THE last thing most celebrities want to be is a flash in the pan.
But according to telly’s newest hosting duo Ashley Banjo and Fleur East, that’s exactly their aim.
And the pair, who refer to their partnership as Flash, have their eyes on emulating the best in the business – Ant and Dec.
Fleur, who worked with the Geordie duo on Saturday Night Takeaway, said: “They better watch their backs!
"It is funny because they've taught me everything that I know and watching them, it's like a masterclass. You just watch them and they are so relaxed, I think because they get on so well. Like you can't fake that chemistry. They know what the next one's gonna say and they just bounce off of each other.”
Ashley also knows the lads well, having performed in front of them way back when he and his dance troupe beat Susan Boyle to be crowned Britain’s Got Talent champions in 2009.
He said: “Ant and Dec are masterful at it. You look at them and you go, ‘That's the benchmark’.
“I've grown up watching them in that respect. Like, they were on the first TV show I was ever on and then after all these years, 12 years since, I know them really well now ”
FLASH & GAMES
But using his and Fleur’s new collective nickname for their fledgling double act, he added “But watch out, Flash is on the way.”
Both shot to fame on big ITV shows, with Ashley winning Britain’s Got Talent and Fleur runner-up on X Factor.
But it’s not their dancing or singing skills they’re putting to good use in their latest gig fronting new primetime programme The Void.
Their new TV partnership is something of an unlikely one, despite having both moved in the same circles for more than a decade.
When we speak on set in Liverpool, social distancing rules are still very much in place so unlike their telly heroes Ant and Dec – who form a bubble so they can stand next to each other on screen – Ashley and Fleur are constantly kept two metres apart.
With her trademark cackle, Fleur said: “Ashley said to me today, ‘We've gone through our lives being emotionally distant, but physically close. And now we do this show where emotionally close but physically distant’.
“We were saying it would be an absolute nightmare if we were working with people we didn't like, because even though we're socially distanced, we're spending hours and hours together. And luckily, it turns out we actually get on really well.”
Working with someone he likes is a plus, but Ashley says he is just glad to not be having to get out his dancing gear for a change.
He said: “I’ve done Saturday night prime time as a performer, as a producer, as a judge and now as a host.
“So it's actually quite nice to be in a completely non-performance related hosting role. I've hosted loads, but always performance related in some way.
“It's just really nice to not have to have a towel to wipe my sweat. For once I can be on telly and not have to sweat.”
If he was to start sweating, there’s a very obvious place for him to cool off.
HOW THE VOID WORKS
Their new show claims to be one of the most daunting programmes on television where hopefuls have to do battle over more than 500 tonnes of water – one of the biggest tanks in TV history – to win £25,000.
The seven part series, which continues Saturday night, is filmed at the M&S Bank Arena in Liverpool’s Royal Albert Docks, a giant venue which when full can seat up to 11,000 people.
It has been dreamt up by the geniuses behind another ITV show, The Cube, and watching it first-hand feels like a hybrid between that and axed BBC classic Total Wipeout.
But as they pre-record ITV’s newest Saturday night offering there is one giant void in proceedings, an audience.
Fleur said: “It is weird. But it kind of makes it a lot more fun, because we can focus on it. And it's almost like it's a little show just for us right now. We are thoroughly entertained each show. And it takes a little bit of the pressure off. Also, I think the games are just so thrilling to watch that the audience would just heighten it. So when we come around to series two, it's just gonna take up a level, but I don't think it affects it in a negative way.”
'IT'S THE CUBE-ESQUE'
A lack of an audience is nothing new in the world of telly, after more than 12 months of empty studios due to the COVID-19 crisis.
This is something that Bafta winner Ashley – who replaced crocked judge Simon Cowell on BGT last year – knows all about.
He said: “In all honesty, when I did Britain's Got Talent, when I was sitting there on the panel, I was like, ‘Oh my god, there's no audience. It's weird’. And then when I did Dancing On Ice, it was a little less weird. And now I'm here. It'd be weirder to have them.
“I've been lucky enough to still do loads of shows in 2020. So actually now, like, I’m used to there being no crowd and I feel if there were 400 people in here. It would do the opposite and you'd go, ‘This is a lot’. TV companies have got this down to a fine art now. The show doesn't feel empty at all. Like the energy in the room is like top tier and everyone's having a great time and it feels really full. You wouldn't know there wasn't anyone there.”
The games themselves – having tried one myself called Wrecking Ball – are all played at great height over a watery ending.
Fleur said her favourite game sees two contestants standing on narrow beams, tasked with throwing balls into ever-shrinking holes, with the first to do so winning the round.
Ashley’s preferred pick sounds slightly more terrifying.
He said: “I promise you, it's more exciting than throwing a ball in a hole. It's The Cube-esque. “But for me, my favourite is Leap of Faith. Basically there's five platforms and you have to jump between them blindfolded. And that for me is terrifying.
“If someone put me on a football pitch and said just sprint for five seconds, that would scare me even though I can't run into anything but jumping between platforms being three metres in the air?
“And we've seen people not just jumping, but running, running, it's mad.
“There was actually a guy on who angled himself in the wrong direction and then just took a leap into The Void.
“That is terrifying. “
The terror is worth the pain though, for whoever triumphs over the seven part series will walk away with a cool £25,000 prize.
Ashley said: “You're up there playing for life changing money, and especially coming out of lockdown in the year. I think about some of my friends who are performers. Think about the difference 25 grand would make to their lives.
“This is a game. But also it's life changing money.”
- The Void continues on Saturday, on ITV.
By Ellie Henman
I’VE faced down Jeremy Clarkson on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, been fat shamed by Ben Shepherd on Ninja Warrior and was left needing hospital treatment on Andrew Flintoff’s Cannonball.
But nothing made my blood run as cold as standing over The Void.
ITV bosses, despite my dreadful track record on their programmes, kindly invited me to Liverpool to tackle their new juggernaut game show and it is every bit of daunting in real life as it is on screen.
Standing between me and victory was one of the show’s production team, a giant wrecking ball covered in silicone, and 500 tonnes of water.
In my round, aptly named Wrecking Ball, the aim of the game is to knock your opponent off a narrow suspended beam – which starts to move if you take too long to win – and into the water below.
As the giant pendulum swings towards me, the task in hand suddenly dawns on me. I can get no purchase on the ball, because it’s beyond
slippery, and the slightest tap starts my knees knocking.
My opponent, who unhelpfully for me designed the game, clearly has the know-how.
She flings the ball effortlessly towards me, then shuffles along the beam sideways like a crab.
As I stand in awe, the ball swings back towards me and before I can even try to grab it I’m in the drink with safety divers swimming in my direction.
Thankfully for my pride, the producers allow me a second go, and now knowing how slippery the ball is and the way it swings, I fare much better.
After thirty seconds or so of more crab-like behaviour, I finally get enough on it to dislodge my opponent from her beam and into the water.
A small victory, potentially rigged by ITV bosses so I don’t slag off their new format, but I like what I’ve seen.
The show is a mix between the ingenuity of The Cube and the downright silliness of Total Wipeout.
It’s also much more accessible than the likes of Ninja Warrior, which requires almost god-like strength and physical ability to complete – as I found out – whereas The Void requires a bit more guile.
Will it pull in the ratings that something like Britain’s Got Talent might get in ITV’s summer schedule? No.
Does it probably lose something from not having an audience? Yes, arguably so.
But will it put a smile on your face seeing people dunked face-first into suspiciously warm water from a great height? Very much so.
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