Ben Shephard quits one of his TV presenting jobs as he puts family first
As he celebrates 20 years on TV, Ben Shephard has every reason to feel on a roll.
Or rather, that he’s dropped into the “win zone”.
As well as his hit show Tipping Point, which has passed 1,000 episodes, he is still a TV favourite on Good Morning Britain, Saturday night’s Ninja Warrior UK is on its fifth series and Goals on Sunday is more popular than ever.
Oh, and after being given a red card on Soccer Aid three years ago, he became the hero this year after slotting a penalty past Westlife’s Nicky Byrne.
Most people in his place – like his quiz show contestants – would be gambling on winning even more, not settling for what they’ve got.
But Ben, 44, has decided to spend less time on the telly, and today announces he will not be back on Goals on Sunday when it returns next season, after nine years hosting the Sky Sports show.
No one, though, would begrudge him the reason – his regret at not getting to see his own sons’ goals on Sunday, by being at home to cheer on Jack, 12, and Sam, 14, at their weekend sports games.
Family man Ben, who this year celebrated 15 years of marriage to wife Annie, says: “My boys are at an age when they need me around, perhaps even more now than when they were younger.
“I was on GMTV every weekday while they were growing up. It meant I could go to their after-school matches, but I would have to be in bed by 7pm.
“It got to the point when it was they who tucked me up and read me a story, not the other way round.
“Now they’re teenagers, Sam is taller than me and Jack is not far behind, which I’m trying to come to terms with. They’re consumed by schoolwork all week, the weekend is the only time I can spend with them.
“Jack got upset recently because I haven’t been able to go to his cricket matches. We had conversations and I reassured him it would soon be over.
“Both have football and rugby on Sunday mornings, which I’ve never been able to go to because of work.
“What tends to happen is that after doing the breakfast show on Thursdays and Fridays, Saturday comes and I’m shattered.
“I often work six days a week, filming Tipping Point in Bristol from Monday to Wednesday.
“So Saturday is the only day I get to spend with the boys and because I’m tired it’s often a washout.
“Doing Goals on Sunday has been amazing, but I can see that not only will we all benefit as a family but I’ll benefit too from being more involved in their weekend life.
“If there are things we can share, football, cricket, golf, these are days that I will be able to cherish for a long, long time.”
Another reason for his change of focus, Ben reveals, has been his father’s recent ill health.
Speaking on the roof terrace of stylish Smiths of Smithfield restaurant, in London, Ben says: “My dad was a City accountant who never had the time to come to my football matches, and I know that is something he’ll never be able to get back.
“He’s been quite ill this year, it sort of came out of nowhere and took us by surprise.
“So we’ve all taken a minute to say, you know, we won’t get to the end of our lives and wish we’d worked more.
“I need to make the most of these moments with my children. Fortunately I’m in a position where I can decide to do that.”
And Ben says he’s more concerned about his children as they embark on their teenage years.
He says: “When I went out as a teenager the most valuable thing I had was the tenner in my pocket.
“But kids today go out with phones worth hundreds of pounds, so they are much more attractive to bigger kids or people with nefarious intent.
“They are both pretty street smart, but their friends have been in some tricky situations and that’s a worry. But we talk about everything, the perils of the internet, sex, drugs.
“And my boys will undoubtedly tell me or their mum if something like that happens. They have a much more open relationship with us then I had with my parents.
“My relationship with my parents is a million miles away from when I was a teenager. I tell them everything, but I didn’t back then.
“I want the boys to wake up and be happy with a smile on their face, and be the best versions of themselves.
“The good news is that they have a very good mother, and a dad who is clinging on trying the best he can too.
“I won’t tell them what route they should take in life, as long as they are both lawyers that’s fine!”
Ben, who grew up in Chigwell, Essex, says he was told by a careers adviser he should go into catering but he “stumbled” on becoming a TV presenter after applying for the wrong course at Birmingham University.
Instead of the drama course he thought he was on, he found himself doing contemporary dance with just him and 16 girls.
He remembers: “I was part of the rugby team and I used to get grief initially. But I’d point out: ‘What do your lectures consist of?
“My lessons are with 16 girls in leotard and tights, what would you rather do?’”
A job as a runner for a weather cable channel was followed by an audition for GMTV’s children’s show Diggin’ It, with a 16-year-old Fearne Cotton… and the rest is history.
Since then the fresh-faced presenter has rarely been off our screens, fronting Channel 4’s The Bigger Breakfast, then X Factor spin-off The Xtra Factor and spending 10 years on the GMTV sofa.
He also memorably climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with eight other celebs for Comic Relief, and has played for England in seven Soccer Aids.
With so much to savour in the past 20 years, is there a job that he would never think of giving up?
“Yes, Tipping Point,” Ben replies without hesitation.
The game show, which features four players who take on an arcade-style penny machine in the hope of winning a cash jackpot, is in its tenth series and has proved a worldwide hit.
He says: “The success snuck up on us. The show has woven itself into the fabric of people’s lives in a way none of us expected.
“I get letters from all over the world, from troops in Afghanistan.
“Even Dame Judi Dench left a signed photo in my dressing room saying how much they love Tipping Point in their house. I mean Judi Dench, she’s practically royalty!
“Me and Tipping Point are intrinsically linked and that’s a gift I’m never going to be able to replicate.
“In this next series, someone wins £20,000. I literally squealed like a child.
“I’d stood over the machine for over 1,000 episodes and that was the first time someone won that kind of jackpot.
“I’m so grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had, but if in 20 years’ time I am doing Tipping Point it will be an absolutely privilege to still be there.
“When I die I want my gravestone to read, ‘He reached his tipping point’.”
- Tipping Point: Lucky Stars starts Sunday July 7, 8pm, ITV
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