With his quick-witted charm, her Essex girl gregariousness and their powerful chemistry, to many Johnny Vaughan and Denise Van Outen were The Big Breakfast.
Chris Evans and Gaby Roslin presided over the early incarnation, but it was the Johnny and Denise era that truly encapsulated the matey lad culture of the nineties.
The pairing was almost an accident. Denise, then 23, had been brought on as a traffic and travel presenter but was covering for host Sharron Davies in September 1997 while Johnny stood in for Rick Adams.
Their two-week stint on the show – which launched 27 years ago today – was enough to convince bosses they had something special.
For the next two years, Johnny and Denise flirted, bantered and had a generally rip-roaring time, dressed as Scousers in tracksuits, obese Americans or Frank and Pat Butcher from EastEnders.
Naturally, viewers was convinced they must be doing the business in real life.
Not so, said Denise, who was seeing Jamiroquai lead singer Jay Kay at the time.
“Everyone expected we had a little thing going on. 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,” she said.
Indeed, Johnny was in a 10-year relationship with costume designer Antonia Davies, who he married in August 1999.
But the good times came to an abrupt end in February 1999 when Denise announced she was leaving, ostensibly to pursue an acting career in ITV sitcom Babes In The Wood.
But there were rumours of a huge fall-out between her and Johnny, although no-one knew the reason.
Teenage model Kelly Brook was drafted in for a disastrous few months that saw her struggle over big words such as ‘satirical’ and ‘intrepid’.
Bosses also tried Liza Tarbuck as Johnny’s sidekick, but the killer chemistry just wasn’t there.
Ratings plummeted and the show was unsalvageable. Denise finally returned in September 2000 to join Johnny for the Big Breakfast’s final four months.
But it would take almost two decades for Denise to reveal what went wrong.
Like so many showbiz partnerships, it turned out the argument was over pay.
“At that time we were like brother and sister. We were best friends, unbreakable…” she told ITV’s Loose Women in 2017.
“The whole relationship fell apart when we started to renegotiate our contracts because I always felt we worked together as a team and that’s how it should be. We created it together.
“Not just us but the rest of the team working on the show. I always had that mentality that it was about all of us. But Johnny and I know there are other influences involved, and agents and everything — but he was negotiating separately from me.
“I found out and obviously confronted him and I realised then that our friendship had gone in two different directions and for me it was tarnished.”
Realising that their chemistry would “never be the same”, she quit. And when she returned in 2000 she hoped things would be different
“Obviously I gave it a second go but a similar thing happened again. It’s hard because I loved him so much and I still do,” she continued.
“I could still be angry about it now, but I have seen him since and, whenever I see him, because I love him so much and he makes me laugh so much, more than anyone I’ve ever met, I just forget about it.
“We were really, really good friends, I just don’t know if it would ever be the same again.”
A 2008 attempt to turn Johnny and Denise into Capital radio stars ended in even more animosity when Denise accused him of turning down her microphone. She walked after just six months and part way through her contract.
“He wouldn’t let me speak, would tell me when I should and shouldn’t speak and would also constantly not mention that we were joint presenters. It was always: ‘This is Johnny Vaughan, you are listening to Capital Radio,’ and there was no mention of my name,” she told the Daily Mail.
“I was on the other side of the desk. He had control of the desk and when I would go to speak he would fade my microphone down.”
Confronted with her claims, Johnny said she must have been pulling the interviewer’s leg, insisting, “She must be taking the p**s because anyone who has ever known me in radio knows that I can’t operate any of the machines…”
The problem, according to Johnny, was that she struggled with radio and he hadn’t been as ‘reassuring’ as he could have been.
“She came to Capital, where I’d been for five or six years. She’d come from TV and theatre and wasn’t used to radio – it’s not a place where after the show everyone says, ‘Great show everybody’. It’s quite tough,” he told The Mirror.
“Every day I do three hours, which I think are brilliant – then the house lights go up and you don’t see an audience. It can be a bit of a downer.
“Perhaps I wasn’t as reassuring as you can be. We did have a bit of a fallout, but I still love her to bits.”
According to Denise, they didn’t speak for the next seven years.
But in 2018 she extended an olive branch, posting a throwback of their time on the show and sending fans wild in the process.
“tbt to the Big Breakfast 1998 with @johnny_vaughan66 #tbt,” she captioned the snap as her followers called for the show to be resurrected.
But for Johnny, he doesn’t believe the chaotic format and over all outrageousness would work right now.
“People want it to come back, but it was of the moment,” he said.
“Times have changed and so have I. Don’t get me wrong, I really rocked back in the day – the 90s were the glory days.”
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