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EDITIONS
Thursday, 8 August, 2002, 18:05 GMT 19:05 UK
Chris Evans - comeback kid
Sir Richard Branson and Chris Evans, December 1997
Master publicist: Evans with Sir Richard Branson
Life for Chris Evans was on the up.

Putting behind a series of not-so-glowing headlines, tales of day-long drinking binges and a very public sacking from Virgin, the media mogul set off for the LA sunshine for a year in 2001 with his pop star bride Billie Piper.

They gave up work, bought a secluded home, shopped, relaxed and enjoyed Hollywood life together, relishing relatively little press attention in a city full of A-list stars.

And within weeks of setting foot back on British soil, the television offers were flooding in for Evans and it seemed the once-derided "Ginger Whinger" was back in the media in-crowd.

Evans and Piper at auction
Evans and Piper married in Vegas in 2001

But the bubble burst following a birthday sailing trip off the south coast during which Evans's good friend, and landlord of his local pub, James Ward, fell overboard and drowned.

Through a spokesman, Evans said he was "deeply shocked and saddened by the tragedy".

The former television presenter and DJ is, however, no stranger to the media spotlight and friends and colleagues will expect him to take the press attention of the accident, which will inevitably fall to him, in his stride.

Evans shot to fame in 1992, as host of The Big Breakfast, Channel 4's new early morning programme, having built his reputation as a witty prankster on the BBC London radio station GLR.

Chris Evans at Radio 1
Evans joined Radio 1 in 1995

Before starting in radio he had a number of dead-end jobs in and around his native Warrington, including, notoriously, one as a "Tarzanogram".

The Big Breakfast was a huge hit in the early days, beating even ITV's new breakfast station, GMTV, when it launched in 1993.

Evans's hyperactive personality defined the show and he was catapulted from London cult personality to national celebrity.

Don't forget your toothbrush

But he has always been more than a mere front man. At GLR for instance, he started as a producer, not a presenter.

Later he launched his own production outfit, Ginger Productions, responsible for his first prime-time TV show, the Channel 4 quiz Don't Forget Your Toothbrush.

The format was sold around the world, bringing in funds to help him build up his media empire.

He left the Big Breakfast in 1994, and the following year was recruited by BBC Radio 1 to revamp the station's breakfast show.

However he took the job only on his proviso the show would be in the hands of Ginger Productions, not the BBC.

The deal ruffled feathers at Broadcasting House, but worked wonders for the station, which saw its ratings rocket, along with its profile.

TFI hit

In 1996 he returned again to TV screens, this time with the Channel 4 tea-time show TFI Friday. The show was a classic Evans cocktail of leading bands, celebrity chat, bizarre stunts and in-jokes.

Chris Evans with a Virgin mug
He liked it so much he bought the company

An early scoop was Pulp singer Jarvis Cocker's first interview following his on-stage protest against Michael Jackson at the Brits.

Meanwhile his tempestuous love affair with the BBC was on the wane and he quit Radio 1 in January 1997, after his demands to work a four-day week were refused.

Later that year he returned to breakfast radio, with Sir Richard Branson's Virgin station, competing against Radio 1's new breakfast line-up of Zoe Ball and Kevin Greening.

Evans liked the job so much, he bought Virgin Radio from Sir Richard at the end of 1997.

The City was stunned at his 85m purchase right from under the nose of London-based Capital Radio, whose bid to buy the station had been held up by a government inquiry.

With City backers behind him, his new Ginger Media Group made him a broadcasting mogul.

Red alert

But the Evans magic started to fade soon after. He was photographed out on the town with Paul Gascoigne - damaging the footballer's chances of getting into the England squad for the 1998 World Cup.

Danny Baker, Chris Evans and Paul Gascoigne
Own goal: Out with Danny Baker and Paul Gascoigne
And Ginger's TV arm showed signs of losing its flair. TFI Friday started to go off the boil, and two BBC projects, the National Lottery Red Alert and student quiz Carry on Campus, flopped.

Worse was to come, when TFI Friday - the show to watch during the heady days of Britpop - was dismissed as "naff" in a much-disputed viewer survey in 1999.

The show's falling ratings provided proof that things were going wrong for TFI - and even a much-hyped "romance" with singer Geri Halliwell failed to lift ratings for Evans' show.

Evans stepped down as TFI Friday host before it ended.

Lost shares

Meanwhile, back at Virgin, things were also hitting a rocky patch.

Evans failed to turn up for a week of breakfast shows and the station ignored his claim that he had been ill.

Photographs and footage had emerged of him out drinking with his teenage wife and Virgin said it had no option but to dismiss him.

The termination of his contract was expected to have cost Evans millions of pounds in lost share payouts after selling his Ginger Media Company to Scottish Media Group a year earlier.

One of the conditions of a payout, thought to be worth 12.8m was that he stay with the station until all the shares were doled out.

Evans also found himself caught up in the battle to become London's mayor that year when his financial support for Ken Livingstone drew him into a row with Labour's Frank Dobson.

So, for a while, Evans and his wife - who he married in a low-key ceremony in Las Vegas in May 2001 - avoided attention and spent time together at their mansion in Hascombe in Surrey.

The White Horse, Hascombe
The drowned skipper was landlord of Evans;' local pub

They would often be seen drinking at Mr Ward's pub, the White Horse, playing for the village cricket team, visiting the local fete and even selling Christmas trees for charity in the run-up to the festive season.

But soon the dream of year-round sunshine and an escape from the British media became too tempting and they moved to Los Angeles.

It was there they celebrated their first anniversary - silencing critics who said the 17-year age gap between them and Evans' colourful past, would see the union fail.

Like his career moves, his love life had rarely been out of the newspapers.

He had been linked with actress Anna Friel and model Melanie Sykes following a divorce from DJ Carol McGiffin who he married in 1991 before his Big Breakfast fame.

Chris Evans and Geri Halliwell
Ginger snaps: Evans and Halliwell enjoy a photo opportunity

He had a on-off relationship with TV producer Suzi Aplin, was briefly linked to former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell and had a daughter by his former girlfriend Alison Ward.

But with Billie, he seems to have found a steady partner and new television projects are on the horizon.

He is due to produce a new early evening chat show on Channel 5 presented by BBC Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles and to make a prime-time entertainment show called Boys And Girls for Channel 4.

The comeback kid is coming back.

See also:

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