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Waves of approval for our Ashley.


WITH his cheeky grin and friendly wave, Ashley Blake has endeared himself to Midland TV viewers.

But the same baby-faced looks that have won him admirers have also stood in the way of his career. He reveals that he has lost work because TV producers think he looks too young.

Although he is a news presenter on Midlands Today, fronts the regional documentary series Inside Out and has presented Watchdog, some producers don't think he has a tough enough image.

'I've been told that my face doesn't fit the bill - that I look too young,' sighs Ashley. 'It's really annoying. I can't wait until I'm 50!

'It's even worse at weekends when I'm out of my suit. In jeans and a T-shirt I look about 12.'

The way he looks is not his only impediment, as working for the BBC can interfere with other commercial jobs.

Ashley has presented corporate videos for TSB, BT and Motorola, but he missed out on one lucrative job for Argos. They offered him pounds 10,000 for two days' work hosting their annual general meeting in Telford, but at the time he was presenting Watchdog.

'Argos had just appeared on Watchdog so it could have been seen as a conflict of interest,' he explains. 'It's a shame as it was a lot of money but I have to be careful not to endorse companies.'

He fell foul of strict BBC guidelines earlier this year when he sent an internal e-mail inviting colleagues to attend the first birthday party of his restaurant, The Place 2B in Sutton Coldfield. His bosses saw it as using the system to advertise his business.

'It's a bit unfair, but I realise I broke the rules. I sent my next e-mail from home!' he says.

Ashley bought the restaurant with girlfriend Jessica. It was his local pub and where they reignited their romance after a gap of seven years.

'Ten years ago we met in a nightclub, Baker's at Five Ways, and went out for two weeks,' he recalls. 'Then one night Jess came into my local and we got together again.

'But that's not why we bought the pub! I have a business degree that I've never used and Jess has experience of running clubs.

'We live upstairs so I'm always working there when I'm at home, doing unglamorous jobs like unblocking the toilets.'

Born in Lozells, Birmingham, and educated at Holte Comprehensive and Bournville College, Ashley has a business and media degree from Birmingham University.

His mother Patricia, who died of cancer five years ago, brought up Ashley and his five brothers and sisters when their father walked out. A social worker, she instilled in Ashley the importance of giving something back to the community. As a teenager he was a member of the St John Ambulance brigade, spending his weekends at Aston Villa and Birmingham City matches or at Silver Blades ice rink.

Later, between school and university, he ran social services' canoeing and bicycle maintenance clubs for young offenders.

'Most of the kids had been written off by society. We practised canoeing in Perry Park pool, then went down the River Wye. We also cycled to the Isle of Wight.

'It gave them something to do and it worked - I had an e-mail just this morning from a man who was in the clubs and is now married with a decent job.'

Ashley also has a National B Rally licence and spent his weekends rallying with a friend, first in a Metro, then in a 'very embarrassing' pink Skoda Favorit, then in a Rover 220 Coupe.

'We did it until we ran out of money. We usually ended up upside down in a ditch, but it was great fun,' he says.

The closest Ashley came to injury was reporting undercover on London's hot-dog turf wars.

'I set up a stall in St James's Park and was soon attacked by rival sellers. I was pushed, shoved and spat at and there was the threat of knives and guns, but I was more excited than scared because I knew they were being caught on film.'

It would be hard for Ashley to go undercover now as he is recognised almost everywhere he goes, even coming down a waterslide half-naked on holiday in Barbados.

'It does annoy Jess sometimes. Most of the time I'm fine with it, but not last Saturday when we went shopping in the Bullring. Jess was trying on lots of outfits and while I waited I felt like an exhibit, with people going past pointing and staring. I prefer it when people come up to say hello.'

Ashley also gets lots of fan mail, especially whenever his Honda Pan-European 1300 ST appears on TV.

'I get three types of letters. There are the motorcycle clubs who ask me along to their meetings, the women who want me to deliver their pizza, and the blokes who enjoy the sight of me in leathers!

'I got an invitation from a teacher at Cheltenham Ladies' College who said 'My girls have never taken so much interest in the news since you started presenting it'.'

Then there are the letters about his trademark. He ends every bulletin with a cheery 'Bye for now' and wave, and woe betide him if he forgets.

'It started as a nervous twitch. One Friday night I was told I had eight seconds to fill at the end of the news. Then the director said in my ear 'Oops, I mean 18 seconds'.

'Ten seconds is a very long time in TV. Once I'd listed the programmes coming up, I still had time left. So I said 'That's it from me, bye for now' and waved. I did it without thinking.

'The director said 'Did you just wave?'. As soon as I came into the news room the phone was ringing. I thought it would be my boss telling me off, but it was a viewer saying how wonderful the wave was. We had quite a few more calls and e-mails so, even though my colleagues made fun of me, the wave had to stay.

'Now if I don't wave I get complaints.'


NAME: Ashley Blake

AGE: 36

APPEARS ON: Inside Out, BBC1, Mondays, and Midlands Today.

SIGNIFICANT OTHER: His girlfriend and business partner is Jessica Hayes. He has a 15-year-old son, Callum, from a previous relationship.

FANCY THAT: Before going into TV, Ashley travelled almost a million miles as an air steward with Britannia and Maersk Air, though he claims never to have joined the Mile High Club.

AND ANOTHER THING: Ashley is eight hours' short of getting a private pilot's licence. He says: 'When I had the time I didn't have the money. Now I have the money I don't have the time. But I'll get it one day.'


BLAKE'S HEAVEN: on his bike and below, with fellow Midlands Today presenter Shefali Oza CONTRASTING STYLES: Ashley gets serious on Watchdog and raises a laugh on Red Nose Day 2005 SHARING A JOKE: Ashley laughs across the airwaves with Ed James
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Sep 11, 2005
Previous Article:RAIL SABOTEUR STRIKES AGAIN; Network brought to virtual standstill.

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