Matt's the man; North lad Matt Baker has gone from a juggling bartender to acrobat and gymnast to Blue Peter presenter. Now in another career leap he is helping to present Countryfile. He reveals to Mike Kelly why the job is like returning to his roots.
He was part of travelling comedy disco dancing group 'Disco Inferno' which used to tour clubs in the North East.
"It's amazing what you do when you're a student," he comments, wryly. His dad Mike used to help create special coloured glass bottles for him to juggle, like Tom Cruise in the film Cocktail.
And like Tom, Matt got the girl, in this case Nicola, who he met when he was 18 and is now his wife.
The couple now live near Tring in Hertfordshire with son Luke aged two and another child on the way in August.
Matt, 31, says he couldn't be happier, in his distinctive County Durham accent.
He was born in Easington and his dad ran a newsagents in Easington Colliery. However, when he was 10 his parents sold up and started an organic sheep farm west of Durham where his family still live and mum Janice is County organiser for Durham Young farmers.
Matt said it was Janice who perhaps most wanted the move to the country.
He explains: "She was adopted and doesn't know much about her background but she was drawn to the countryside. Before we moved she
Continued 41 said 'this is the time'. It's a beautiful part of the world." Perhaps a bit like his mum, Matt has proved to be a bit of a driven character too.
In a wide ranging CV he was British gymnast and sports acrobatic champion as a lad and after being Butch got his big break in June 1999 when he joined Blue Peter, becoming its 28th presenter.
His gymnastic background helped him become the all action presenter, the John Noakes or Peter Duncan character, depending on your vintage. With his background in a traditional farmhouse with big kitchen, dogs everywhere and acres of fields, Matt admitted that it took him a bit of time to settle in the London life, particularly as Nicola was away training as a physiotherapist in Nottingham. He says: "I had virtually no experience of London and I was incredibly lonely. People just don't talk to you in the same way and my only contact was people saying 'are you that bloke off Blue Peter?'. In time honoured Blue Peter tradition, he asked the producer for a dog to keep him company and they found him Meg, a border collie sheepdog and he began to settle. Meg is still with him, playing in the back garden with Matt's son Luke as we speak. During his stint he trained as a stunt man as well as passing the recruitment courses for both the Royal marines and the Parachute Regiment. He also won BAFTAs for best Children's Presenter two years in a row as well as a Royal Television Society Award. Matt said: "It was an amazing job. I got to travel the world. I had a whale of a time being able to do it."
There were a number of visits to his family's farm for the show as Matt helped with the lambing. And helping there is not just for the cameras as he gets back when he can, to a certain extent arranging his work schedule to fit around helping his family back home. After seven and a half years he bid an emotional on-air farewell to Blue Peter in 2006 but he has never disappeared from our screens. Amongst other things he appeared on BBC's Sport Relief event Only Fools On Horses, has been a reporter with The One Show, one of the three main presenters on City Hospital as well as co-presenting Crufts and Animal Rescue Live. He returned to the region in 2008 as Caractacus Potts in a production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the Sunderland Empire. And now he is fronting Countryfile which has undergone a bit of a makeover, although John Craven remains. It's been switched from a Sunday morning to a Sunday evening slot and, according to Matt, is reaping the reward with highly respectable viewing figures of more than 6 million. He said: "It's been amazing. We've had an incredible response. It makes perfect Sunday night viewing." While the previous format of Countryfile was a bit more Sunday morning sedate, its new look and tea time slot was designed to attract more viewers. It was even at the centre of a bit of a media storm, briefly, about perceived ageism amongst the BBC hierarchy. Matt's co-presenter is the photogenic Julia Bradbury who replaced Juliet Morris, Charlotte Smith and Miriam O'Reilly, all in their 40s or 50s. Matt says: "It had outgrown its morning slot but its core values are the same. Obviously now we have a wider demographic. "It's still early days because the programme has to evolve but it feels like it's settling down. "It just goes to prove there's a certain type of TV about grass roots Britain, a bit of escapism." Countryfile is on Sunday on BBC1 at 7.30pm.It was an amazing job. I got to travel the world. I had a whale of a time being able to do it.
FLYING HIGH Matt Baker as Caractacus Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the Sunderland Empire was a roaring success with the audience. OLD TIMES Blue Peter crew Liz Barker, Simon Turner, Konnie Huq and Matt Baker . FAMILY BUSINESS Members of the Hampshire Down Sheep Breeders' Association North East club: Matt Baker, Martyn and Glynis Harris, Nigel Hunt, Janice and Mike Baker and Helen Cooper and, above, with his dog Meg.
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|Publication:||The Journal (Newcastle, England)|
|Date:||May 23, 2009|
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