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Daily Mirror
Daily Mirror
Emmeline Saunders

Fans buzzing as Johnny Vaughan and Denise van Outen reunite for first time in 22 years

It was a happy accident that one of TV’s most endearing double acts was formed. Johnny Vaughan was only supposed to be covering The Big Breakfast presenter Rick Adams’ job for a couple of weeks, but as soon as he and Denise van Outen joined forces on screen, they sparkled - and viewers demanded more.

Now 56, Johnny is celebrating his 30 years as a TV and radio presenter, and today he and Denise will be reunited as they co-host Channel 4’s lunchtime news show Steph’s Packed Lunch. To say he’s excited is a bit of an understatement - he’s positively fizzing as we catch up minutes before his Radio X drivetime show the day before.

“The Big Breakfast was kind of in trouble,” he recalls of what was meant to be his fortnight’s stint in 1997 - 23-year-old Denise, too, was standing in for host Sharron Davies. “We had this week together, it was probably doing an reenactment of the Dr Pepper advert when we realised, wow, this is just really good. TV shouldn’t be this much fun.”

Johnny and Denise were only supposed to be standing in for the real hosts of The Big Breakfast for a couple of weeks (LINDA DUFF)
But their obvious chemistry made TV bosses sit up and take notice (Ken McKay/REX/Shutterstock)

With Denise playing up her Essex girl background and Johnny’s laddish banter, it wasn’t long before the pair realised they’d found TV gold in each other. “We just found each other quite funny from the start,” says Johnny. “But it was also Big Breakfast, the show. It’s easy for Denise and I to take the credit, but actually she’d been there for a while already, all the crew were settled in. I think I was just the last piece in the jigsaw.

"You can’t just have two people doing it, as we’ve seen from other male-female double acts doing daytime TV who seem to get along well, you also need a non-toxic team as well. And that’s not a dig at anyone, but we really had a team who were more visibly on-air, and it was really everyone who worked on that show who made it.”

The pair haven’t worked together on screen since Passport To Paradise 22 years ago, the Saturday night entertainment show that was canned due to low ratings after its first season. But Johnny and Denise’s friendship grew off-screen too, and they remain firm friends today.

The pair got on like a house on fire - and viewers would regularly complain about being late to school and work to watch them in the morning (LINDA DUFF)

“We've had small ups and downs,” he admits. “But you know what, you can only fall out with someone you really like, you don’t fall out with people you don't like. And that's the way of friendship. There's been a couple of ups and downs. But that's because it's a real, genuine friendship."

While he and Denise's '90s reunion is only being planned as a one-off, there's speculation the pair could be asked back for further episodes if today goes well. Either way, Johnny is looking forward to getting their old games back on air.

"We're going to play More Tea Vicar, which was one of the viewer favourites from Big Breakfast," he says. "There was quite a few to choose from - I'd have gone for Gaggin' For It, or Anyone For Tennis. Oh What A Lovely Pair was always a firm favourite, because Denise loved the whole thing about pairs.

Johnny Vaughan says the pair have had ups and downs in their long friendship, but are still very close (Matt Crossick/Global/REX/Shutterstock)
The presenters are reuniting to host a one-off episode of Steph's Packed Lunch (Alan Chapman/Dave Benett/Getty Images)

"The team at Big Breakfast came up with all the games, we can't take any credit for that. I think hey suddenly had good, good characters they could write for so they could be a bit more imaginative because we loved the challenges of them."

Despite their obvious chemistry - and the wishes of their dedicated Big Breakfast fans - romance never blossomed between Denise and Johnny. "Everyone expected we had a little thing going on," Denise said at the time.

"But I think the reason we could take it so far and flirt so much on TV was because we were both in very secure relationships."

Their stint ended abruptly in February 1999 when Denise left the programme to pursue an acting career, amid rumours of an enormous fall-out between the presenters. But that's all in the past now, and Johnny says their bond has never been stronger.

"You show me a friendship of 30 years, where there haven’t been a few ups and downs, and I'll show you signs it's not real," he adds.

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