The Great Survivor - Michael Aspel
Birmingham Evening Mail
2 June 2001
This Is Your Life Big Red Book
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Michael Aspel

a career review

Michael Aspel

his 1980 This Is Your Life appearance

Michael Aspel

Richard Harris



BYLINE: Graham Young

BY the time most people have passed 65 they have their carpet slippers firmly welded to their feet.

Not so Michael Aspel. Now 68, he still prefers to wear the finest shoes you can buy and he's determined to get his money's worth too.

As the host of This Is Your Life, Antiques Roadshow and Pebble Mill's Going For A Song, which comes back next week, he constantly whizzes up and down the country more than any electioneering Prime Minister in a battle bus.

'And do you know,' says the silver fox, 'everywhere we go with Antiques Roadshow, someone will come out of the crowd and say: 'Hello, Michael, remember me?'.'

By any stretch of the imagination, he's had such an extraordinary life it would take a week just for Michael to run through his own experiences since they last met.

True story

In fact, if anyone made a film about a fictional character with his true story, would anyone believe it?

'The surprise is that it has all happened to a bloke from my generation,' he reflects.

'People now say to each other: 'Will you be my first wife?' knowing it might not last more than a week, but I have always hoped that things would last for ever.'

'Some might say what a super life I've had, but I don't see it that way. I am very aware of what's happened...'

Born in his grandmother's house behind Clapham Junction station on January 12, 1933, and raised in Earlsfield, south London, Michael was evacuated for most of the war years to live in Somerset away from his parents, sister Pat and brother Alan.

His name has its origins in Holland, from where mercenary relatives travelled to Ireland's early troubles, but National Service was the closest he came to battle.

Michael found his own feet in calmer waters at the BBC, launching his radio career as an actor in 1955.

Moving to television two years later, he worked first as an announcer, then as a newsreader in the days when you didn't primarily have to be a journalist.

His unerring ability to deliver warmth to millions through the cold, unforgiving nature of a camera lens soon turned 'Aspel' into a household name and, with shows as varied as Crackerjack and Come Dancing, he's rarely been off the telly since.

If he's ever been haunted on screen by the fact that he can't really do anything other than present, his relaxed charm never shows it.

Backstage, away from the bright lights, he's led a parallel existence somewhat tortured by comparison, typified by the death of his brother in a motorcycle accident.

His three failed marriages produced seven children between them, but of the two sons resulting from his first marriage in 1957 to Dian Sessions, only Richard survives. Greg died from cancer in 1989 aged 30.

Michael's second marriage in 1962 to Ann produced twins Edward and Jane, but that ended in 1971.

Seven years later, he married actress Lizzie Power, ironically later to become famous herself as Arthur Fowler's married love interest Mrs Hewitt in EastEnders.

Lizzie miscarried early in her first pregnancy and a second child died at three days. Patrick arrived nearly three months early with cerebral palsy ('though you wouldn't know he was disabled if you spoke to him on the phone') and he was followed by Daniel in 1984.

One might have thought that sharing such experiences would weld a couple together for ever, but it wasn't to last.

Though not divorced from Lizzie, Michael now lives with Irene Clark, who was a production assistant on This Is Your Life.

The grey, haunted look he had at the time of the high-profile split, has gone. Happily, Michael once again looks rather like the Michael Aspel of old, minus the famous bags.


'I was the only member of my family who had those eye bags and I was the one who was on telly,' he says, bemoaning his luck for the only time in our hour together.

'I had surgery on them because my right eye lid was becoming a nuisance and almost obscuring my vision. I said I didn't want an 'eye job'. It was all over in a second but I still regret having it done.'

'I suppose I still look the same because I have always been around and I am still doing the same job I was doing 45 years ago.'

'There are now people in very senior jobs in television who used to knock on my door and say: 'It's time for your recording, Mr Aspel'.'

'I remember the days when the director-general (Greg Dyke) was just one of the lads!'

It's probably incalculable how many men would have dreamed of hosting Miss World for 14 years, but Michael shrugs it off as 'a job'.

Indeed, even though he has had a string of affairs himself, he is not remotely jealous of Bruce Forsyth, whose third wife is Miss World 1975 Wilnelia Merced.

'I also knew Michael Caine's wife before he did!' says Michael. 'But I only had one date with one Miss World contestant myself and she wasn't the winner,' he chuckles.

'She was Miss Uruguay and we had a quiet dinner, raised a glass, shared a kiss... and then she went back home!'

The death of Miss World founder Eric Morley last November at the age of 82 took Michael by surprise. His team had been secretly planning a This Is Your Life special to coincide with this year's 50th anniversary.

'Eric was a remarkable bloke, he seemed to work in a rarefied atmosphere.'

If the beauty pageant was a great idea for a pioneering, global television event, it was inevitably destined to fall foul of the politically correct brigade.

'I wouldn't want to host it again, but there is no reason why it should have stopped and I think the pendulum is swinging back again,' says Michael.

Ironically, one of the constraints currently affecting This Is Your Life is the sort of modern, extended multi-family lifestyle of which Michael has so much personal experience.

'How to introduce a family from a different part of someone's life can be difficult,' he explains.

'Some people think the embarrassment involved should be the death of the show, but such animosity always comes from elsewhere. The subjects enjoy it - Richard Harris even sat there with a wife on each side.'

Despite the complexities involved, the production team can move remarkably fast.

'We can do a show within two weeks of deciding who to do, or it can take several months, but the miraculous part is keeping it a secret.'

'I was 'done' by Eamonn Andrews in 1980 and, even though Kenny Everett kept saying to me in the week before: 'See you on Friday, Michael', I just never guessed what he meant!'