DISGRACED television star John Leslie has told how returning to the Capital “pulled him through” as he prepares to return to the airwaves.
Leslie, whose career collapsed following allegations of rape and indecent assault, said he was eager to get back on air after a “traumatic” ten-year period.
The 47-year-old, who once presented Blue Peter, This Morning and Wheel of Fortune to millions of viewers, will have a much smaller audience when he begins his drivetime show on city station Castle FM this afternoon.
And in an effort to rebuild his career, Leslie, who earned £250,000 a year at ITV, is presenting the show for free.
Leslie faced two charges of indecently assaulting a woman in 1997, but the case was dropped by prosecutors at Southwark Crown Court in London in 2003.
The court case followed accusations – flatly denied by the TV star – of sexual misconduct from around 30 women and a claim – also denied – that he was the mystery TV presenter who raped Ulrika Jonsson early in her career.
Leslie, who has admitted drug-taking and treating women without respect in the past, said: “I’ve had a pretty traumatic last ten years – ten years in which I haven’t worked.
“But what pulled me through was being back in Edinburgh and having the support of family and friends.”
He added: “If can do my bit for the community – and say a thank you of sorts to the life I was able to rebuild back in the Capital and to the people who have helped me over the past ten years – by working with Castle FM, I will be very pleased.”
Castle FM’s business development manager, Donny Hughes, defended the station’s decision to offer Leslie a route back into the public eye.
He said: “John has had a rough ten years for sure, but despite all the lurid allegations nothing has ever been proven. I think he’s due a break.
“I’ve known John for decades and I know that he loves Edinburgh through and through.”
Leslie was sacked by ITV after failing to respond to the claims about his private life and the publication of pictures showing him using cocaine.
He sold his luxurious London home and moved back to the Capital, where he is understood to have been working as a property developer.
In an interview after he was cleared of the indecent assault allegations, he said: “To be frank, the only thing that has happened in this whole thing is that a lot of women have made a lot of money out of me. Not one of their allegations has been proved.”
But he added: “The only set pattern was I maybe didn’t treat women with the respect I should have in terms of phoning them back and being more honest with them and more genuine, but that is no crime.
Leslie said he was “delighted” to land the opportunity, adding: “I am determined to make the show a must-listen.
“Friday night between 4pm and 7pm is my favourite time of the week – it’s the time everyone has switched off from work and is looking forward to the weekend.
“I’m planning to seize on all that excitement and energy and add my own enthusiasm to create a show that is full of great chat and great music.
“I’ve obviously had plenty of presenting, TV and broadcasting experience in the past but never tackled being a radio DJ.”
Neighbours of the Academy Street-based station today welcomed his return.
Lollipop man Philip McCabe said: “It’s a shame some people will hold these allegations against him. You should give any person a second chance.”
HIGHS AND LOWS
John Leslie became Blue Peter’s first Scottish presenter in April 1989 and by 1998 was earning £250,000 a year hosting popular gameshow Wheel of Fortune on ITV.
In October 2002, Ulrika Jonsson, below, wrote in her autobiography that she had been raped by a well-known television presenter.
Media speculation raged until Matthew Wright accidentally disclosed on his TV show that Leslie was the alleged attacker. Shortly afterwards, several other women made accusations relating to indecent assault by the star, who was arrested and charged with assaulting a woman twice between May 25 and May 28, 1997. He was never charged with offences against Jonsson.
Prosecutors dropped the indecent assault charge against him on July 31, 2003.
In 2006 BBC series My Childhood, he admitted abusing drugs and that he “had never learnt how to treat women with respect”.
On June 23, 2008, it was reported that Leslie had again been arrested in relation to an alleged rape that happened in November 1995. Once again, no charges were brought.
In an interview, he said of reviving his career: “I believe everything happens for a reason. If somebody would consider me I wouldn’t chuck it away.”