Part of Ant and Dec’s massive appeal is that we feel like they’re family.
They’re the cheeky lads next door who we watched grow up on our tellies.
Ever since they played cute classmates in TV’s Byker Grove, through their teenage PJ & Duncan pop idol phase, to their coming of age as Saturday night stars, they’ve been a celebrity constant in our lives for almost 30 years.
They sweep the board at every TV awards ceremony and, even though they’re hardly out of their 30s, they are already fully-fledged, 24-carat national treasures.
But that sort of fame brings with it a lot of expectation. Because we start to feel we really know them.
We tend to believe that the TV persona that stars switch on and off for the cameras is real.
It’s easy to forget that when the studio lights are dimmed and the make-up wiped off, they are real people, just like us.
I used to live a couple of roads up from Ant and Dec in south west London, and I sometimes saw them in the local pub with their friends and family, sitting in the corner, having a drink and a chat.
Even though I appear on TV myself, it still felt odd to see such big stars in that setting, these heroes acting like real people.
Because it’s only when the celebrity slips up in public and does something stupid that we realise that’s exactly what they are – a real person, with real problems and flaws and anxieties, just like us.
Ant McPartlin may seem to be living a privileged life beyond our wildest dreams but it wasn’t always like that.
He was 10 years old when his parents split and his mum worked three jobs to keep the family afloat.
Author and parenting expert Sue Atkins has an interesting take on this.
She believes performers who’ve suffered childhood trauma or abandonment use the artificial world of TV to mask their feelings of hurt.
She told me: “Performing means being someone other than you, which is an efficient way of avoiding deep pain.
From 12 years of age, Ant has had to
That really rang true to me. About a year ago, I felt a bit like Ant.
On the surface, my life looked great, I was working, successful, had a lovely hubby, kids and home, but deep inside I was screaming for help.
I knew I had it all, but I was angry and unhappy and I couldn’t understand why. I was so close to walking away from everything.
It was only after a friend persuaded me to see a counsellor that I traced my unhappiness to a childhood trauma which I had suppressed for over 30 years.
It wasn’t easy to talk about feelings and situations I’d buried – I cried a lot and came to understand that in order to move forward I had to face my pain.
Talking, learning coping skills and being aware of my own emotions put me in a happier, healthier place.
So I feel for Ant McPartlin. He has had a very public breakdown.
He was involved in a car crash that may have put others, including a young child, in danger. And he has been roundly condemned for it.
He has been charged with drink-driving and has returned to rehab to try to sort himself out.
And when all this is over and the scandal has died down he will still have to live with the shame and guilt for the rest of his life.
So I won’t kick a man when he’s down. I hope he gets the help he needs.
But take a word of advice from one who knows, Ant: healing is only possible if you can deliver total honesty – especially with yourself.