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Despite having lived outside the North East since 1994, Newcastle-born TV presenters Ant & Dec tell Andy Greeves why they will always regard Tyneside as home
It is fitting that two of Newcastles most well-known TV exports and indeed two of the citys biggest advocates began their rise to stardom in a show which depicted life in the North East of England.
It was in 1989 when 13-year-olds Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly, aka Ant & Dec, met for the first time having been cast in the roles
of PJ and Duncan in the hit BBC series Byker Grove.
The award-winning childrens show gained many plaudits for tackling
storylines that affect teenagers and young adults and bringing a view of North East life, albeit a fictional one, to the nations screens.
Byker Grove launched the careers of the pair, who went on to establish a successful pop career before turning to their current vocation, TV presenting.
Come the mid-1990s, London was calling for the duo, whose presenting roles to this date include Pop Idol, Ant & Decs Saturday Night Takeaway, Red or Black, Britains Got Talent and Im a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! The pair currently reside in Chiswick, West London, but are quick to point out that Newcastle remains their spiritual home.
When I say home, Im still referring to Newcastle and the North East, says Ant. Chiswick is home from home, but Newcastle is the place closest to my heart, agrees Dec.
The majority of Ant & Decs family and friends are still based around the area, adding to their affinity with the North East and both enjoy regular trips home. They are also huge Newcastle United supporters and can often be seen on match days at St James Park.
Theres still fewer things I enjoy more than getting a last-minute flight to Newcastle, heading to the quayside and spending time there with my family and friends, says Ant, who stays with his sister in Fenham when hes back in toon. Im also a massive Newcastle United supporter, he adds. I try to make as many home games as I can on top of watching them play away games in London.
The Newcastle quayside that Ant refers to so fondly is an embodiment of the remarkable regeneration the city has undertaken over the past few decades. The modern metropolis regularly figures in travel guides and surveys of the top ten places to visit in the UK. Its a far cry from the place that Ant & Dec knew during their Byker Grove days.
Whenever I go back to Newcastle, it still amazes me the fantastic changes that have taken place over the last ten or 15 years, confirms Dec. A lot of money has been spent on the regeneration of the city and surrounding areas and it shows.
Newcastle has always been a great party town but its now a cool, cultural destination too. The rejuvenation of the quayside and the emergence of places like the BALTIC gallery and SAGE centre has helped Newcastle-Gateshead become a cosmopolitan hub.
While much has changed in the North East, a few things on Tyneside remain the same according to Ant.
What hasnt changed is how fantastic the people are. Its an old clich I know, but I genuinely believe the further north you go in the UK, the friendlier the people are. Im very confident recommending friends to visit Newcastle, because I know everyone they come across will be helpful and give a warm welcome.
Ant & Decs view of modern day Newcastle is one increasing reflected in TV programmes and magazine articles on the area. Old-fashioned stereotypes about the city still persist in certain channels, however, and the MTV reality show Geordie Shore, set in Newcastle, has been criticised for its portrayal of the city. Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah has condemned the show and described it as bordering on pornographic.
Are Ant & Dec concerned by the image this show is presenting of their beloved Newcastle?
To be honest, Geordie Shore has become a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine, smiles Ant. The kind of antics you see on there are no surprise to me, because Im of an age when I know what happens on a night out in Newcastle. I must stress, of course, that what you see on that show is only representative of a proportion of the citys people.
Im not worried that this show will fuel negative perceptions of Newcastle, as Im sure any one who watches it will take what they see with a pinch of salt. The behaviour you see on there is typical of what goes on in cities up and down the UK, so it could honestly be called British Shore as much as Geordie Shore.
While neither Ant nor Dec are overly concerned about the message Geordie Shore sends out about Newcastle, they are quick to hit out about the portrayal and treatment of a Newcastle-born star in the United States recently.
The treatment of Cheryl Cole and criticism of her accent made me really annoyed, snaps Dec. Everyone made such a big deal of her accent and you ultimately think, surely they knew what she sounded like before going out there. We might talk a bit differently, but is the Geordie accent really that hard to understand? I really felt for Cheryl during that time as criticism of your accent is very personal and it was totally uncalled for.
Ant & Dec returned to our screens this autumn with a new series of Red or Black. Their website can be found at www.officialantanddec.com
The print version of this article appeared in the October 2011 issue of North East Life
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