Journalist, game show host - didn't he do well?

ROSS KELLY loves Edinburgh - no, really, he says, he does. The Scots game show host and presenter, back on our screens for a six-week stint with new prime-time ITV quiz Burn Your Bills, has been enchanted with Auld Reekie since he was a young boy.

Born in Stow, near Galashiels, Kelly’s love affair with the city started when he first came here to collect his school uniform from a now defunct department store on the Bridges.

It was on one such trip with his mum that Kelly caught his first glimpse of the old Scotsman building on North Bridge. The youngster imagined that when he left school he’d work there as a journalist - interviewing big-name celebrities from the world of entertainment. But it didn’t work out that way.

"I left Galashiels Academy in 1980," recalls the 44-year-old. "After that I went on to Edinburgh University for four years to study language and literature. After graduating, in 1984, I applied for all sorts of journalism jobs, without success.

"I desperately wanted to work at that old Scotsman building - it was such a splendid sight. But there were no jobs going at The Scotsman and Evening News, which in my plan I thought was going to happen."

Undeterred, Kelly did a short journalism course in Cardiff and soon after he got his first break into the world of television. He admits it was a hard slog to get into TV in those days, but Central Television were offering a news trainee scheme which he applied for.

"Because I had lots of very obvious journalism qualifications, I was just what they wanted," he says.

Before long, Kelly was a full-time reporter for Central News. After three years at the Birmingham-based channel, he moved back up north to join Border Television.

At Border TV, he worked as a reporter and presented the station’s nightly news programme, Lookaround.

The biggest story he ever had to report on was the Lockerbie disaster, and the memories still haunt him to this day: "I can still remember how absolutely unbelievable it all was," he reflects.

‘THE next morning, even though the biggest news story in the world was on their doorstep, the shops were open and people were going to buy their milk and rolls in a complete state of shock.

"No-one could believe this had happened to Lockerbie."

They say the worst memories never leave you, and Kelly confesses that the smell of aeroplane fuel makes him think of Lockerbie to this day.

In 1990, Kelly was on the move again. This time it was Granada Television who signed up the fast-rising presenter for their flagship show, This Morning. During his two-year stint on the programme, Kelly got to see a lot of the world.

"It really was great fun," he recalls. "I did loads of stuff, travelling and big interviews and presenting."

Among the many voyages he made was a trip to Australia, which he describes as "fascinating", and a 17,000ft trek up the Himalayas.

"I don’t think I would ever have had the chance to do this sort of thing had I not been a TV presenter sent to do it," he says.

He also wouldn’t have had the chance to become acquainted with the British TV institution commonly known as Richard and Judy.

"They were always quite nice to me," he says. "I was their holiday cover, so they thought I was the best thing."

After two years on This Morning, Kelly was off to GMTV. His career there started in production, but gradually he found himself getting more involved in presenting.

"Eventually, they got me to co-host as Eamonn’s [Holmes] stand-in alongside Lorraine Kelly when he was off. That became my regular gig for the next seven years."

Regular, and very high profile. During his time there Kelly got to interview some of the biggest names in the entertainment world - something he’d dreamed about since he was a boy.

"GMTV was the show they’d all go on," he says. "Rod Stewart, Robin Williams, Madonna - lots of big names."

Among them was screen icon Robert Redford, whom Kelly was sent to Paris to interview about his then latest film, Quiz Show.

The interview was in one of the most chic hotels in the world - on the Place de la Concorde, just a few steps from the Champs-Elysees.

"It was a truly wonderful place," he gushes. "And I, a wee laddie from Galashiels, walked in there and said: ‘Hello, it’s Ross Kelly, here to see Robert Redford’. They took me to him straight away, though. That’s really unbelievable, isn’t it?"

AFTER seven years hobnobbing with the rich and famous, Kelly decided it was time to move in a new direction, turning his hand to presenting BBC1’s The Heaven and Earth Show, with Philippa Forrester.

Going from GMTV to a Sunday morning religious magazine programme seemed a million miles from the sort of presenting Kelly had done previously.

And soon after he was handed the role in the show, he gave an interview with the Mail on Sunday, in which he confessed that he is an atheist. If that revelation surprised some viewers, in the same interview he went on to admit for the first time that he is gay.

Kelly, though, says coming out has had no effect on the way people perceive him: "It was a bit of a ‘so what’ thing," he recalls. "I wasn’t coming out to anyone in my real life.

"I’ve been with my partner for 17 years now. We live together, we go places together - you know, big black-tie functions in London as a couple. So nobody in my working life or personal life didn’t know that. I wasn’t even in the closet in real terms."

But why the need to tell a national tabloid?

"It was just a bit of housework - a little tidying up that needed to be done," he says.

"Nobody was even interested. As somebody once said to me, if people are surprised they aren’t interested and if they are interested they certainly aren’t surprised."

Now as well as Heaven and Earth, Kelly is also presenting STV’s Burn Your Bills - which he describes as "a generous-spirited, upbeat quiz show".

The show sees two couples compete in a half-hour programme, each hoping to be the first to succeed and wipe out five of their bills.

Be it the wedding dress, the honeymoon, her phone bill, his gym subscription, or even the 3000 family holiday - they can all be wiped out in an instant.

It manages to combine a quiz show with a bit of the public’s insatiable appetite for the "reality TV" style details of strangers’ day to day domestic life from their financial priorities to their secret extravagances.

Kelly agrees: "Half the fun in doing the quiz show is seeing the couples compete, but a lot of the fun is in seeing what bills they’ve brought in - and why they’ve brought them in. Why are they so anxious to get rid of these bills?"

So which of his own bills, if any, would the presenter send to the incinerator?

"I recently bought a leash for my dog and, I’m ashamed to say it, but it cost me 35 from this really swanky shop in London. I was too embarrassed to say I hadn’t known it would cost as much after the woman had rung it up on the till, so I coughed up."

• Burn Your Bills is on ITV1 on Tuesdays at 7.30pm