'The country has never wanted to hug someone so much' - Saturday Night Takeaway fans react to Declan's first ever episode without Ant
Declan Donnelly's solo Saturday Night Takeaway was labelled a success as he made several veiled references to the absence of Ant McPartlin.
The presenter was without his normal sidekick after Ant stepped down from his TV commitments when he was charged with drink driving earlier this month.
Presenting on his own for the first time in the programme's history, Dec oversaw an almost seamless live 90-minute show with his only mishap dropping a carton of popcorn.
At one point he said following the news had been "unavoidable" in recent weeks but did not explicitly mention why Ant was missing.
Dec did such a good job on #SaturdayNightTakeaway tonight. I know Ant would be proud of you. Here's hoping that he will do as great a job at Florida next week.— Mitch (@Mitchinator9339) March 31, 2018
Bloody Dec! Knew he’d nail it. Well done buddy. @antanddec x— Dermot O'Leary (@radioleary) March 31, 2018
He's really easing into it and getting more comfortable as he realises how much the audience is with him https://t.co/VcowCr33kK— Susanna Reid (@susannareid100) March 31, 2018
Ah here. Fair play to Dec who's been doing that thing he's been doing for twenty years and getting paid millions for it and has always been really good at it but had to do it on his own that one time. So brave 😂 #SaturdayNightTakeaway— Ray Foley (@rayfoleyshow) March 31, 2018
i dare you to find another duo that the nation holds so close to their hearts to the point where everyone will literally come together at 7pm on a saturday night to take over twitter and shower one of them with love and support, i dare you #SaturdayNightTakeaway— jess (@antandeclan) March 31, 2018
How is it possible that Dec is simultaneously smashing this AND showing how badly missed his other half is? 💔#SaturdayNightTakeaway— fran james (@decant_it) March 31, 2018
He also joked he had "twice the amount of work to do" and later added: "I'll have to do it myself, like everything else this week," in a quip related to improving guest musician Paloma Faith's performance.
Later when presenting a segment from an empty ITV studio next to the Saturday Night Takeaway's, Dec joked not to worry - "It's not going that badly".
Ant was not completely absent from the programme. He appeared in the opening titles and also in the continuation of pre-recorded sketch Saturday Knight Takeaway which also starred Joanna Lumley in her regular role.
Although officially hosting solo, Dec was supported by presenter Davina McCall as part of a new segment related to McCall's own show, This Time Next Year.
Regular support presenters Stephen Mulhern and Scarlett Moffatt also lent a helping hand as did guest announcer Stephen Merchant who also referenced Ant's absence on several occasions.
He asked Dec if he needed a hand presenting as there was "a little bit of space on the stage", and joked at one point "I don't care what the producers are saying back here, I think you're doing a great job."
Following the airing of the pre-recorded sketch which saw Ant and Dec reunited, Merchant said: "That other guy was good, you should do more stuff with him."
Dozens of fans - including fellow broadcasters Piers Morgan, Susanna Reid and Dermot O'Leary - congratulated Dec on his successful performance on social media.
O'Leary wrote on Twitter that Dec had "nailed it" - a call echoed by a number of other broadcasters including Rylan Clark and Gok Wan.
Hundreds of viewers agreed saying he had done Ant "proud".
After the show, Dec said he was grateful to his fans for their messages of support after hosting solo.
He wrote on Twitter: "Thanks for all your lovely messages tonight, they are VERY much appreciated, I'm glad you enjoyed the show."
The 42-year-old, who recently confirmed he is going to be a father, will also present next week's final episode in Florida.
McPartlin has stepped back from his TV commitments and returned to rehab after he was charged with drink-driving earlier this month.
He will appear in court on April 4.