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I TALK TO Zoe Ball

All week I've been interviewing my childhood heroes to celebrate 3 years of writing this blog, and because Live & Kicking was such a big show for me growing up today it's the turn of Zoe Ball.

Who could forget the glorious Zoe and Jamie days between 1996 and 1999? Not many people, which is why I also had to track down Zoe Ball to talk to her about her time on the show.

15 years on from winning a Children's BAFTA for her final episode of Live & Kicking, I take a trip down memory lane with Zoe and find out who her favourite guests were, what it was like working with Jamie and whether or not she'd present the show if it was to return today...

First of all, sad news about Claudia Winkleman's daughter, but well done for filling in for her on Strictly Come Dancing. You're doing a great job...

Oh I know... thank you very much! It was terrifying. Hopefully it'll be a little less scary this week. Fingers crossed.

So let's talk about Live & Kicking then, and when you were first offered the show having presented The Big Breakfast...

I'd done lots of kids TV before The Big Breakfast which I completely loved. I had so many great adventures. My days on The Big Breakfast weren't the best Big Breakfast days, I think the Chris and Gabby days, and the Johnny and Denise days were probably the best... but I did have great fun with Keith Chegwin!

Saturday morning telly was sort of my dream job, because that's what I grew up watching. Sally James on Tiswas and also Andrea Arnold on No 73 were the two women who made me go - "Oh I want to do that." They were just having so much fun being gunned, mucking about meeting bands. So when Live & Kicking came up, Chris Bellinger pretty much rescued me from The Big Breakfast and I think had to fight to get me out. It was such a joy and we then had the job of finding a co-host.

We tried out quite a few people, and Jamie (Theakston) I think was the third person to do an audition, and something just worked. There was a naughtiness, and I think there was a flirtation and we had so much fun together. He was my first proper telly husband, or I suppose it was telly brother really in those days.

And the rest it all sort of came together. In the first year we had Trev and Simon with us as well who were my heroes from Swing Your Pants. I think it was possible the most fun I've ever had on television, and I think that's why I love It Takes Two so much, because it's sort of reminiscent of that time, in that it doesn't take itself too seriously. It's fun for all the family, and I think it's really lovely to have a show that adults and children love alike.

Do you still keep in contact with Jamie?

I run into Jamie now and again, and I miss him. We had so many great adventures. Towards the end of Live & Kicking, it was the nineties and Brit Pop was happening. That whole scene was going on and Jamie would go on a date with so many beautiful ladies, I met my husband. They were good days. They really were.

You touched on it earlier, but shows like Live & Kicking that were suitable for parents and children don't really exist anymore do they?

No there isn't, and I think it's such a shame. I tried to explain it to my kids, I keep meaning to show them old VHS' of Live & Kicking, because I try to explain it to them and say - "You would have loved it! There was Rugrats, there was a leprechaun and there was Mr Blobby... who some people found terrifying!" - and then also you'd have such great musical guests.

Will Smith would be on doing a sketch with you, and the next thing would be Michael Palin, and they would all muck in and do something fun. It was so much fun and I still see a lot of the camera guys, and whenever I go back to do anything BBC days I love to meet all the the old camera guys because we did all work together for years and it really was so much fun.

I tell what else I love about it is that I met one of The Inbetweeners, the tall one (Blake Harrison), at a dinner and he said how he was on Grabbit Rabbit! Daniel Radcliffe signed an autograph for my son saying "Your mum doesn't remember, but when I was seven I asked a question on Live & Kicking" and my son who was much younger at the time said - "Did you know he was Harry Potter then?" and I was like no, no one knew he was going to be Harry Potter!

Kara Tointon was on when she was a little kid and asked a question. I'll never forget the time that someone was on the telephone and I told them to look under their mum's bed for Christmas presents and we got more complaints than ever before!

Was there any part of Live & Kicking in particular that you enjoyed the most?

I really loved 'Hit, Miss or Maybe'. I remember the Super Furry Animals video was shown on that and I was really proud of that because there was a lot of pop but occasionally you got to play a bit of rock. When you think of programmes like CD:UK as well, you don't have those shows anymore, and I think they were really quite important.

Videos were a big deal in those days, and I guess it's all on the internet now. After us, I really loved Ant & Dec and Cat (Deeley) on SMTV Live and obviously Dick & Dom who are still my heroes. I don't think I ever went on Dick & Dom but I always wanted to be invited on. I love them!

What do you make of Saturday morning television today? It's not really there is it?

No, and I kind of miss those days. Now you have cooking programmes don't you? Or football programmes, and I think Soccer AM has an element of that but I guess there's just too many channels now. I know there's a kids show called Friday Download which apparently is quite like that, but they don't do it live.

The other part of it was doing it live, sketches would always go wrong, props would fall over and I'd be stood there with croissants on my head pretending to be Princess Leia. The dressing up was fantastic. I'd come in every week and go - "Who do I get to dress up like this week?"... we'd be Vikings, or The Simpsons. And then you'd have to interview John Cleese or Kylie dressed up like that and you'd have to carry on regardless! It was a joy.

I spoke to Andi Peters recently and he couldn't think of a difficult celebrity to interview, because everyone who came on the show was up for it. Would you agree?

I think that was they joy, people would come in and initially think - "What am I doing?" and then they just see everyone else getting involved and I don't think anyone was ever difficult. Nothing was ever too silly, people were really happy. I think if you're happy to be interviewed by puppets, then that's a good start really. I think The Muppet Show paved the way for all of that really and people realised how much kids enjoy that kind of thing.

I remember crying when Andi Peters left and I remember Phillip Schofield telling me it's the most fun you will ever have on television, and I think he's right. It was the most fun. Although I have to say, It Takes Two comes a close second. It's just so great this year. They're a really good line-up, they're really good guests and they're all so good.

I learnt a lot from Andi because he directed me on The O Zone as well and that was the other thing, Andi would always get to interview Take That and I always had to go and interview difficult American rock bands. Which to be honest was fine because I was much more into rock, but I was so desperate to interview Robbie Williams and Andi always got to interview Take That. I think I eventually got to meet them once Robbie had left. Typically! (Laughs)

Do you have a favourite guest from your time on Live & Kicking?

My favourite was Will Smith, because I remember talking about sticking out ears and I have this great picture on my wall still of Will Smith and I puffing our faces out with our ears sticking out. I also always loved Sting, he made my knees go weak!

There were so many people that it's so hard to even remember, but Will Smith was just the ultimate guest because he would come on and do all the sketches and he was gorgeous throughout! Whenever the Muppets came on, they were wonderful as well and I loved Mr Sage and Mr Onion. I had a really special place in my heart for them.

When you were presenting the show, did you ever think Live & Kicking would be so fondly remembered almost 20 years after?

I guess I did because I remembered Saturday morning television from when I was young, and I loved it so much. That combined with what my dad did made me want to get into presenting anyway and so I guess in that way I'm not surprised people remember it so fondly. It's actually really lovely because when I'm out and about, boys and girls of a certain age... I think it's people in their early twenties or late twenties who remember.

The thing I really loved about it was that there were cartoons and music and there were movie stars, so there was a bit of everything for everybody. I always loved that were two levels of humour. It wasn't always for kids, there was always slightly more innuendo for mums and dads, but it was always on the right side of good healthy family fun.

Our lovely boss Chris Bellinger, who was an absolute darling and one of my favourite people I've ever worked with, taught me so so much. He produced Saturday morning television for 25 years. He brought in Andi (Peters), he brought in Phillip (Schofield) and he was really very good at letting us be cheeky to a point but always keep it to family fun. But he did let us have lots of fun as well and made sure we knew when not to cross the line.

So many presenters came out of children's TV, do you think it's a great training ground?

Yeah, you don't get that background in television anymore. To learn to do live television, and to be able to react when things go wrong, and be taught how to cope with that, that stays with you for life. It was a really great training ground, and you can see Noel (Edmonds), Phillip (Schofield), Andi (Peters), Cat Deely and Ant & Dec, we all came through Saturday morning telly and everyone's still working which is nice as well. We've all still got jobs! (Laughs)... just about!

Do you think Live & Kicking would still work if they brought it back today?

I definitely think it would still work. I really do. The difficult thing is where to put it because there are so many different channels and maybe it wouldn't work today because kids watch television slightly differently now in that they're so used to Netflix and YouTube and that's the thing, Dick and Dom made this joke the other day - "Why don't we get together and make a show?", and I guess we could put it on the internet, instead of putting it on television.

If Live & Kicking did come back, would be up for presenting it again?

(Laughs) I think I'm too old now! I think it would be quite a different show now. But they should make it again, maybe not Live & Kicking, but that sort of show.

Finally, what would be your best memory from Live & Kicking?

I think it'd have to be our last show, which we won a BAFTA for. It was so emotional and my dad was there in a  gorilla outfit as a surprise. Norman turned up on Hit, Miss or Maybe, and we had Michael Parkinson interviewing us in the Hot Seat.

It was so emotional and it was just the best show. It was brilliant. Very fond memories. I remember crying a lot.... I think Boyzone were on!


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