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Bradley Walsh

Pam Francis / 15 October 2021

The Chase, Blankety Blank, Breaking Dad, The Larkins... it's certainly been a busy year for Bradley Walsh. Pam Francis caught up with one of the most popular men on the box - and a former Saga cruise entertainer - to talk family life, playing Pop Larkin and rumours about retirement

Bradley Walsh on the television is not an unexpected sight | Image credit: Getty / Shutterstock / BBC / Hungry Bear / Guy / Wwlevy / Matt Burlem

It's been a crazy autumn for the most-watched man on TV. Bradley Walsh couldn't even make it to the recent National Television Awards to collect his trophy for Beat the Chasers because he was in Budapest performing stunts for his ITV show Breaking Dad with his son Barney.

Before that, he'd filmed a new series of Blankety Blank, and completed a 15-week shoot in Kent playing Pop Larkin in The Larkins (ITV's fresh take on The Darling Buds of May). Added to that, every year he records 210 shows of The Chase, 20 episodes of The Chase Celebrity Specials and a dozen Beat the Chasers.

Oh, and he's only just said goodbye to two years of starring in Doctor Who. It's a miracle that at 61 he's got any energy left. But when we meet on Zoom, he's in his hotel room overlooking the Danube taking a break from filming and is full of beans. He's even got an exciting new off-screen role to announce.

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'I am a grandfather! My daughter Hayley and her husband Tom have had a baby boy who is coming up for five months old. It's been tricky as during lockdown no one could get to see their grandchildren. Thank God for FaceTime - it has kept people in touch.'

Once restrictions lifted he made sure he saw his grandson as much as possible.

‘I’m going to be a brilliant grandfather because I've got this trick. When the baby grows into a toddler, make sure you spend plenty of time with them, feeding them ice cream and Coca-Cola, and then give them back at just the right time and say to your children, "There you are, that's what you were like!"' he jokes.

Bradley is incredibly close to his family. Married to wife Donna Derby for nearly 25 years, they live in a £2.5 million farmhouse in Epping, Essex, with son Barney, 23, and their dog Lulu. Hayley, his 39-year-old daughter from a previous relationship, is a reflexologist.

'Family life is very, very important,' he says, which is one of the reasons he jumped at the chance of starring in new ITV family drama The Larkins. He plays Pop Larkin – and Barney plays village bobby PC Harness. Bradley didn't watch the original series (based on the books of H.E. Bates) that aired in the 90s.

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'It's tricky because people will remember the role with Sir David Jason,' he says. 'So you've got to try and make it as different as you can, which is why I deliberately didn't watch David play it, and I don't dress like him in the corduroy waistcoats.

'I didn't have in mind the warm, cuddly person that David Jason's Pop Larkin was. In the books, Pop Larkin is a post-war, south-east London spiv who has moved to Kent. So, in my mind he's more Arthur Daley meets George Cole's Flash Harry from St Trinian's, and Private Walker in Dad's Army.

'There's no way people aren't going to compare it, so you just have to make it your own, which is why we only ever say "perfick" in one episode.'

He wishes he could be a fly on the wall in living rooms as the six episodes, plus a Christmas special, air this year.

'I'd love to hear teenagers saying to their grandparents, is that what it was really like in the 1950s? What, no mobile phones?' says Bradley.

While Bradley is on ITV in The Larkins, he's also on BBC One hosting Blankety Blank with contestants including Jimmy Carr and Sue Perkins. He was determined to put his own stamp on that show, too.

‘I’m only as good as my guests, and the celebrities were fantastic,' he says. 'I've become pally with them all, which helps as I can be the conduit between the contestants and the celebs.'

A longer version of this article appeared in the November 2021 issue of Saga Magazine: subscribe today

Does he ever worry that his adoring fans might get a bit weary of watching someone who - in January this year - was on our screens for a total of 28 hours during a 21-day period?

'It crosses my mind, but the genius of it is that people watching me at five o'clock on The Chase won't watch the stuff I do in the evening. If it was at seven o'clock we'd be in trouble!'

As for time-management, he films those 242 quiz shows in 93 days of the year. 'So, you see, I'm only ever working 93 days in light entertainment out of 365 and for that time I am loving my job. I did a 15-week shoot for The Larkins. But I love that too. And because I love doing so many different things, it just transpires I'm on telly a lot.'

When he finally takes some time out, he and his wife Donna are planning a romantic celebration for their silver wedding anniversary next year. 'We'll celebrate big time. I don't know what we'll do yet. My wife is an amazing person. She provides love and stability in my life. You need someone you gravitate towards, no matter where you go, and they become the centre of your universe. Our time at home is fantastic and she really makes me laugh as well. So it's a great thing if you have got that in your life.'

He tells me the story of when he was entertaining passengers on a Saga cruise ship. 'I was on my balcony having lunch, with the island of Stromboli on my right and the Amalfi coast on my left with dolphins jumping out of the water. I rang my wife and said, I'm gutted you aren't here with me. And she said we'll go back together, and we did. About two years ago, we had the most fantastic time in a place called Positano.'

He has already FaceTimed his wife and shown her the sights of Budapest from his hotel window and says they will return together.

'Life is as exciting today as it's always been. You have to live each day. You never know what is coming round the corner. He pauses to rethink: 'I tell you what is coming round the corner, more corners!' he laughs.

So, busy as ever, there are no plans to retire as reported in the press.

'Take no notice of that. There is no time to retire. What would I do with myself?'

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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