Ant McPartlin has gone from half of the nation’s favourite double act to a one-man crisis management exercise in the blink of an eye.
The light entertainment star’s latest fall from grace saw his car involved in a crash and a child taken to hospital amid claims he failed a drink-driving breath test. As reputational management cases go, this one is a doozy.
When we learned last year of his problems with alcohol and painkillers, the nation felt sorry for him. It is a route that it is all too easy for anyone to find themselves going down when the circumstances are bad.
Fair play to Ant, he went to rehab and appeared to have recovered. Thanks to excellent crisis management PR, the reputational damage was minimal. He was ill, he was in pain, he slipped up – and we understood.
Then, Ant was only hurting himself. But, on Sunday, a three-year-old girl ended up in hospital after a car he was driving hit collided with one she was a passenger in. Ant allegedly failed a subsequent breath test.
By yesterday afternoon, this weekend’s Saturday Night Takeaway had been pulled from ITV’s schedule and Ant had cancelled all his filming commitments, including Britain’s Got Talent.
Takeaway has a £20million sponsorship deal with – and it just had to be – a car manufacturer. Suzuki will be having a good hard think about that relationship just now. Crisis management and drink-driving don’t sit well with a family car brand.
Ensure partnership survives
And the people who work in the production company Ant runs with screen partner Declan Donnelly will also be worried about the potential fallout, while Dec will be wondering what he can do to ensure their partnership – on-screen and off – survives.
I recognise Ant has an illness – for that is what any addiction is – but that does not excuse him from my contempt for the far-reaching consequences of allegedly drink-driving.
Drink-driving is a modern taboo. Anyone who does it is not deserving of our sympathy as their actions put all of us at risk.
If Ant got behind the wheel, if Ant was over the limit, it would have been Ant who made those decisions – not the booze and not his addiction.
But we must separate the man from the action. No one is wholly good, wholly bad, or wholly anything.
Ant McPartlin is, from what the nation has seen over the past quarter of a century, a nice guy and this will help him as crisis management becomes reputational management.
You can see he’s a good lad in the way he and Dec deal with contestants on BGT. You can see it in the way other celebrities react around him when he’s hosting I’m a Celeb.
And you can see it in the way he interacts with his mate Dec in anything they do on TV. Loyalty, love and affability ooze out of the screen when they’re together on it.
The nation loves them
That’s why they’ve won best entertainment presenter at the National TV Awards for 17 years. Put simply, the nation loves them.
Now, people are going to be teed off at Ant right now. They got behind him when his drink and drug problem was first revealed last summer and were delighted to see him back on TV in I’m a Celeb.
The public hoped his marriage to Lisa Armstrong could be saved and were saddened when they split in January. Fans were invested in Ant’s recovery and wanted him to succeed. Their disappointment is palpable.
But they won’t give up on their man, no matter the outcome of his drink-drive charge.
He can be rehabilitated, and not just from his addiction.
Standing down from his TV commitments was a proper first step, one that a good crisis management consultant would recommend. The last thing he should be doing is damaging the Ant and Dec brand any further while the charge hangs over him.
Seeking more help is also a good move – acknowledging you have a problem and putting the work in does yourself and your reputation good.
And, if the situation leads to a criminal conviction, he should make a heartfelt apology. People look up to lads like Ant, who’ve hauled themselves to the top on hard work, talent and commitment. He can’t afford to disappoint them.
Reminded of Tiger Woods
I’m reminded of Tiger Woods, the sporting icon laid low by his run-ins with injury, a tree, golf clubs swung by his wife, and the results of a DUI arrest. He’s back on the course again and has been cheered by the galleries for the past two weeks.
If Ant can succeed in his battles, and I hope he does, he will be welcomed back with open arms.
Because Ant has an illness, reactions to his situation are far less angry than those to Jamie Carragher’s spitting incident last week.
This exposes one of the stranger aspects of modern life: an addict’s potentially deadly actions are judged less harshly than a healthy man’s merely disgusting actions.
But let’s not forget that both men had a choice – and both are paying the price.
For help and advice call our crisis management experts now on 0800 612 9890.