He was an aimless, scatterbrained teenager, now Ben Shephard is one of the safest pairs of hands in TV. And it’s all down to an almighty battle of wills, he reveals… The day I reached Tipping Point with my father
- Broadcasting is something veteran breakfast TV presenter Ben is very good at
- The TV host has just filmed the 1,550th episode of ITV’s quiz show Tipping Point
- But he wooed his wife Annie 20 years ago mostly wearing a leotard and tights
You wouldn’t think, would you, that Good Morning Britain presenter Ben Shephard has just put his shoulder out wrestling with a face flannel. Or that he wooed his wife Annie 20 years ago mostly wearing a leotard and tights. Or that he hates his own company.
On TV he’s just not that person. He’s all solid professionalism and gleaming on-air confidence – plus he looks pretty suave with his salt-and-pepper quiff and his fondness for a nice waistcoat.
Yet he’s the husband who once booked a romantic weekend in Paris for his wife and accidentally bought her a seat on a different flight to him. ‘We realised as we went to check in.’ He’s not safe with tool boxes either.
‘About as useful as a handbrake in a canoe when it comes to DIY.’ He’s had his share of work disasters too. Trying to re-create the legendary moment Tom Cruise told Oprah Winfrey how much he loved Katie Holmes, he bounced right over the back of a breakfast TV sofa and disappeared. ‘I landed on a big pile of discarded scripts. It was OK. Soft.’
You wouldn’t think, would you, that Good Morning Britain presenter Ben Shephard (pictured) has just put his shoulder out wrestling with a face flannel. Or that he wooed his wife Annie 20 years ago mostly wearing a leotard and tights. Or that he hates his own company
Generally though, broadcasting is something Ben, 47, is very good at. He’s a 22-year veteran of breakfast TV, has just filmed the 1,550th episode of ITV’s decade-old quiz show Tipping Point and is ringmaster for the channel’s rejuvenated Ninja Warrior UK, now on its sixth series. There’s also been sports presenting for Sky and one-off documentaries, plus several cameos you might not know about.
You can see him in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance in Harry Potter And The Half-blood Prince, popping up on the red carpet with Joey and Chandler in Friends and, best of all, made out of Lego in The Lego Ninjago Movie where he says, ‘I’m Ben Shephard and I’m pumped to be bringing you the news.’ He was so chuffed to be immortalised in plastic bricks that ‘Lego Ben’ is still his WhatsApp avatar.
The real-life, flesh-and-blood Ben turns out to be affable, ultra-articulate and have that broadcaster’s gift of being able to return to a core theme after telling a series of chatty anecdotes. But you don’t survive all those years in TV without a little bit of flint.
I ask what it was like being GMB’s ‘safe pair of hands’ after Piers Morgan stormed off set following that row with a weatherman over Meghan Markle back in March 2021. ‘I was there before Piers got there and I’m still there now,’ he says.
Broadcasting is something Ben (pictured with Kate Garraway), 47, is very good at. He’s a 22-year veteran of breakfast TV and has just filmed the 1,550th episode of ITV’s decade-old quiz show Tipping Point
‘We launched GMB in 2014 and then he came in, and I thoroughly enjoyed him being there because when he was on air I was in bed.’
(He means because Morgan’s Monday to Wednesday presenting slots gave him some respite from his own 4am starts.) ‘And when I came in on a Thursday I’ve never felt so loved. Certainly Susanna [his GMB co-host Susanna Reid] dubbed it “Therapeutic Thursday”.’
And then he swiftly segues into a story about his family, safe territory for a man who married his university sweetheart and went on to have two sons, Sam, ‘now 17 and 6ft 3in, broad and strong and ripped, and Jack who at 15 is already taller than me’. Annie was a philosophy student when Ben was studying contemporary dance at Birmingham University.
‘She was way out of my league. Still is, to be fair. She’d spent a year in Paris and looked elegant, so sophisticated, while I was in a leotard and tights most of the day. Slowly I wore down her resistance until she gave in out of boredom or tiredness. Or something.’
Today he describes her as ‘a chess grand master, ten steps ahead in life. I can only deal with things as I walk into them whereas Annie has already thought about it, organised it, bought it or posted it. He admits he relies on her for pretty much everything outside of work and he delights in the most everyday things – a long walk with a flask of tea – as long as it’s with her.
You get the impression he doesn’t give a fig about being in ‘peak middle age’ as long as she’s there, with him and their boys. (His ‘TV wife’ is currently Kate Garraway. The pair are great friends in real life and I ask how you translate that relationship to the screen. Ben thinks for a second and says, ‘With Kate, patience, because you never know what’s going to happen next.’)
The Shephard family spent lockdown together in London. Ben continued to broadcast through the bleakest days of the pandemic and felt an urgent need to share good news. The result was a social media campaign called ‘Humble Heroes’ which saluted ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
It went gangbusters and now he’s turned it into a book, which comes out this week. ‘I’ve always been drawn towards optimism and positivity and I started searching for moments of joy and hope. So we went looking for it, crafted this idea of humble heroes and it was magical to watch it unfold.’
It’s an uplifting read that’s likely to end up in a lot of Christmas stockings this December. The stories he’s chosen range from Redemption Roasters, a project training prison inmates as baristas, to a prostate cancer survivor, something close to Ben’s heart after his own father’s brush with the disease and the recent loss of BBC Breakfast presenter Bill Turnbull.
There’s a horsewoman offering equine therapy to the traumatised, a salute to the heroes of the RNLI in Cornwall where Ben has holidayed since childhood, a shoutout to campaigners against period poverty and substandard social housing, and a ten-year-old whose armchair exercise videos made for her granny went viral nationally.
Ben’s interest in them all speaks to a lifetime supporting charitable endeavour not by signing autographs and cutting ribbons, but by feats of endurance that have taken him to the limit. He’s run across England twice, climbed Kilimanjaro for Comic Relief, played for England at Soccer Aid and climbed into the boxing ring with singer Lemar for Sport Relief.
Fitness is still a massive part of his life. Given that he presents Ninja Warrior UK, I ask how ninja he is. ‘Really ninja,’ he grins, while admitting that these days he’s nursing an injury more often than he’d like.
Pictured: Ben with his beloved wife Annie
Currently it’s the fallout from the face flannel incident. ‘My best friend was moaning because his neck had gone and I told him I’d just done my shoulder wringing out a flannel. Such a middle-aged injury. If teenage me or twentysomething me knew I was using a flannel as part of a skincare regime, never mind that the flannel had attacked me…’
As an insurance policy, he’s taken up playing golf so there’s one sport he can go on doing with Sam and Jack as the years go by. ‘They’re such great company,’ he says of his sons. ‘We were lucky, they never turned into grumpy, odious teenagers.’
Well, Ben would know as he was one himself, so tricky that when he was 19 he wrote a letter of apology to his father. He grew up in Essex, one of three children. His father, now 78, was an accountant while his mother, 76, was a hospital ward sister who worked evenings as a lecturer in performing arts.
‘I was very laid back and, in my father’s eyes, not taking life seriously. We clashed because he wanted me to be organised and prepared, not leaving things to the last minute.’ Like what? ‘On my gap year I got stuck in New Zealand because I didn’t know I had to save $5 for the airport tax.’
The clincher was another gap-year trip, this one to France to help with a wine harvest. ‘I didn’t have a map or even a plan of how to get to the vineyard. That’s what made me finally write the letter.
I said I’d made life very difficult for us as a teenager but now I could see what he was trying to do, that I appreciated the value of it, that I could see beyond my own selfish needs.’ It’s only recently Ben learned that his father took that letter to work with him every day in his briefcase and that he still has it almost 30 years later.
There’s also been sports presenting for Sky and one-off documentaries, plus several cameos you might not know about. You can see him in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance in Harry Potter And The Half-blood Prince and popping up on the red carpet with Joey and Chandler in Friends
‘My dad’s lesson instructed parts of who I am and will do for the rest of my life,’ he says, though he accepts he’s still disorganised beyond the laser focus you need for live TV. It’s the reason he doesn’t like his own company – he prefers to be surrounded by other people and kept busy. ‘Left on my own, wasting time could be my Olympic sport.’
With Tipping Point still riding high in the ratings, Ninja Warrior UK back on screen, Humble Heroes about to be published and his assured performance co-hosting GMB the day after the death of Her Majesty the Queen, there’s little chance of that. I ask him what he’d still like to try.
A freestanding handstand, he says. Maybe brushing up his piano skills. (A music scholar, he played piano, clarinet and saxophone to Grade 8 and thinks classical music is ‘cool and sexy’.) Improving his ‘passable’ French. Then he remembers that GMB newsreader Marverine Cole is a qualified beer sommelier, and you can see him raising a mental toast to the idea of that as the credits roll on our interview.
Ben Shephard’s book Humble Heroes: Inspirational Stories Of Hope, Heart And Humanity, is out on Thursday (£20, Blink Publishing).