Strictly’s not my thing. No­body’s stitch­ing me into a red satin shirt

Count­down’s Nick Hewer talks to HAN­NAH STEPHEN­SON about be­ing pals with Lord Su­gar, how fame doesn’t im­press him, and why he has no time for re­al­ity TV

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THERE are some things in life that for­mer PR man and cur­rent Count­down pre­sen­ter Nick Hewer can’t stand – and re­al­ity TV is one of them.

“I watched a bit of Celebrity Big Brother the other day. I would pre­fer to eat my leg, par­boiled, through fish­net tights than do any­thing like that, or go into the jungle or any of that.

“It’s aw­ful that peo­ple do it. Maybe they’re hard up and they need the money to pay the tax bill which they ig­nored, or maybe they want to re­sus­ci­tate some fad­ing ca­reer in show­biz. How can peo­ple put them­selves at the mercy of look­ing ridicu­lous?” he asks in­cred­u­lously.

In the next breath, he ad­mits: “I did it on The Great Celebrity Bake Off, which was ter­ri­fy­ing. I nearly had a ner­vous break­down be­cause of it. I went home and didn’t speak to any­one for four days be­cause I thought I looked such an idiot.

“The only rea­son I did it was that it was for a good cause. I’m pa­tron of Pan­cre­atic Can­cer Ac­tion and the whole thing was for Stand Up To Can­cer.”

Nick’s dry, acer­bic wit and mock baf­fle­ment at some of the go­ings-on around him – char­ac­ter­is­tics which gained him le­gions of fans dur­ing his 10 years as Lord Su­gar’s ad­viser on The Ap­pren­tice – are ev­er­p­re­sent in his con­ver­sa­tion, and he is in­deed ‘a hu­mor­ous, all-round good bloke’, as Jo Brand puts it.

I catch him as he’s head­ing off for a break in south-west France, where he has a ru­ral bolt­hole, be­fore he hits the lit­er­ary fes­ti­val cir­cuit in the UK with his new mem­oir, My Al­pha­bet.

In it, he charts al­pha­bet­i­cally – but not chrono­log­i­cally – his life and times, from A for The Ap­pren­tice, to Z for Z-List, the cat­e­gory of celebrity he thinks he might be in as he reaches his twi­light years.

Nick is now 74, but his TV ca­reer on The Ap­pren­tice started when he was near­ing 60 and he did it for 10 years.

He still watches the show, and is still good friends with Lord Su­gar, whom he met in 1983 when, as a PR, he was taken on by Am­strad (founded by Su­gar) to help with the launch of its home com­put­ers.

“He’s ter­rific fun and dan­ger­ous and ex­cit­ing,” Nick says of his friend. “He kicked off The Ap­pren­tice thing, which sparked 14 years of an ex­tended ca­reer which has been ex­traor­di­nar­ily ben­e­fi­cial, en­abling me to bank some money when I should have been re­tired, and it also kept me work­ing in in­ter­est­ing things.”

He be­lieves shows like The Ap­pren­tice and Dragons’ Den de­mys­tify busi­ness, al­though he laments that so many young­sters seek celebrity sta­tus over sub­stance.

“The tragedy is, if I were to ask 16 and 17-year-olds what they want to do, they would all say they want to be rich and fa­mous and recog­nised. They want it quick and they want it now. And they’ll kill to get it.

“I would say, for­get try­ing to be fa­mous be­cause only a few get there and most dis­ap­pear af­ter 15 min­utes.”

Nick has stayed in touch with Ap­pren­tice can­di­dates Saira Khan, Tim Camp­bell and Miriam Sta­ley, and re­mains a fan of the show.

“I got out be­cause I was too tired,” he ex­plains. “It was so ex­haust­ing. And I was get­ting a bit ir­ri­ta­ble.”

Now, of course, he has pre­sent­ing Count­down to keep him busy, but he re­cently dropped the af­ter­dinner speaker cir­cuit to make more time for him­self and his part­ner of 20 years, Cather­ine.

He ded­i­cates the book to Cather­ine, writ­ing that she “righted this old boat, caulked the hull, took the helm and steered me into safer and kin­der wa­ters”.

In­deed, af­ter he was di­vorced from his first wife in the Eight­ies and ini­tially saw less of his two chil­dren, James and Katie, he threw him­self fur­ther into work and bought the house in France with a view that the chil­dren could spend hol­i­days there – al­though that didn’t work out.

“I threw my­self into work. It was a seven-days-a-week job. The of­fice be­came my home. Not see­ing my chil­dren was a big sad­ness but that’s the way di­vorced fa­thers some­times have to live.

“The di­vorce did af­fect my re­la­tion­ship with my chil­dren. It’s OK now. But it took a long time.”

He’s now a grand­fa­ther of five, but laments that he’s not good enough at his new role.

“I’m not at­ten­tive enough. I’m still work­ing too hard. When­ever I’m in­vited to the chil­dren’s plays or to a foot­ball match, I’m not avail­able. I’m afraid I’ve still got that work ethic, which I’m go­ing to try to kill off.”

He’s done mam­moth road trips through Rus­sia, Mon­go­lia and Sierra Leone, partly be­cause he loves ad­ven­ture and cars, and to raise money for char­ity.

“I may have turned a corner in terms of age,” he muses. “I’m be­gin­ning to worry about it. At 70, some­thing goes clunk and you sud­denly re­alise you’re not as ag­ile as you were. Mor­tal­ity cer­tainly is on one’s mind and one is more con­cen­trat­ing on how to deal with it when the time comes.”

He didn’t hit a low point when he turned 70, but he was aware that he was ‘creak­ing and groan­ing’, he ad­mits with a laugh.

In the book, Nick charts his var­i­ous ail­ments and weak­nesses over the years, the mi­graines trig­gered by smok­ing (which he gave up 20 years ago) and cof­fee, a colonoscopy, high blood pres­sure and a be­ing an inch away from a stroke, which has been reme­died with hy­per­ten­sion tablets.

Lord Su­gar has never per­suaded Hewer to ac­com­pany him on his gru­elling cy­cle rides.

“Have you seen him all geared up in his Ly­cra ready to go for 30 miles – and I’m about to go for break­fast? He’ll go 60 miles be­fore lunch. He’s a very fit guy.”

Re­flect­ing on how fame has changed his life, he says: “Am I en­am­oured of the celebrity life­style? Ab­so­lutely not. I’m quite happy down in south-west France, where no­body knows me from a hole in the road.”

He’s about to sign a two-year con­tract for Count­down, a show he’s clearly very proud of, but turns a lot down these days, in­clud­ing an ap­proach from Strictly.

“It’s a fan­tas­tic show but I’d have a heart at­tack within the first two min­utes. The en­ergy and ath­leti­cism is be­yond de­scrip­tion,” says Nick. “It’s not my sort of thing. No­body’s stitch­ing me into a red satin shirt, I can tell you.”

My Al­pha­bet: A Life From A To Z by Nick Hewer, Si­mon & Schus­ter, £20.

Nick Hewer has writ­ten a mem­oir, top, which cov­ers ev­ery­thing from A to Z. A is for Ap­pren­tice which he worked on with Baroness Kar­ren Brady and Lord Su­gar, left.

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