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THE REAL REAL ME: Richard Bacon - I didn't think the cocaine scandal was the end of my career..if you get a lot of publicity, people want to hire you; Richard Bacon reveals all to NINA MYSKOW.

Byline: NINA MYSKOW

TV PRESENTER Richard Bacon achieved notoriety three years ago when he was sacked from Blue Peter by the BBC, after a Sunday newspaper revealed that the host of their top children's show was using cocaine.

Richard, who is currently presenting the Big Breakfast on Channel 4, is once more being employed by the BBC to host a new game show. Richard Bacon's Rent Free started a 13-week series last Sunday. It is screened on Sundays on BBC Choice.

Richard lives on his own in West London. We met at the Langham Hilton Hotel. Tall, shambling, vague and affable, he is almost completely lacking in self-awarness. And so laidback as to appear dozy. Charitably, perhaps, he's just young.

IT doesn't bother me really, but I quite like being tall as I eat quite a lot. And perhaps being tall, you can get away with eating more. I don't know, though. Can you? So I guess I like it.

My weight has varied, and sometimes I've worried about putting on weight. Yeah. But never that much, I've been quite lucky. It's not something that's particularly at the forefront of my mind. But I'd rather not be fat.

So I try not to have more than one Indian meal a week. Somebody told me that korma is 50 per cent fat. And poppadams you see. What are they? They're fried. Fattening.

Well, I shove a load of those down my neck. Add a nan, a peshwari nan particularly, they've got honey and nuts and things. All fattening.

When I was doing outside broadcasts for the Big Breakfast, a job I loved, travelling a lot, live from round the country, knocking on people's doors, there was never time to eat properly. So I ate loads of junk food.

I've eaten a lot of Burger Kings, and their fries are very heavy. Maybe I did put weight on, but I'm quite laidback about the food issue. I suppose I just thought: "Well, it's probably not very good for me." I was aware I was eating rubbish. I cut back.

I may have long legs and look quite rangey, but I'm not that skinny, I'm not well-toned round the stomach. That's why I wear nice baggy shirts. You have to do sit-ups to get a six-pack, don't you? I hate sit-ups. I'd like to get into them, but I'm not very good at them.

I occasionally work with weights, but a lot of the machines in the gym are quite complicated. I don't really understand them. And I can't be bothered.

At least on a treadmill, you get on and you press Start, and that's it. I do go running, and I suppose I'm quite fit. I used to be a good runner at school.

I've been running today. I live near the Thames and, if it's warm, I'll run over Hammersmith bridge from Chiswick and back. About four miles. But at the moment I don't want to run outside, I can't be bothered with it.

It's horrible, I'd have to put a hat on, and I can't be bothered. So I go down to the gym, get on the treadmill, put headphones on and listen to music, which helps. I only do three miles, it gets a bit boring after that. I was in a half marathon once, but a marathon? I don't know whether I can be bothered. I'm not sure I'm disciplined enough to train. It's hard work and I'm too lazy.

I don't know what I weigh, I never weigh myself. I haven't been on scales since I was born. I guess I'm 12 stone? Thirteen stone? What do you think? I'm about 6ft 1in or 6ft 2ins. I shot up in height in my teenage years. But physically I've always been at ease, although I'm nothing unique, I can't think of any defining feature.

Hairy chest, very hairy legs. Just nothing remarkable in any department. I don't think I'm particularly good-looking, but I don't suffer any anxiety. I don't look at genuinely good-looking people on television and feel envious. It doesn't, you know, bother me.

Although when you work on television, you become more anxious. It's part of the job, isn't it? That you look all right on telly. But I find it a bit irritating, hard to get it right. Because I've never tried that hard, all my life. I used to think I looked a bit of a geek, really. A bit of a mess, and often still do.

I didn't try very hard at anything as a teenager. I wasn't vain, I wanted to work in radio, so I didn't care what I looked like. It didn't really matter. I grew up in Mansfield. Two younger sisters, although I'm the irresponsible one. I was lucky, I'm aware of that, I had a stable, happy upbringing.

Apart from my obsessive interest, I was quite lazy. From 17, I did start working in local radio, although I was doing A levels. My dad got frustrated and annoyed when I was looking directionless. He shouted. I went to university for a year, but I left because I got loads of work at the radio station.

I worked there for three years, I was quite happy. Obsessional verging on anorak. There's not a lot I don't know about BBC local radio. I did some film reviewing for the station in London, got to know some people in TV and, when I was 21, I got the job on Blue Peter. I'm 26 now.

I was a bit dazed when I got it, but excitement dawned after three months. I really enjoyed it. I'd been there almost two years when a friend stitched me up with a Sunday newspaper, recorded phone calls and got me in trouble. It was all over the front page that I was using cocaine. And I was sacked.

I don't think about it very often, I don't reflect in a serious way at all.

ALTHOUGH it's a shock when a mate sets you up and cashes in on it. I've done a few throw-away jokes about it on telly, but I don't mean to harp on.

And also it's quite boring isn't it? But it was my mistake and they were right to sack me, they did the right thing.

A mistake, therefore I do regret it, and it was difficult for my family, but I don't see that I was a role model for young people, I'm not convinced by that. I didn't necessarily feel that responsibility. That's my nature.

I was just young and having fun. Young and going out in London a lot. You know. If you go on telly, you have to be aware, if you do that sort of thing, of the risks you take. I took that risk and I lost. Also, doing that in the first place, you know, actually was a mistake. You accept the consequences.

But I didn't think it was the end of my career. No. If you get a lot of press, it's a scandal, there are plenty of people who will want to hire you. I was aware I was going to get a lot of offers. But I didn't want to take them just because I was notorious at the time.

It was embarrassing for my parents, as you can imagine. But a week after they seemed to be handling it fine. I had four months before I worked again, but I knew I was going to the Big Breakfast. But when you're not doing anything, it's difficult. That's when you reflect. Although I'm not deep enough to have reached any conclusions.

I didn't get depressed, not especially. I had some good support, and I knew something would come out of it. It did, I loved running around for the Big Breakfast. I've been with them for two and a half years, I started on the sofa last year. It comes to an end in March, but it looks good, it's fun and I'm enjoying it more than ever.

And now I'm doing something new for the BBC. It's nice of them to have me back. Lucky getting a second chance in my career? I don't see it like that.

Rent Free is a gameshow where teams of flatmates compete to live in a million-pound pad for a year, rent free. There's 13 shows, we give away one each week, in a different city. Loft conversions, waterside apartments.

Nicer places than I live in, that's for sure, although the show is supposed to be set in my flat. In reality, I live on my own, although I've got a girlfriend. We've been together two or three years. I'd not really had many relationships, nothing big. So this is unusual for me, normally I just float.

She works for the BBC, children's TV. She's nice, good fun and laid back. We met when I was at Blue Peter, but didn't go out till I left, although I did fancy her. I don't think she liked me, there was a bit of friction. I can probably be a bit awkward when you work with me.

She went to a surprise birthday dinner and I did something romantic and brought her back to my flat to show her a new PlayStation game. We see each other most days, we've got similar tastes. Changed me? I lead a much calmer lifestyle now, hardly ever see the West End, day or night.

It all works quite well. What about the future? Well, I guess... what do I want? Um. You know, just like everyone else, I just want to enjoy myself really. And um, I don't really know what I want. I don't know. In what way?

Ah, professionally, I would like to do radio again. And more shows like Rent Free. I'm being quite vague, aren't I? This just shows how I roam around life without any clear thoughts.

I'm lucky in the sense that I am pretty happy usually. Bloody lucky. You know, I'm lucky to enjoy myself most of the time. And to be quite happy with my lot. To be quite content. Which I am. I guess. I suppose I am.

A sucker for jelly sweetsMY BIGGEST DOWNFALL

Sweets, I eat a lot of them. Whenever I'm in a petrol station. My favourites are Haribos Starmix, they always will be. They're the jelly sweets in the blue packet. Little eggs, little rings, little teddies. Like jelly babies, but a different density. Slightly lighter jellies, aren't they? I just find them very addictive. I can get through a big packet in 15 minutes. Just, "Whoomp!" I eat them as often as I can.

MY FAVOURITE DRINK

I don't really drink that much alcohol, but it would be red wine, I guess. Merlot. I don't know how you pronounce it. Is it merlo, or merlot? With the t, or without? Oh, without, OK. French or New World? Oh, I'm not expert enough to know about nationalities. And I'm not a beer bloke either, although I'm more likely to wander down to the local pub than go to a club. I just don't go clubbing any more.

MY FAVOURITE SPORT

Football, I support Nottingham Forest, although they're bobbing round the middle of the First Division and I don't find it very exciting at the moment. But I read a lot of sport, a fair amount in the paper. I quite enjoy the ins and outs of the transfer market, I enjoy the business side. Watching who's doing what, and who's playing what game, off the field as much as on it. I enjoy the politics of football as much as anything.

MY CLOSET SECRETS

I'm not good with fashion, I'm very hit and miss. I try things and they look all right, but some of the things I wear are crap. I've never been fashion-conscious and I'm not interested in shopping. Left to myself I wouldn't care. At home, I just wear the same jeans for weeks on end, and rotate the T-shirts. That's it. If it's cold, I'll put a cardigan and a coat on, but I wear T-shirts every day. I've got nine or 10.

MY SLEEPING HABITS

I've had years of getting up early. You feel like you've got a hangover every day. I have to get up at 10 to four for the Big Breakfast, to go through all the papers. When I was doing the running around it was five. I try to get to bed at half eight but I'm a bit of an insomniac. Sometimes you lie there, it gets to midnight, and you think, "I've got to get up in four hours." You get so wound up you can't sleep.

MY CULINARY SKILLS

I tell you how much I can cook, I haven't got a microwave, I decided not to get one. I used to have one at my old place, but I've gone eight months now in my new house without one. I use the Ainsley Harriott's Meals In Minutes book. It's great, because you get various meals you can do in 15 or 30 minutes. Well, anything beyond that, I haven't got the attention span. His coconut chicken curry is great.

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SACKED: With Blue Peter team
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 1, 2002
Words:2222
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