After 24 years on TV, you'd expect Ben Shephard to be used to a bit of pampering.
The sports-mad star, who rose to fame as a presenter on GMTV and has been on Good Morning Britain since its launch in 2014, is happily chatting away in our makeup chair when he has a minor panic: "I never usually have this much makeup on – because you're distracting me I'm not telling her to stop!"
The down-to-earth 47-year-old is one of those faces so embedded in our British TV tapestry it's hard to remember a time when he wasn't on screen, but there's one show he's been notably absent from – Strictly Come Dancing .
Despite having a degree in dance, drama and theatre arts, and being rumoured to be on the line-up each year, Ben says you won't see him there any time soon – and not just because of the fake tan and sequins.
During our cover shoot in support of GMB's 1 Million Minutes campaign – which aims to eradicate loneliness in the UK – he tells us that although he loves the show, right now with everything he has going on – there is no way he could commit to what's needed to get the very most out of the experience.
“It would be incredible but intense,” says Ben, who lives with wife Annie in Richmond along with their two sons Sam, 17, and Jack, 15. “Everybody's got an opinion about your rumba or your salsa. I did the salsa with Shirley Ballas on The One Show the other week and the amount of messages I got was really overwhelming!
“Everyone's got this idea that because I've got a dance degree I'd be good on Strictly but I'd be rubbish. I did contemporary dance – standing at a bar and rolling around on the floor. It's not charging across the dance floor doing a quickstep.
“Lots of my colleagues [Kate Garraway, Susanna Reid, Robert Rinder and Ed Balls] have done it and absolutely loved it. And I've worked with Helen [Skelton] over the years – she's absolute dynamite and an incredible broadcaster and an amazing mum.
“I've loved watching her do something as life-affirming as dancing – I know the joy you get from dancing and the endorphins – so I'll never say never but now's not the right time. It's all-consuming.”
Despite his dance training, Ben's career took a different path in 1998 when he got his big TV break launching T4 on Channel 4 . However, he quickly learnt about the industry's downsides when he was fired, with his boss telling him, “It's not working and I don't think it's ever going to.”
“It was brutal because it came out of nowhere,” recalls Ben. “I was about 25 and thought I was going to be with Channel 4 for a couple of years. Then all of a sudden it was done and I clearly hadn't been good enough in that role.
” It was really hard coming away from that and the reality of suddenly not having an income and not having a job. But what you realise is that when something goes wrong and then when an opportunity comes along, you grab it even harder."
For Ben, it was GMTV that came calling in 2000 and catapulted him to the heart of breakfast TV. He now presents GMB as well as ITV shows Tipping Point and Ninja Warrior UK, yet the knockback still haunts him.
“I still constantly question if I'm good enough,” he admits. “I'm always trying to improve – that's one of the brilliant things working alongside Susanna, Kate and Ranvir [Singh] and Charlotte [Hawkins] – I feel like I'm learning all the time. Nobody is more critical of me than I am of myself.”
While that might be the case, his success has made him a target for trolls and Ben has set his social media to block anyone who posts negative comments.
“Social media can be an incredibly important tool for debate but what I don't need is the mindless horrific vile abuse from people,” he says. “You'd be amazed – people just want to get a reaction out of me, so I've changed my settings on my social media. I just want to be drawn to positivity and optimism and hope.”
It's this positive attitude that has pulled Ben – who has 14 marathons under his belt – through a difficult couple of years blighted by injury. He's recovering from an agonising triple leg injury sustained playing football. That left him needing surgery and months of gruelling rehab. But not being able to exercise has been more painful.
"It was horrific,” he says. “Exercise is so important for my mental wellbeing. With my work being so busy it's the one thing I can control and I struggled – Annie was desperate for me to go for a run. I got a really rubbish handbike in the end – they're traditionally used by pensioners, and I was there battering it because I couldn't use my legs, I couldn't swim, I couldn't run.”
He adds, “I'm not going to be doing any more marathons. Ironically, not because of my knee but because my back's so bad. That's one of the things about approaching 50 – my body can't keep up with my enthusiasm for exercise. I'm toying with the idea of going back to football, much to Annie's frustration, because it was football that got me into this situation in the first place.”
So how does he feel about hitting the big 5-0 in two years? “I'm embracing it although it is pretty daunting. As a kid, the idea of being 30 was ancient, but lots of my work colleagues are over 50 – it's just a number that comes and goes. It will be mine and Annie's 20th anniversary and my 50th birthday – a double whammy,” he says.
The couple, who first met at the University of Birmingham in their twenties, tied the knot on a private island off the coast of Devon, surrounded by a small group of friends and family. While there are no solid plans to renew their vows, Ben is eyeing up pal Chris Kamara to officiate should they do so.
Reflecting on their happy day, Ben says, “I daydream about the moment Annie came into the church. The vicar commentated on her coming down the aisle because I didn't turn around because I thought I was going to cry. It was hilarious because he was just commentating on how beautiful she looked.
“She looks great, she's turning to the crowd, she's saying hello to the crowd, she's absolutely loving it.' It was like a sporting event, like having Kami do the commentary. Maybe if I do renew my vows I'll have Kami as the vicar. Annie would love that.
“My mate said to me, 'It's going to be the best day of your life,' and I said to him, 'I've had some pretty good days – I've seen England win the rugby world cup, I've seen the British Lions win in South Africa.' But I had to admit to him afterward that he was absolutely right.”
This week, Ben has joined his colleagues Kate and Susanna to launch a project close to his heart – Good Morning Britain's award-winning 1 Million Minutes campaign. Now in its seventh year, it encourages viewers to pledge their time to charities looking for volunteers to connect with anyone who feels alone or isolated. At the time of print, over 404 million minutes of time have been generously donated to the campaign.
“I'm lucky because I have a big family and we all get together but on those Christmases we can't, I really struggle,” says Ben. “It must be really difficult for people if they are on their own, which is why the campaign is so vital. The magical thing about the 1 Million Minutes campaign is that people don't have to spend any money. It's a far more important resource that they have to offer, which is their time – it makes such a difference.”
Watch 1 Million Minutes weekdays in Dec on GMB from 6am on ITV1 & ITV Hub
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