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Ant and Dec’s war on media elitism: ‘TV is too London-centric – we want to change that’

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“It was hilarious,” Donnelly sneers. “I remember a signal change that happened so quickly that I was like, ‘If this hits anyone…’ right before it went boom.”

They hastily explain that their course is designed to avoid equally dangerous work incidents – but television has recently gained a tough reputation for bullying, with young runners on shows like Gogglebox coming under extreme pressure at work. Is there a risk this project will send cannon fodder into the brutal, deadline-driven world of television?

“That’s a really good question,” says Donnelly. “We’ll be looking to do whatever we can when we talk to potential employers and hope they all have a code of conduct and that all young people have mentors to talk to.

“Fortunately, our industry has been changing over the past few years – with everything that has happened with diversity and inclusion,” adds McPartlin. “But we were definitely protected in the pre-social media era. These days you have to put on your armor faster. When we started presenting we were awful. Really bad. SMTV had been up and running for 52 weeks and they kept us on the air and we slowly started to improve. With social media it would have been more difficult. I think the toughest will survive, and we’ll help you as much as we can.

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“You realize they’ll know more on social media than we do,” Donnelly smiles.

“OK, yeah, we’re going to be the coolest people out there,” Ant admits. “I mean, I even said not cool.”

Speaking to a newbie investor in a large Silicon Valley venture capitalist, I told them I asked what my kids should learn to ensure a successful life. He told me – creativity and kindness. Everything else can be improved by software. So how creative is this generation?

“They’re incredibly creative – they create media all the time on TikTok, they just don’t have the means to make a living yet,” Donnelly says. “I think sometimes they have a bit of a harsh press when they’re considered too awake. They are just a little more considerate of each other – they see less color, gender and disability than everyone else. “

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McPartlin agrees. “I have two daughters-in-law aged 13 and 15 and they are more socially aware at that age than I was in my mid-20s. That I still am. It will not be our generation that will save the world. Look at Greta Thunberg, who on her own is almost making the world aware of climate change. This is the kind of energy this generation has and they will save the rest of us. We’re just trying to make it easier for them. “

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Donnelly pauses for a moment and turns his head towards McPartlin who, on a Zoom call, is surprisingly impressive. “The point is, they’re the future of broadcasting and they don’t realize how much they need,” he finally says. “I don’t think we realized that we brought something new to the table and that’s why people wanted to work with us. We were still full of doubts about ourselves.

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“When you’re young you have arrogance and ideas that older hands just don’t have,” McPartlin acknowledges. “We were at the pub one night and I said, ‘I’d love to have the kids take a quiz, but if I beat them I really beat them, and they don’t get the prizes. We turned it into Challenge Ant. The producers said, “You can’t do that, they have to go with something.” We insisted and that’s why it worked.

“We were in our mid-twenties at the time,” Donnelly agrees. “The fact that me and Ant and Cat were much closer to the target audience age was really priceless. That’s what it is – if broadcasters want younger viewers, invite young people to do programs, in front of or behind the cameras. Otherwise, they stay on social media and the TV risks losing them altogether. “

For more information contact The Prince’s Trust on 0800 842 842 or visit The Prince’s Trust website at princes-trust.org.uk


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