars: Shephard with his longtime colleague and friend Kate Garraway (PA)

Then, in 2014, he was announced as part of the line-up for?Good Morning Britain, where he reunited with Garraway. The pair have an easy on-screen rapport rooted in more than two decades of friendship, and Garraway has praised Shephard for his “phenomenal” support during her late husband Derek Draper’s illness. “He has been at the end of the phone and trying to do everything that he can to help,” she revealed in 2020. “Working alongside somebody that you care for and you are worried about, plus also trying to do the job. It’s a huge thing and I’m very grateful that he has been there.” When it came to taking the?This Morning?job, Shephard said one of the “hardest decisions” was “knowing that my mornings with Kate, my on-screen wife of nearly 20 years, are coming to an end”. Theirs is the sort of bond that makes it seem like there might be a grain of truth to all the ITV rhetoric about the broadcaster’s “work family”.

Does anyone have a bad word to say about Shephard? The criticism that you’re most likely to hear is that he’s, well, a bit bland, even dull. He doesn’t have the effervescent humour of, say, Alison Hammond. We’re unlikely to see him rock up to the studio after the National Television Awards feigning a hangover (although that’s arguably no bad thing). You might even have mixed him up with Stephen Mulhern on occasion. But after This?Morning’s annus horribilis, “boring” probably sounds incredibly appealing to ITV’s top brass.

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