Joel Defries on Being a Blue Peter Presenter

“I was terrible with the early mornings. It was constantly early. You would be up at 6am for a shoot that would not finish until 8pm.” Joel writes about the highs and lows of being TV presenter…

The freezing water trickled down my back and made me shiver. I brought up a soaking wet paw to wipe my face. The paw smelt of everything that made me feel sick. It was happening! What they said would always happen. I was having a meltdown. A strop. The Diva Breakdown.

Dressed in a ‘comedy’ dog outfit having just been the first ever human to have taken part in the Dog Show Long Jump in High Wycombe, I had finally lost it.

The Blue Peter dog at the time had refused to take part in the jump. He was scared of water, what dog is scared of water? They love the stuff; they cannot get enough of it. If I don’t jump into a pool of water where dogs have been urinating at will then we have no film. I hate that dog (I mean I love that dog, but at that moment I hated him).

I was stropping around the High Wycombe Dog Show having a full-on tantrum. Soaking wet, smelling of a wide array of dogs and feeling depressed. Blue Peter was certainly character building and it had finally broken me. Plus, I came third. Great Danes are really good at jumping far.

They say never work with animals and kids. Not being one to heed advice, I did exactly that. Having not worked for a year I suddenly found myself at BBC Television Centre in studio one, the most iconic studio, steeped in history. I was the 34th presenter of Blue Peter. I couldn’t believe my luck.

The lights were beaming down on my head, I was hot, a studio full of 50 staff members running around tirelessly. I was positioned on the floor and sat next to me? A lion. My first show I sat next to a lion! A real life actual lion! As if it wasn’t daunting enough to do live TV with no autocue, they had me sit next to nature’s biggest killer. The lion grew tired of me and scratched me after 45 minutes. The animal handler ran in, we had to do an incident report. Very BBC. I would go on to be scratched by two monkeys (who were making love at the time), a vole and a lamb. I had two rabies jabs.

After most shows we had to meet kids who have come to watch the recording. You have a chat and say stuff like: “Nice jumper” whilst they stare blankly at you. Then sign some autographs. However, they never wanted my autograph. They would scream with joy at the sight of my fellow presenters… and then sigh a sad breath when they met me.

I was terrible with the early mornings. It was constantly early. You would be up at 6am for a shoot that would not finish until 8pm. You would be staying in a Travelodge, which was in a service station, which was in a retail park, which was in a place like Darlington. You would be getting to bed at midnight, waking up again at 6am. Not sleeping due to the windows not being able to open more than 1mm, so even if you wanted to jump out the window you couldn’t. Heating would be on with equator-like heat and no way to regulate it. You wake up angry, thirstier than anyone should be, dry, with weird swollen features (or maybe that was just me).

Being on TV is not very good for the soul; you become a weird parody version of yourself

You get into TV to be famous, get free clothes and hang out with D-List celebrities like Jodie Marsh. As much as you may argue the counter, they are the bald-faced facts. Being on a waning Blue Peter I got none of this. My favourite memory is when I had to a run in an all-female egg and spoon race, of course, dressed as a woman. We got another bashing by the Daily Mail that we were messing with age-old traditions. At the end of the race there was a PA saying that a Blue Peter presenter would be signing autographs at 12pm. The children got excited, thinking … “ooh Andy or Helen?”. The queue grew, anticipation mounted. I then walk out, and the queue halves. That sort of sums up my time on Blue Peter, I was divisive, on the outside and never quite cracked it.

Being on TV is not very good for the soul; you become a weird parody version of yourself. You are always performing. You are constantly on the look out for your next job and for the next TV exec you can meet in order to further your career.

The people I worked with were amazing, I had a great team and I got to do the most amazing things. I travelled the world and saw things, that without the help of Blue Peter I would have never got to see in a million years. After I left the show, I thought I would land huge success, however, TV doesn’t work like that. I bumbled about for two years getting nowhere. I think my moment in the limelight has happened. I decided a change was afoot. I went and worked with young homeless people. Then with older homeless people. I did this for two years. I recalibrated, realised that TV is not the most important thing in this world. I helped others, tried to make a difference and work on myself.

Now I work for a new vodka brand, again, doing something completely different from TV. I love it, it’s a start-up, it is collaborative and a challenge.

Blue Peter doesn’t really feel part of me anymore; it feels like a distant memory – like it never happened. When people say: “that must have been the best job in the world” I feel sad for not sharing in their enthusiasm. I thought exactly that too when I got the job. However, once I landed it I wanted more, I wanted to be on primetime TV, be on the panel shows, be a comedian, a script writer and a journalist. I became an ego.

I think that I’m now a calmer, nicer and more thoughtful person, the failure I encountered post Blue Peter was healthy. I just presumed I was the best, and that I would get everything I wanted. Alas, that wasn’t the case, so I adapted and moved on.

I will never forget my time on TV but it is nice to see a safer career in the future.