Aspel Takes It All In His Stride
Belfast News Letter
31 December 2002
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

The Big Red Book

the programme's icon

By: Will Marlow

HIGHLIGHT: THE BIG RED BOOK: Michael Aspel prepares to celebrate his 15th year on This Is Your Life.

FOR This Is Your Life presenter Michael Aspel, 2003 will be a year of anniversaries. Not only does he reach his 15th year presenting one of the nation's favourite shows, but on January 12 Aspel turns 70.

This might be surprising to his many fans as the presenter doesn't look a day over 60. Admittedly his youthful looks have been bolstered following cosmetic surgery on his eyes in the 90s, something Aspel now regrets, but he is still full of youthful energy and finds it as surprising as anyone that he's at this grand age.

"I'm astonished, not because I didn't think I'd make it, but because it doesn't seem possible," he says. "I know it's entirely how you feel, but generations are changing so much and I look at my parents and my in-laws and think, 'that bloke was younger than I am now when I met him and he was always an old man'."

"I can only tell you, not having been 70 before, it's what they say - I feel 30. I look in the mirror a great deal less these days because sometimes I catch myself in the mirror and think, 'Who the hell is that?' and I realise it's me, but I don't feel old."

Aspel's amazement is such that he hasn't started planning his birthday celebrations yet.

"I have no idea what I'll be doing," he says. "They've got me working at dawn the next day actually, but I shall probably have a very late night with my family."

After reaching 70, and having such an interesting and dramatic life, it's surprising that he hasn't written an autobiography since the 1970s. There's plenty to write about.

Married three times, he now lives with producer Irene Clark in their home in Surrey. He has fathered seven children but tragically one son, James, died at three days old and 12 years ago his eldest son, Greg, died of cancer at the age of 30.

On top of this he has had an illustrious career in television, presenting the likes of Miss World, Aspel And Company and now The Antiques Roadshow and This Is Your Life. Yet Aspel shies away from the idea of sitting down and writing about his life in his own big red book.

"I was persuaded to write something in the 1970s, but I didn't feel old enough at the time. It was a kind of This Is Your Life on someone who hadn't lived very long."

"I've done more since then and I do buy celebrity biographies but I don't think I'd buy mine. I don't know if I'd write an autobiography, but I would like to write something. I've enjoyed writing so much over the years."

For someone who has been in the limelight for so long, Aspel is very shy and tends to be overly modest while talking about himself, often calling himself bland. He laughs at the idea of having the tables turned on him and being presented with his own red book on This Is Your Life.

"I don't think that would happen," he laughs. "But people are devilish and it's amazing how many people are good at keeping the secret. When you have it done you look at people with different eyes because they've been telling you fibs for weeks."

"Having been immersed in this programme for 14 years I probably know the tell-tale signs. But then again they are good at keeping it under wraps."

Aspel has had the red book treatment before, back in the 1980s when Eamonn Andrews was still presenting the show.

"I was stunned," he recalls. "Now I do The Antiques Roadshow as well, both programmes involve surprises and it's very interesting to watch people's reactions."

"But when it came to myself, I didn't really express any emotion. My eyes went glazed and my mind started racing. But it was an amazing experience."

Aspel wasn't so shy when he was a child, harbouring dreams of becoming an actor, a writer or even a cartoonist. The thought of being famous, however, never crossed his mind and his television career came about by accident rather than design.

"I never thought about being famous because there was no such thing as television personalities back then," he says.

"I did want to be an actor though, so in turn I must have wanted to be famous. But when I say I wanted to be an actor, I actually wanted to be a cowboy because I lived in the cinema."

"I got into broadcasting after meeting some people when I was living in Cardiff. I used to do silly voices and muck around and they suggested I try for radio. I did an audition for BBC Cardiff and I was on the air the next week in a children's serial play."

"Then someone said they needed a bloke in London to be an announcer and that was it, here I am today."

It's been a career full of highlights, of which This Is Your Life is just one.

"It's the job I've done longest," says Aspel. "But the most concentrated and happy time of my life was doing Capital radio in London. I'd done years at the BBC and it was London's first commercial station so it was very exciting and very happy."

"Radio is my first love as that's where I started, but This Is Your Life is an institution, one of two that I've inherited, with The Antiques Roadshow as well. I am very lucky."