Fox is a head-hunted species
NEIL Fox is one very busy man. Since hanging up his headphones on London's Capital Radio last month, he has had his hand in several TV shows, been inundated with offers from rival radio stations and has found time to write a film to boot.
"I can't say much about it at the moment, apart from it's a political thriller, we have finance and, as well as writing it, I'll be executive producer," he says, slightly cloak-and-dagger.
Not that Foxy particularly needs another string to his bow. Since appearing as a judge on Pop Idol, his TV career has gone stellar. Appearances on No Talent Required, The Great British Pop Test and Dumb Britain have allowed him to throw off the chains of radio anonymity to become a fully-fledged TV personality.
His next project is The Big Call, a Saturday night show on STV which will offer contestants and viewers the chance to win a cash prize of 20,000 or 100,000 lottery tickets for that night's Lotto draw.
"It's a brilliantly simple show which could potentially provide the most unbelievably tense TV moment of the week," says the presenter. "This has the potential to be absolutely enormous. It's a really bold, new look. Everything about this show is big, modern and stylish."
It's certainly a departure for the 44-year-old and one which will put his live presenting skills firmly to the test.
"You suddenly realise how good Ant and Dec are when you have to start doing these things on your own," he says.
"They make it look effortlessly easy, the really good presenters always do. You think: I'll watch them and I'll try to learn as much as I can off these guys because suddenly it's on my head now. You're playing on a big pitch.
"Lots of people see you, you don't want to die," he adds, laughing heartily as he contemplates his demise on live TV.
Not that that's likely to happen. Fox has had plenty of experience of live broadcasting courtesy of a 20-year radio career, now on hold following his departure from Capital Radio.
"It was time to leave," he says. "There are some great people there who I'm still friends with. It's a company that has changed an awful lot over the years and like lots of relationships, sometimes you have to part company. I just didn't want to be there any more."
And while his stint as a Pop Idol judge also helped prepare him, he admits it wasn't the most taxing of experiences.
"Now I'm hosting a show, you realise how much time and effort Ant and Dec had to put into rehearsals," he muses. "For the four judges it was easy. We'd turn up on Saturday an hour before, get make-up, have a cup of tea, have a sandwich, go on, watch someone sing, say what you want, go home. It was brilliant."
Foxy cultivated something of a "nice guy" approach on the show, in stark contrast to fellow judges Simon Cowell and Pete Waterman, who had no qualms about being brutal.
"It's not in my nature to slag people off," says Fox. "Most of the time, if it wasn't complimentary, I tried to say something funny. Every now and again I'd say: 'This is rubbish' but I wouldn't sit on the fence.
"I think it's very obvious I didn't want Michelle McManus to win. She was a lovely girl with a good voice, but that's not enough, she's not a star. She had a number one song and you can't take that away from her, but it's all over really now."
And he doesn't rate reality TV "stars" in general.
"I thought the first Big Brother was the best because no-one knew what was going to happen," he says. "Ever since then, anyone who goes in there has got more and more media savvy. Anyone who gets along with people, cooks a nice meal, no-one cares.
"The sad thing is what you end up with is a bunch of freaks, weirdos, misfits and desperate wannabes."
Even worse in his eyes though, are celebrities who do reality shows.
"I'm sorry, stop it," he says in disgust. "We've got to get the word celebrity off TV. There are too many dull people whose careers have faded away for a reason - because people aren't really very interested in them.
"Mainstream people aren't going to do those shows, it's mostly people trying to resurrect their career or build their profile. Now, if you had The Farm and there was Tom Cruise on it and Gwyneth Paltrow, that would be awesome."
Success isn't handed to you on a plate, it takes hard graft he insists.
Growing up in Surrey, as a child he wanted to be an astronaut - "I'd still like to go to space" - then later, he planned a military career, getting as far as the pre-Sandhurst commission boards before quitting in favour of a business and marketing degree from Bath University.
As part of his degree, he spent time in America where he was bowled over by US radio. Arriving back in Britain, he began helping out on Radio Wyvern in Worcester in his spare time, doing everything from answering phones to making tea until he was finally given a full-time job. A year later he was snapped up by Radio Luxembourg before being offered a job by Capital Radio in 1987.
Now he is reaping the fruits of his labour. With more Great British Tests with Gabby Logan lined up, a Channel 4 illusion show in the offing and various radio projects on the table, life is pretty sweet for the DJ formerly known as Dr Fox.
But there's one job he hasn't talked about so far. His biggest and favourite by far - fatherhood.
"I've married the woman of my dreams and I have two beautiful children. That's the highlight of my life so far, there's no doubt," he says of his wife Vicky and children Scarlet, three, and two-year-old Jack.
"Children change your life," he says. "It's a clich I know, but the moment when they're born is unbelievable. If I think about it now I will always cry; it was just the most beautiful, amazing, incredible feeling. But it's hard as well.
"Sleep deprivation, as any parent knows, is the worst thing. It's hard work, it's tough, but it's always a great job. I'm a very lucky bloke."
n The Big Call, STV, tonight, 8.25pm
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