The King of Chat is Back
[Standfirst] As the furore following Sachsgate finally settles, Jonathan Ross speaks to Susan Griffin about his highly anticipated new ITV chat show
Jonathan Ross was once the BBC's golden boy, earning a reported £18 million in a three-year deal, making him the channel's highest paid star. Then one day in 2008, he and close friend Russell Brand decided to make a misjudged phone call to Fawlty Towers' actor Andrew Sachs during Brand's Radio 2 show and boom, the good times were over.
Ross bowed out from his acclaimed Friday night chat show last July and has kept a relatively low profile since, but now he's ready to make his return to prime time TV with a brand new chat show on ITV1.
"We want it to be a good, big, fun entertainment show," says 50-year-old Ross ahead of the launch.
"It's a once-a-week event, hopefully with the best guests in TV. We'll find out about them, but also see them relax and have a good time."
Christening the new sofa will be Sex And The City star Sarah Jessica Parker, Formula One racing champion Lewis Hamilton and multi-platinum selling artist Adele, who'll also perform a song from her chart-topping album, 21.
"Adele is just about the biggest music star in the world right now, but also a lovely and very funny woman with a great story," says Ross, who admits he relishes the opportunity to meet his music idols.
"There are so many talented people out there and I've been lucky enough to not only interview them but see them perform live," he says, having chosen Roxy Music to sing him out on his last BBC chat show appearance.
He adds that his three teenage kids, Betty Kitten, Harvey Kirby and Honey Kinney, with his screenwriter wife Jane Goldman, influence his choice of guests, especially musically.
"I know all the new Jessie J and Nicki Minaj stuff because of my kids," he says, adding that he returns the favour by sharing his favourite classics. "I make them listen to old music, which sometimes they really enjoy and sometimes hate.
"In the same way that I'll watch almost anything, I'll listen to almost anything," he admits. "But it's great having my kids to help steer me in the right direction."
Born in Camden, north London, Ross grew up in Leytonstone with his four brothers. After graduating from the University of London, he experienced his first taste of television by working as a researcher for Channel 4's Loose Talk and later a show called Solid Soul, where he met Alan Marke. Together they devised Ross's breakthrough show The Last Resort With Jonathan Ross, which debuted in 1987.
The show was a world away from the polite presenting style of the Alan Whicker or Terry Wogan and Ross admits a lot of his influences are American.
"I love David Letterman, Johnny Carson when he was on, Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel," he says.
"Over here, I used to love Parky when I was a kid growing up, but my favourite at the moment is Alan Carr [who used to be Ross's warm up act]. Alan's sweet and fun. I love Alan, he's great."
Though short-lived, The Last Resort catapulted Ross's career and in the ensuing years he's hosted live spectacles including Comic Relief, the British Comedy Awards and the Baftas, as well as becoming a regular panellist on They Think It's All Over and It's Only TV... But I Like It. Then in 1999, Ross took over from Barry Norman as host of the BBC's film review programme, as well as beginning his own Radio 2 show.
Finally in 2001, his comedy chat show Friday Night With Jonathan Ross was launched. Irreverent in nature, it turned the presenter into a household name, with viewers delighting in his ability get famous names to relax and (usually) laugh at themselves.
"As the interviewer, it's our job to put people at ease and bring the best out of them," says Ross.
"I think it's important to let people know you're not there to attack them. If you need to ask them something that's difficult or awkward, you need to clear it in advance."
He recalls interviewing Cheryl Cole shortly after her split with Ashley.
"I said, 'Look, I'm going to have to ask you about this. I won't make the whole interview about it, but I have to ask' and Cheryl said it was fine.
"I felt that was the polite thing to do and it would have been wrong to pretend it wasn't on the agenda. I try to be straight with people."
He wants to continue in that vein on this latest venture.
"My show isn't in-depth. If someone's had an upset in their life I might touch on it but then I move on. I like to keep my show light, to create a party atmosphere and for guests to have a good time," he says.
As is the showbiz way, many of his interviewees have yet to be confirmed for the eight-part series, but Ross admits to having a wish list.
"Mike Tyson would be fascinating and I'd love to interview Jack Nicholson, but he doesn't do TV shows. I've never interviewed Dame Judi Dench, so I'd love to, and also Maggie Smith."
Then there's Hollywood's super couple Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
"I'm working on Brad because I've got friends who are friends of his," Ross reveals. And despite the past, he'd even like to get his Russell Brand on the sofa.
"It would be great to get Russell and [his wife, the pop star] Katy on the show together, that would be good fun."
Looking back on a career that's spanned almost 25 years, Ross takes a moment to weigh up his happiest interviews.
"I've got loads of favourites and some of them I hope to get back on," he says. "I love Sylvester Stallone and Christopher Walken is always great fun.
"Oddly, some people who you don't expect to be good fun turn out to be, like John Malkovich. I expected him to be very highbrow and quite serious about what he does, but in actual fact he was delightfully silly and relaxed."
Clearly a fan of the nation's great dames, Helen Mirren also gets a special mention: "She's great and is coming on the show again. And I also love Hugh Jackman, who's coming back on," says Ross.
"The only problem with having Hugh on is that I know he feels inferior to me physically, in terms of looks, so I've decided to let myself go a little bit, in order to make him feel more at ease."
Cheeky, charming and just a little bit childish, Ross may have changed channels but no doubt his chat show's going to be as controversial and entertaining as ever.
EXTRA TIME - JONATHAN ROSS
:: He was born on November 17, 1969, in London.
:: His actress mum, Martha Ross, was a regular extra on EastEnders.
:: Ross was reprimanded by the BBC for explicit comments he made to Gwyneth Paltrow during an interview in 2008.
:: The talk show host was awarded an OBE in 2005.
:: A comic book fan, he recently launched his own called Turf, a crime-thriller set in Prohibition era New York which features gangsters, vampires and aliens.
:: The Jonathan Ross Show begins on ITV1 on Saturday, September 3