There are few celebrities with as many British game shows under their belts as Vernon Kay – the biggest TV presenter to come out of Bolton. From All Star Family Fortunes and Beat the Star, to The Whole 19 Yards and 1000 Heartbeats, Kay has been reading question cards, schmoozing contestants and entertaining the public for the last 25 years. As for his favourite series? “The Price is Right is without a doubt the best gameshow in the history of television,” he answers with no hesitation.
“Every little game in The Price is Right, the introductions to it are only three sentences,” he says about the show, which he hosted as part of ITV’s Gameshow Marathon in 2007. “It’s so simple, but yeah it’s so dramatic.”
Kay is returning to the game show arena with ITV’s Game of Talents – a brand new show taking over the slot left vacant by Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway. Based on a US game show of the same name, the series sees contestants try to guess the unique hidden talents of eight mystery performers. While they’ll have the help of two celebrity guests, only one team member can go through to the final, where they have the chance to win up to £50,000.
“When [ITV] told me about it, it sounded like a great show,” Kay tells me over the phone. “And it’s a show where I can actually do loads of stuff, as opposed to, you know, standing there and directing traffic. It’s kind of a game show meets talent show so there’s lots going on. From a hosting perspective, it’s a busy one.”
It’s been six years since Kay fronted a series like Game of Talents, having spent that time hosting coverage of Formula E – the motorsport championship – and taking part in the most recent series of I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here. What was it like being back in the game show saddle? “Ah it’s easy,” Kay casually responds. “Everything’s easy if you do your homework and study hard.
“But game shows are quite rhythmic. You know, there’s beats and peaks and troughs in a game show, you know the tension moments, the fun moments, the reveals, and once you know that, I’ve done loads of game shows so it was like riding a bike. And we worked really hard on this one so that when we got into the studio, we weren’t going through format points, we made sure that everything was nailed in the rehearsal room before we got into studio so from the moment we recorded the first show, it was a breeze.”
Kay’s first TV credit came from a 1997 ITV docusoap about a modelling agency in London, which he’d been recently signed to after being scouted at BBC Clothes Show Live. “I think it was kind of that situation that we’re so used to seeing now, in that you know that person on that reality show, they’re a good laugh, they’re good fun, let’s get them into telly.
“I always said when I was doing interviews and promos for that modelling documentary that I’d love to be a game show host. I always said I’d love to host Top of the Pops and Family Fortunes and it took me, I think it was seven years from that docusoap to hosting Family Fortunes which is quite cool.
“Everyone laughed at me at the time because I was kind of this mop-topped lad who was bounding around, but Family Fortunes has always been an iconic game show and then Top of the Pops is obviously Top of the Pops. To me, those two TV shows were the most iconic ones I could think of and I got to host one episode of Top of the Pops and then Family Fortunes for 14 years.”
After getting his presenting break in Channel 5’s live show The Mag, Kay’s TV career “just kind of snowballed”, with him hosting Channel 4 game show Boys and Girls, produced by Chris Evans (“who’s just like a TV purist”), and working with the likes of Bruce Forsyth and former Fremantle producer Richard Holloway. “There’s several people who I’ve been able to spend time with and talk to and really get to know about formats and telly shows and hosting and that kind of stuff so I’m quite fortunate that I’ve had that experience.”
Kay landed his most well-known gig – hosting All Star Family Fortunes – in 2006, with the show running on ITV for 12 series. With the likes of Fearne Cotton, Eamonn Holmes, Stacey Solomon and Russell Grant having competed over the years, the memorable answers all tend to blur into one for Kay – however the episode that stands out the most is the very first, featuring Radio DJ Chris Moyles. “Chris Moyles’ dad is a former lorry driver for the post office and one of the questions was, ‘What do you do if you run out of clean underwear?’, he says he wears his wife’s, which always cracked me up because when you see him, he’s not the kind of guy you would expect to wear his wife’s underwear but it’s very very funny.”
However, the long-time presenter wouldn’t consider returning to the ITV show now, which was revived last year with Gino D’Acampo at the helm. “The keys have been given to Gino and he’s driving that beast down the entertainment highway,” he says. “I sent him a message saying good luck and I said it’s an amazing format and to just get ready for everyone going, ‘*buzzer noise*’ when they walk past you.”
Both D’Acampo and Kay have now appeared on ITV reality series I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here, with the TV chef winning series nine and Kay placing third in the show’s most recent series, filmed in the UK last November due to COVID-19. When I ask Kay how he found it, he says: “By taxi.” I admittedly walked straight into that one. “Sorry – proper dad joke,” he teases. “Yeah I really enjoyed every single minute of it.
“I really enjoyed the whole experience from ITV trying to convince me to do it, to me trying to convince myself not to do it. But yeah, from the moment it all started, getting the clothes, you know that kind of psychology meeting you have with the psychotherapist and all that kind of stuff. I enjoyed it all, it was an amazing experience.
“And if anyone gets asked to do it, my advice to anyone who is even inquired about I’m A Celebrity, I would jump at the chance to do it. I’d get rid of all those kind of anxiety questions that you ask yourself, ‘Is it worth it?’, ‘What will people think of me?’, blah blah blah and just go and enjoy it because it’s a massive, massive TV show and you don’t realise the scale of it until you’re in it.”
With the two children he shares with Strictly Come Dancing host Tess Daly, Phoebe and Amber, loving I’m A Celebrity, Kay finally could say yes to the show after the Formula E season, which he usually covers in November, was cancelled due to COVID. “For the past three years, I haven’t been able to do it and because I love hosting the Formula E so much I didn’t want to miss the start of the season. When it was cancelled, I. asked the executive producer of Formula E, I said, ‘Look, I’ve been asked to do this,’ and he was like, ‘Look mate – go and do it.’”
Having watched the show back since leaving the Welsh castle last year, Kay says he was happy with the edit. “I was pleased that it was an honest and true reflection of what went on in there. That they portrayed people’s characters as we were. They didn’t editorially design someone to be something that they weren’t and I think that’s really important.
“I think we were lucky that there were no arguments. there’s no controversy. There was no conflict and basically, we gave them no choice but to make us look as we were and I enjoyed it.”
As for any behind-the-scenes secrets he can reveal, Kay admits that everything is set up for the viewers to see. “There’s no slipping you a pizza or you know, they don’t put a bag of crisps under your pillow at night or anything like that. That Big Brother element of I’m A Celeb really exists where it’s just you and a load of cameras.”
He does add however that the campmates weren’t allowed to know what time it was. “I thought that was a bit weird and in hindsight, I’m sure they think that was weird as well.
“It’s because everything was messed up so Ant and Dec would finish the live show at about half past 10, and then at 11 o’clock, they would come and tell us who was doing the trial, 11:30 someone would leave to go and do a trial, they do a trial at 12 and get back at about one-ish.”
After cooking and eating, the campmates wouldn’t get to bed until four o’clock. “They didn’t want us to know what was happening to our body clocks because we were staying in bed until about one o’clock in the afternoon, everything took place prior to the live show. They compared it to jet lag when you go to New York, so I think we were seven hours off normality.”
Does he think he could convince Tess to sign up next year? “There’s no way. No way. I can’t for the life of me imagine Tess laying down in a pit full of cockroaches. Not a chance. But if she were to do it, she’d be like a mixture of all the personalities that were in there because she’s such a strong woman. She’s such a caring person, she’s got that element of what Giovanna was – really compassionate, kind, good listener. I think she’d kind of knuckle down like I did. She’s a good egg.”
While Tess might not be entering the jungle/castle anytime soon, she is one of the first guests on Game of Talents alongside Craig Revel Horwood. Nick Grimshaw, Clara Amfo, Mel B, Michelle Visage, Stephen Mulhern and Emma Willis are set to follow with Jordan North and Giovanna Fletcher appearing in a special I’m A Celebrity reunion episode.
Kay says reuniting with his fellow campmates in the flesh was a “lovely” experience. “Obviously we still speak and we’re in a WhatsApp group together but it was nice to have time in each other’s company and it brought back a lot of lovely memories and you know, we had a good old chat. Jordan’s still not watched [I’m A Celeb] so Giovanna and I were convincing him to watch it one weekend.”
While North hasn’t watched back his time on the ITV reality show, Kay says that he regularly revisits the series. “I still randomly just go back to the Sky Cloud and just pick out an episode and watch it because it just makes me smile.”
Game of Talents airs on Saturday 10th April at 7.30pm on ITV. Find out what else to watch with our TV Guide and visit our Entertainment hub for all the latest news.
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