Far from sounding the death knell for Ant & Dec, Ant McPartlin’s latest troubles could lead to a shot in the arm for the Geordie boys’ brand.
Declan Donnelly has been forced to do a solo turn to round off this season of Saturday Night Takeaway for the sake of the fans. This weekend’s show may have been cancelled, but the remaining two episodes will go ahead.
Despite the duo’s promise to each other that they would never work unless in tandem, we now hear that Ant gave ‘his blessing’ to Dec to host the last two episodes of Takeaway without him.
Dec could never have foreseen that he’d be facing his own celebrity survival challenge, but Piers Morgan did just that on Good Morning Britain. He had challenged Dec on air to venture out into the media jungle all alone, no matter how impossible or difficult that may seem, and to soldier on without Ant.
It looks like he had no choice but to do just that, bite the bullet after 30 years as one half of TV’s most popular on-screen duo, and it might be no bad thing for either of them.
It’s still unclear whether Ant will give his blessing to an even further severing of their extremely tight-knit double act brand for Britain’s Got Talent and I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here. Right now, they appear to be taking it one show at a time.
Suzuki are obviously nervous after Ant’s car crash in Mortlake, West London, that led to him being charged with drink driving. Positioning their brand as family friendly doesn’t sit well with brand ambassadors found to have been driving under the influence, especially when a three-year-old was injured in the road smash.
With Suzuki “in dialogue” over their ongoing, lucrative Takeaway sponsorship and Ant once again holed up in recovery - so very likely off our screens for the rest of the year - some commentators are predicting the end of the road for the duo.
I doubt that very much. The nature of Ant’s misdemeanour is far from insurmountable. In his favour, he’s been totally honest and open about his addiction and divorce problems so there are no skeletons hidden away. He’s played that just right. People see him as human, flawed but still lovable.
In brand damage limitation terms, the car crash probably isn’t much more than a George Michael Snappy Snaps episode. Although other people were involved in Ant’s case, no-one seems to have been seriously hurt and the little girl was only taken to hospital to be checked over as a precaution.
ITV have up till now been supportive, even taking Ant’s estranged wife off Saturday Night Takeaway because it might have been a bit tricky having them both working on the same show.
Ant’s personal life might have been falling apart but his work didn’t appear to be suffering. Yes, he’s taken time off for rehab, but on screen, And & Dec were as sharp as ever.
It’s hard to see how his addictions to meds and booze would cause ITV to drop them while the ratings stay strong. Ant hasn’t been branded a paedophile or fallen foul of the #metoo movement, after all.
He’s due to appear in court on April 4, where he’ll probably end up with a community service order, like Wayne Rooney, which isn’t going to prevent him from working.
Plenty of on-screen celebrities have redeemed themselves after similar troubles.
Jeremy Kyle famously once had a gambling addiction that ended his first marriage and almost bankrupted him and he’s still considered good for ratings.
Together, Ant and Dec are unique. They’ve been a TV item since the kids show Byker Grove launched their careers.
Their image doesn’t mirror other powerful duos like Victoria and David Beckham. The Beckhams both have individual identities separate to one half of a power couple.
David is a model, a role-model and former footballer and Victoria is a former Spice Girl and fashion designer but Ant & Dec don’t exist anywhere in the media ecosystem as separate entities. They are as inextricably linked as Laurel and Hardy, Flanagan and Allen or Morecambe and Wise.
In their time, Morecambe and Wise were lauded as "the most illustrious, and the best-loved, double-act that Britain has ever produced". Still, Ernie’s career took a near-fatal hit when Eric, his partner of more than 40 years, died in the 1980s. Ernie stepped back, pretty much relegated to game and chat shows, for the duration.
In their 2010 autobiography, Ooh! What A Lovely Pair, Ant and Dec said: “We made an agreement, whatever happened, we’d be mates forever and neither one of us would ever be on our own out there.”
But exploring other avenues could lead to an expansion of their brand.
When Ant finally returns, Dec will have let the genie out of the lamp as a solo artist, which can only be a good thing.
Partnerships are all very well, but sometimes giving them room to breathe brings a freshness to the union. Breaking free of two-dimensional constraints can allow artists to flourish.
Dec will be able to be his own man, host his own shows, while still being true to the Ant and Dec partnership.
During the second world war, women had to do traditionally male jobs. They weren’t just competent many excelled, and our lives changed for good.
Things won’t ever go back to the way they were for Ant & Dec now, either. But their personae app can evolve to incorporate their solo aspects, and that just might ensure their longevity.
Bang On to Richard on email firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @6hillgrove