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Thursday, 13 January, 2000, 14:15 GMT
Chris Evans: Ginger prince or jester?

'Guess how many days I want to work?' Chris Evans at Virgin

Chris Evans, who is set to sell his business empire for 225m, has become one of the UK's most recognisable media figures. Rarely out of the tabloids, the 33-year-old fronts a media empire spanning both TV and radio.

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's London station, GLR.

It wasn't always glitz and glamour though. Before starting in radio he had a number of dead-end jobs in and around his native Warrington, including, notoriously, one as a "Tarzanogram".

Radio, TV, newspapers... and now the Beano
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.

But he has always been more than a mere frontman. 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, on his proviso the show would be in the hands of Ginger Productions, not the BBC.

Radio daze

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

While still at the Beeb, in 1996 he returned again to TV screens, this time with the Channel 4 tea-time show TFI Friday. The shows was a classic Evans cocktail of celebrity chit chat, bizarre stunts and in-jokes.

Hellraising: Danny Baker, Evans and Gazza
Meanwhile his tempestuous love affair with the BBC was on the wane and when he failed to turn up for work one day in January 1997 he was sacked.

He bounced back in characteristically spectacular fashion later that year when Richard Branson's Virgin Radio drafted him in to go "head to head" in the morning with his successor at Radio 1, Zoe Ball.

Evans liked the job so much, he bought the company. The City was stunned at his 85m purchase right from under the nose of 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

And evidently he had not burned all his bridges with the BBC, which commissioned several programmes from the group. The results of this collaboration - the lamentable National Lottery Red Alert and the student quiz Carry on Campus - have shown little of TFI's flair.

Ginger snaps: Evans and Halliwell photo opportunity
Indeed Ginger's core ventures themselves have not fared well recently. TFI Friday was dismissed as "naff" in a much disputed viewer survey. The show's falling ratings have been more difficult to query.

Virgin's audience ratings have also been in decline - something Evans was hoping to buck with his pre-Christmas 1m on air quiz. It was the UK's first ever seven-figure quiz prize.

Although many prefer to see in the weekend watching repeats of The Simpsons than TFI Friday, Evans still commands great public interest.

With help from PR guru Matthew Freud, Evans has captured the front pages with accusations that most BBC employees were on drugs; a call for the nation to support troubled footballer Paul Gascoigne; and news of a romance with Geri Halliwell.

The star's outrageous antics have also seen him in trouble with the radio and TV watchdogs - most recently for a "first-to-blink" contest which reduced the loser, a child, to tears.

Working-class-boy-done-good or preening "Ginger whinger", critics and fans of Evans have to admit he has become one of the greatest media figures of the last decade.
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See also:
13 Jan 00 |  Business
Evans sells up
12 Jan 99 |  Entertainment
Radio watchdog fines Evans
29 Mar 99 |  Entertainment
Channel 4's TFI a 'turn-off'
14 Jun 99 |  Entertainment
Lulu gingers up Saturdays
28 Sep 99 |  Entertainment
Watchdog raps TFI Friday
04 Nov 99 |  Entertainment
Chris and Geri's 'ginger romance'

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