Money's nice but it really isn't everything

With the credit crunch and fuel prices dominating the headlines, so many people have been asking for my thoughts recently about whether money really does make you happy.

Transport Minister Tom Harris has sparked off a huge debate with his message that the British public should stop being so miserable and stop moaning about the rising cost of living and fall in house prices.

I’ve been questioning my own lifestyle in the light of these comments and thinking back to the days when I lived in poverty to ask myself whether I’m happier now than I was when struggling to make ends meet.

When I first set up home with Michael we had loads of arguments about money, which was spending more than the other and he would moan about what I spent it on. We accounted for every penny and didn’t waste it as being from very poor backgrounds we appreciated how hard we had to work to earn a decent living.

Even since we’ve been successful in business, and become financially very comfortable those values have never left us. Although we live in a Castle, we are still very cost conscious and try not to fritter it away. Sometimes I think we have brainwashed our staff with this philosophy �" our Housekeeper Sharon only buys cheap brand cleaning products and uses cloths with holes in them as she doesn’t want to waste our money. I think she’s going to the unnecessary extremes though!

The happiness that money brings me is that I can treat my family and friends whenever I want, go on holiday when and more or less where I want and buy designer clothes and a nice car. It’s given me more freedom and taken the pressure off than I used to feel when I didn’t have the money for rent, never mind luxuries.

But it wouldn’t stop me from working, as I still don’t have the security so I could retire now and afford to support myself for the rest of my life. Of course if someone were to make me an offer and buy my businesses, I could put a lump sum in the bank and live off the interest, but I’d probably get bored of not working.

For me personally, given my Mum’s ill health, I would do anything to keep her well but no amount of money can cure the incurable and I’m sure there are millions of people who feel the same. There has been so much press recently about cancer sufferers wanting to pay for their treatment because how ever much you have in the bank, without your health you struggle to find happiness.

Even if I lost every penny I have, I know that my family and close friends will always love me and I’ll love them. We loved each other before the money came along and that love is not dependent on material things (they are probably reading this now and worrying I’ve lost the plot, my Sister will be phoning me to go shopping any minute in case it’s her last chance!)

But seriously, I think that acts of kindness can bring as much happiness as money, and give you lasting feelings of satisfaction and pleasure which money can only temporarily fix. Being on Secret Millionaire taught me that, and the people I helped have become true friends since �" not because they feel obliged to but because they are the type of people I look up to and deserve kindness.

A couple of people have left a lasting impression on me in recent weeks which deserve a mention. At Leeds Station, I was seeing a friend off but didn’t have a platform ticket; the guard waved me past and told me not to worry. My friend wanted a magazine so we walked back through the barrier to the newsagent then returned via the guard who let me through without a ticket a second time. There are so many jobs worth people I meet, I was touched by what he’d done so decided to buy the guard a large bar of chocolate to thank him. He was absolutely amazed when I gave it to him but very grateful. Just buying him that chocolate and seeing the pleasure it brought him put me in a great mood for the rest of the day.

My sister was in a queue at the hospital when a lady wearing hijab swapped places in the queue with her partner who had been sat down, so she could go and move her car. A man in the queue behind shouted at her partner angrily as he jumped to the conclusion he was pushing in and told him to go to the back of the queue. My Sister stood up for the couple and clarified the situation. When the lady returned, she bought my sister a packet of mints to thank her. Just that small token was enough to make my Sister fill up with tears at the gesture and she felt good that she’d spoken out against the man who had judged the situation wrongly.

For me happiness is the journey not the destination, and yes money does help but it shouldn’t be your only goal in life.

A High Profile Divorce

I was disappointed to learn of the first celebrity gay divorce since the law changed in 2005. Little Britain star Matt Lucas and his partner Kevin McGee have announced their amicable separation.

Unfortunately it’s reticent of so many high profile relationships which hit the rocks and the headlines all too often.

Matt and Kevin were married in 2006 at a star-studded pantomimed themed ceremony with Matt dressed as Aladdin and Kevin as Prince Charming, but clearly his £15 million fortune hasn’t been enough to keep that celebrity couple happy.

My friend the comedian, Alan Carr told me that he struggles to maintain relationships because of his work and his social life really suffers. The attention that celebs receive must also be hard for some partners to cope with. I know that my partner Michael who prefers to be out of the limelight, quite often has a dig at me because I enjoy our minor celebrity status.

There are many people who do make it work, Elton John and his partner David Furnish enjoy a long term successful relationship, however I think too many people throw in the towel when the romance dies down. I was once told that if you put a penny in a jar for every time you make love in the first 6 months of a relationship and take a penny out every time you make love from 6 months onwards the jar will never be empty. Perhaps those who advocate open relationships where they keep experiencing the romance but have the security and stability of a long term companion are the ones with full jars?


Fun in the sun with my friend Michelle

Fun in the sun with my friend Michelle

When I bumped into my friend. the actress Michelle Collins at the premiere of Never Forget in London last month,I invited her to come and stay at my house, and was delighted last weekend when she arrived with her family.

Michelle is a familiar face on our tv screens, however she is best known for her 10 year portrayal of manipulative,unfaithful wife Cindy Beale in Eastenders.

It was the perfect weekend for her first visit to Stainland with her partner and 12 year old daughter Maia. She couldn't believe it had reached 24 degrees 'up North' as we all sunbathed in my back garden.

Michelle is so down to earth, and really made herself at home with us, which I loved as we certainly don't live the formal life you would expect from the occupants of a Castle! We had a few girlie chats whilst she was relaxing in her bedroom. Most celebs wouldn't be comfortable you seeing them without lipstick, never mind chatting on the bed in just their underwear.

We've been friends for over 10 years, so I knew she would prove the ideal guest to test drive our home for our new venture. Since winning the title of 'Britain's Best Home' we've decided it would be a great idea to rent out our home for guests to stay for long weekends and special occasions. We've even received a couple of wedding enquiries.

So Michelle and her family promised to give me their verdict at the end of their stay. We offered them the run of the house, and gave them as much privacy as possible because of course when guests rent it Michael and I won't be staying there.

Our ambition has always been to own a boutique hotel so this gave us the opportunity to decide if it's definitely for us.

That weekend co-incided with my monthly club night Federation at Victoria Works in Leeds so I took Michelle and her partner along to dance the night away. I think they preferred the tranquillity of the castle though as they got a taxi back well before I tiptoed in at 5am.

On Sunday we usually go to our friend Gillian's house as she's a fabulous cook and makes the best Sunday roast.

Whenever we have guests at the Castle Gillian comes to make dinner for us, and she has agreed to make the meals for special occasions if anyone who rents the house requests a personal chef. She's drawn the line at weddings though so we'll ask our favourite restaurant 1885 to cater for those.

Michelle's close friend Phil Collinson who's been the Producer of Doctor Who for the past 4 years has just moved to Manchester as Head of Drama for the BBC so we invited him to join us for lunch.

So Gillian had 17 of us to satisfy including a top TV Producer and a very famous actress, no pressure of course, but she insisted on slaving over a hot stove even on a sweltering summer's day just so our guests could try her Yorkshire Puddings.

Michelle managed to cool down though, doing her 'Miss Wet T Shirt' impression as her daughter accidentally knocked over the water jug all down her. I resisted temptation to get my camera out, but it would have made for a great paparazzi pic.

It was a fantastic weekend, they were perfect guests and as they can't wait to come back again I guess that's the seal of approval we wanted. Check out the Carr Hall Castle website if you know anyone who fancies a luxury break in a Yorkshire Castle.

A mystery Badger

It was the Annual General Meeting last week at Stainland Community Centre where Michael and I have recently joined the Committee.

As we employ a graphic designer in one of our businesses we offered to produce the newsletter which is distributed to every resident in the village. The Centre is struggling financially so it cannot afford expensive design and print bills.

After the booklet was distributed, one of the committee members came up to me and couldn't wait to tell me his exciting news.

On the front cover he had spotted a critter on the pavement next to the Community Centre Building. He couldn't identify it with his naked eye so had used his magnifying eye glass, like the ones jewellers use. When he saw it was a badger everything fell into place.

The village has been plagued by a mystery creature tipping over dustbins and causing mayhem, but nobody had seen it or caught it in the act. So he was delighted with his Inspector Clusoe style discovery.

He had the whole committee discussing it and they planned to get a news story together and contact the council. I couldn't stop myself from smirking as the story unfolded as it's an in joke at my office to hide a badger in pictures we use and our Designer, Graham had sneakily put one on the front page of this booklet. Last Christmas he even cheekily included one on the Christmas Card he designed for us.

I had to get Graham on the phone to explain himself to everyone otherwise I could have been sacked from the Committee after only 3 months!

A celebration of Life

In April, I reported that one of my young colleagues, Damian Oldfield had been tragically murdered.

His Mum contacted me a couple of weeks ago to let me know the funeral date had been set, following the opening of the inquest into his death.
She wanted the service to be a celebration of Damian's life, as he was such a vibrant and outgoing character he wouldn't have wanted a formal sombre farewell. I offered to do a reading on behalf of all his friends and colleagues at work so I agreed to meet her at home before going to the crematorium.

When I arrived, she thanked me for my offer, and told me she'd decided not to have a minister who had never even met Damian presiding over the funeral, and wanted me to give the whole service.

I was already nervous but hearing the news I panicked a little as I'd not prepared anything other than a reading, but of course I was honoured she'd asked me.

There are hundreds of tributes to Damian on the memorial website GoneTooSoon so I read out some of those together with my original reading and a number of other family members and friends also gave their own personal tributes.

It was very informal as she'd asked, and even his Grandma came up to me afterwards to say what a lovely service it was.

Everyone appreciated the relaxed atmosphere as I'm sure that people feel intimidated most of the time at funerals. It felt like a huge responsibility to take on but I hope I did him proud.


Fly girl Pam clips my wings

There aren’t many people who can make me blush, however my friend the Australian comedian Pam Ann successfully achieved just that last week.

Pam aka Caroline Reid does a hilariously entertaining stand-up trolley dolly act and returned to Leeds City Varieties to humiliate and titillate a packed audience with her new show ‘ Terror at 41000 Feet’.

We became friends during one of her previous visits to Leeds when I entertained her in my bars and clubs. It was such a fun night and we hit it off so well that we’ve remained in touch ever since.

Of course I couldn’t miss her new show and when her Manager called on the day to check I would be there that night, I put the champagne on ice in the hope she would be keen to party after the show.

As I took my seat in the stalls, I recognized so many familiar faces in the audience who had come along, including my close friends Paul and Stephen who are both cabin stewards with British Airways and like many of their colleagues can’t resist joining in the fun that Pam pokes at their profession.

Pam Ann thrives on humiliating the audience during her shows so I really should have known better than to think I was never going to be subjected to this myself.

As the spotlight scanned the stalls, she picked me out instantly and almost shrieked with excitement , I was an easy target as she knew so much about me.
“Terry George, Secret Millionaire”, she shouted to me from the stage. “What on earth are you doing back there in economy? You should definitely be upgraded to First Class!”

With that she promptly pointed to a guy on the front row, made him stand up and forcibly ejected him from his seat and made me swap with him. Poor guy, he had probably booked early to get the best first class fare and there he was being downgraded to economy.

Fortunately he found it as funny as me, and I was now lucky enough to enjoy her antics from close range. I couldn’t help thinking all those in the audience who knew me would be saying , “typical Terry”. I daren’t turn round to see their faces.

When I went backstage afterwards Caroline was pretty tired after such a great show however she couldn’t resist accompanying me back to Fibre and Mission for a glass of bubbly or two. As owner, I was happy to return the favour she had shown me and upgraded her to the Directors Lounge in both venues!

A Devil of a Show in Blackpool

I am a huge fan of the fabulous shows that Cirque du Soleil produce and have been lucky enough to enjoy them quite a few times on my travels to Las Vegas and Florida.

So when an invitation landed on my desk from Gill Mathison at Blackpool Pleasure Beach to their VIP opening night of a new show, Forbidden, I have to admit my first thoughts were it would be tacky in comparison to Cirque duSoleil, and the accommodation they had kindly provided would be a chintzy B&B.

But I couldn’t have been more wrong. Firstly I checked into the 4 star Big Blue Hotel at the Pleasure Beach which was very chic for Blackpool, then attended a drinks reception with other vip’s including Corrie’s Tupele Dorgu who plays knicker stitcher Kelly Crabtree and Dave The Hairy Biker.

We were an odd trio of celebrities but I guess all the other invited stars must have held the same preconceptions I had about Blackpool and decided to wash their hair that night.

They really missed out on a great evening however, as we were then taken on an open top bus to the Globe theatre to watch the show. It was truly amazing and I loved it. So professional and with a bevy of stunning dancers with sheer talent I would recommend it to everyone.

After the show we were treated to a formal dinner at the White Tower Restaurant, however not wanting to stick with formality I sneaked off into the room where all the performers, who are mostly eastern European, were enjoying their own well deserved disco to celebrate a brilliant opening night.

Forbidden runs until the 2nd of November and if you buy a wristband for the Pleasure Beach you receive a ticket for the matinee show included. Superb value if you ask me. So much so that I’m going again next weekend with some friends to experience the thrill of the rides and the show.

Do you really want to……. buy my t-shirt?.

Wow, those Boy George t-shirts must have sold well.

I read a couple of weeks ago that my old friend Boy George, the former Pop star and DJ who has sold millions of records had fallen on hard times and been reduced to selling t-shirts on a London market stall to scrape a living.

I was surprised to hear this news but thought it seemed like a good idea to prove that he could go back to grass roots and muck in, hopefully working his way up again and getting his life back on track.

Well it hasn’t taken him long, and his huge following must have bought his t-shirts by the lorry load as he’s just announced a summer tour of the USA and Canada.

Maybe I could persuade my partner Michael that it would make good business sense for us to get a market stall too. I don’t think selling t-shirts with pictures of us on them would prove quite so lucrative though!

Papped at premier with Ross Kemp!

I HAVE always been a big fan of Take That. Regular readers will know I spent a lot of social time with the boys in their early days.
So when one of my friends, TV entrepreneur Charley Parsons, invited me to London to the premiere of Never Forget �" the new musical about the unlikeliest of Take That tribute bands �" I jumped at the chance.
My partner Michael was also invited, but he was too busy running our companies. So I had to go alone.

On the train journey down, I was looking through my mobile phone to see who I could invite to walk down the red carpet with me.
My first text was to my comedy friend Alan Carr, who replied: “Would love to but I’m in Menorca. ‘Back for good’ at the weekend, he he!”
A few others I spoke to were also busy, so I turned up to the Savoy Theatre alone. But I wasn’t on my own for long.

As soon as I set foot on the red carpet, I heard someone shout my name. It was a photographer asking me to stand next to Ross Kemp for a picture.
This had a knock-on effect, as all the other paps must have thought we were arriving together. Ross was funny �" he turned to me and said out of the corner of his mouth, “I f****** hate these things.” I chuckled and said. “I know what you mean,’ but I was loving every minute of it!

We then proceeded to walk down the red carpet together to the pre-reception party . I was just about pick up my VIP ticket, when Ross handed me his spare. It was so surreal, especially when Ross introduced me to a few of his showbiz friends.

Paul O’Grady made a beeline towards me and was his usual friendly self, congratulating me on winning Britain’s Best Home.
Then I bumped into Michelle Collins, who’s been a friend of mine for 10 years. She is never off our TV screens, but most of you will know her as EastEnders’ Cindy Beale.
She is planning to come and stay with me for a few days and I can’t wait, she is such a laugh.

When I got to my seat, I couldn’t believe my luck �" it was at the side of Mr Kemp and bang in the middle of all the A-list celebrities. Denise Van Outen, Paul O’Grady, Gaby Roslin, Matthew Wright and Johnny Vaughan, to name but a few.

The Never Forget show is set in Manchester and follows the journey of a young man called Ash who dreams of making it big and saving his mum’s pub from bankruptcy.

It’s a feel-good comedy about love, friendship, ambition and betrayal. The idea is similar to Mamma Mia!, but in my opinion much funnier, with a true northern humour.

None of the Take That members were at the London premiere, but their former manager Nigel Martin-Smith was.
He told me exclusively that Gary Barlow will be coming to see the show soon and, as Gary wrote the music, he must be getting a royalty. To me, it makes sense for him to go if it’s making him money.

I was blown away by the show, with its onstage rainfall feature �" something I had only ever seen once before at the recent Take That concert in Manchester. But I have never seen words spelt out with rain drops before, it was amazing.

Ross Kemp told me he was never a fan of TT �" but you would have never believed this if you had been where I was. I was standing in the aisle with this hard man of television �" who hangs out with gangsters �" dancing, yes dancing, and clapping our hands to the climactic megamix of hits. It was an amazing show and a must-see for any true Take That fan.

Then it was on to the after-show party and all the excitement of mingling with Michelle and Ross made me miss my last train home!
I decided the show was good that I am going to take my family again some time in the future.

I’M not normally a huge fan of boxing but when it comes to Ricky Hatton, I like to show support. I watched him in Vegas when he fought Jose Luis Castillo last summer.
Me, my nephew Luke and friends Happy and Gary paid for tickets to his fight against Juan Lazcano at the City of Manchester Stadium the other week.
But, when I arrived, I bumped into a friend from Channel 4 who got me passes for the ringside and VIP areas.

The atmosphere was electric. Even if you were not a fan of boxing, it was such an intense fight which finished with Ricky winning on points.
Afterwards, we went to the VIP area near the changing rooms and there were loads of celebrities �" Mike Tyson, Patrick Kielty, Amir Khan and Tina Malone, who plays Mimi Maguire in Shameless.

She was waving at me from behind TV presenter Ben Shepherd. It turns out he got into boxing after fighting Lemar in Sport Relief’s Celebrity Boxing match.
Then I went into the press conference and I couldn’t believe the state of Ricky’s face.

Even though he won, he was really bruised and battered.
It wasn’t a quick fight, anyone who watched really got their money’s worth.
Ricky cracked jokes throughout the conference �" he’s got such good northern humour and I think that is partly why he pulls in fans to stadiums.
If he ever has to give up boxing he could always be a stand-up comedian!

It's no carnival clashing with Naomi

You may remember back in February when I told you about TV Presenter Melissa Porter coming to stay at our house for 2 days.

Well now I’m really excited as this Thursday 10th April our house will be featured on Channel 5’s new series ‘I Own Britain’s Best Home’ at 8pm.

Each week the show features 3 different types of homes across the country who are competing against each other for the title.

The 3 presenters- Property Consultant Melissa Porter; Architectural Designer Charlie Luxton and Property Developer Russell Harris travelled around the UK staying in luxury homes to showcase on the programme.

Having watched the first 3 programmes in the series so far I think we have some very stiff competition, but whether we win or not we are flattered that we have been chosen to enter.

I’m also glad we had Melissa to stay at ours as she was so much fun. The other presenters seem knowledgeable in their field but I don’t think they would have been as impressed with the 6 male models we hired to film the swimming pool scene!

Melissa gave an interview in OK magazine a couple of weeks ago about the series, and she mentioned that our house was one of her favourites. Lets hope all the viewers think the same and we make it through to the final. I hope you’ll all be voting.

We’re planning a get together with family and close friends to watch the programme so I’ll be making sure they all have their phones out too.

My Brush with Naomi

It seems as though even top supermodels aren’t escaping the problems at Heathrow’s new Terminal 5.

Naomi Campbell is in the spotlight again after a dispute over her luggage last week. Apparently she was trying to board a flight for Los Angeles when she learnt that one of her bags hadn’t made it onto the flight. It was suggested she leave the plane to resolve the issue then the police were called. She was then arrested on suspicion of assaulting a police officer.

Naomi has reportedly been taking anger management classes since the 2 previous charges she faced for assaulting her assistant and her maid.

I came face to face with Naomi a couple of years ago at the Rio Carnival where I go every year to take pictures and soak up the amazing atmosphere there.

She was dressed in a fabulous sequined outfit with bright yellow ostrich feathers and a headdress made of peacock plumes and looked stunning.

Having a press photographer’s pass gets me right in the heart of the action and I can get up close to all the performers. There were lots of foreign paparazzi around her so to get her attention I called her name and said I was from Hello magazine.

She immediately turned away and covered her face then called her bodyguards over. Someone grabbed me and I was ushered away.

20 Minutes later I saw her again and she spotted me even though I was hiding behind the others. She was about to call security again so I told her that I was only using my English voice to get her attention and wasn’t really from Hello magazine. I owned up that I was from Bent Magazine and she changed her tune straight away.

‘Ooh I love my gay fans she said and went over the top to post just for me’.

Winning the Lottery

When I opened my post the other day, imagine my delight when I read that I have won 615,000 euros in the Espaniola International Lottery Program. How wonderful I thought, I don’t normally win anything �" even the bonus ball draw we have at the office every week eludes me �" I think my number must get stuck in the machine.

I started to read the letter more closely and double checked it wasn’t dated April the first �" I’m always playing April Fool tricks on my friends so wouldn’t put it past them to try and get revenge, but no it looked very genuine.

Then I read that I had to keep the award from public notice so that meant I couldn’t tell my Examiner readers about it �" what a shame.

To claim the prize I had to fill in a form which asked for more personal information than a passport application form including all my bank details and my next of kin. This roused my suspicions, and when they spelt my name wrong I doubted it even more.

To get a second opinion I asked my partner Michael to check it out. We do go to Spain a lot and he always likes a flutter so it isn’t beyond possibility that he may have bought a ticket.

After a call to Watchdog my prize was confirmed as a scam �" so readers beware, don’t give out any personal information or put a deposit on a yacht without checking everything out first.

Corrie's Antony on bubbly form!

I’m eating my words this week after spending an evening in the company of Antony Cotton, who plays Sean Tully in Corrie.

You may recall that I’ve recounted tales of our previous meetings when Antony seemed aloof and disinterested but I can only imagine that I must have caught him at a bad time then as last Saturday he was great fun.

He’d emailed me earlier in the day to let me know he was coming to my bar Fibre, in Leeds with a female friend. Co-incidentally she was the Producer from Trevor Macdonald’s Tonight programme who filmed a documentary a few years ago with me about my friendship with Michael Jackson.

The film was due to be aired at the time of Jacko’s court case but has been kept under wraps. Apparently it is a fascinating watch but I’ve never even seen it and maybe never will.

Anyway, I digress as usual. Antony was celebrating that night as he’s successfully negotiated a 2 year megabucks deal to continue playing his camp character in Corrie and he’s also working on another show which he wouldn’t spill the beans about to me.

I bought him a bottle of champagne to congratulate him, and it certainly went down well as he then bought 3 more bottles before moving the party on to my club Mission. He shared a glass of champagne with my sister Rosemarie and was really nice to her. It always makes me happy when people I meet, especially celebrities are nice to my family, but more about that later on.

Once in Mission Antony became fascinated with my green laser pen which I often take to the club. I use it to point people out in a crowd and have some fun. Antony was like a kid with a toy and played with it for ages. I don’t think it would work quite as well in the Rovers Return though!

What totally bowled me over was the thank you message I received from Antony a couple of days later. It’s very rare for celebrities to send you a personal thank you and I was really impressed that he’d taken the time out of his busy schedule to tell me what an ‘amazing’ night he’d had and how friendly he’d found my staff. He’d even recommended Fibre and Mission to the rest of the Corrie cast over lunch.

Mimi Maguire pops round for a cuppa

The night after entertaining Antony, I met up with Tina Malone, who plays the foul mouthed. loud, brash and violent matriarch, Mimi Maguire in the hit drama series Shameless.

She’s head butted several characters in the show so I was definitely on my best behaviour when I was introduced to her by my friend George Lees.

Tina is a larger than life character but in reality she’s lost loads of weight since having a gastric balloon fitted. She won’t mind me telling you that as she’s been very public about undergoing this revolutionary procedure which is less intrusive than other weight loss treatments as they insert it down your throat and it only takes around 10 minutes. It was all sounding great until she told me that you’re not allowed to fly with one in. Thankfully I don’t need one as I’m keeping up with my gym regime. I don’t think I could cope without flying!

I asked her how losing all that weight would affect her heavyweight character in Shameless but she told me they’ll just explain it away with a couple of lines.

Tina came along to the party I hosted at my club in Leeds, to celebrate winning Britain’s Best Home. Michael and I wanted to thank everyone who had voted for us to win the title but there were too many to cram into the house so we chose Mission instead. She’s become a big gay icon so loads of the guests wanted their photo with her.

She told me she was dying to see my house after watching the programme so I invited her back for a cuppa and a nosey round after the party.

When I took her into the study, she couldn’t believe the wall of photo frames with hundreds of pictures of the celebrities I’ve met over the years. What surprised me though was she got most excited not by one of the sexy popstars or film stars but of a picture of me with the late comedy legend Dick Emery who passed away 25 years ago. Apparently he was her Dad’s idol.

Left Breathless by Shayne

A few weeks ago I told you about how I’d enjoyed showing Shayne Ward around Leeds when he was there promoting his UK tour.

During that evening we’d planned a surprise for my sister Rosemarie who is Shayne’s biggest fan.

He happened to be giving a live concert at Sheffield Hallam FM Arena on the night of Rosemarie’s birthday and I’d mentioned to Shayne that I’d love to bring her along.

He very kindly agreed to arrange for us to go backstage after the gig and present Rosemarie with a bouquet of flowers.

Well, where family are concerned I’m terrible at hiding things from them and how I didn’t blurt it out over the last 3 weeks I don’t know. I told Rosemarie we were going out for a lavish dinner for her birthday so she wouldn’t suspect and would dress to impress.

Most people have an idol, my Mum’s favourite isTom Jones and my father in law loves Elvis. Can you imagine being able to fulfil your loved ones dream and actually take them to meet their idol?

Rosemarie was over the moon when we arrived at Sheffield and she twigged we were going to the concert but she had absolutely no idea what I had planned with Shayne.

She sang along with him all night from the audience, and when I dragged her away right at the end she still didn’t realise we were heading backstage.

For all the hard work she does looking after my Mum and her teenage son Luke while still holding down a full time job it gave me so much pleasure to delight her with this surprise.

Shayne was wonderful with her and posed for loads of photos, most of which she’s posted on her Facebook profile as of course she wants to tell everyone who knows her about the experience.

It’s not the gifts you buy with money that are the most valuable, it’s the memories which last forever that you treasure and both Rosemarie and I will never forget it.

Thank you Shayne!

Partying in Amsterdam, shopping in Thailand!

Partying in Amsterdam, shopping in Thailand!

How fantastic that summer has finally arrived. I returned from holiday last week and couldn't believe that a heat wave was upon us. Normally when you land back into the UK you can hear everyone on the plane groan as you descend through the clouds into the grey and damp we suffer.

You then spend the next hour freezing cold as you wait for your lift or taxi to collect you and regret that yet again you didn't wear the right clothes for travelling home.

Our holiday was an action packed trip to Thailand where we go every year, sometimes twice a year if we can spare the time. We flew via Amsterdam and as our connecting flight to Bangkok was 6 hours later it was a waste to spend it in the airport (even though Schipol is my favourite airport) so we headed into the city centre.

We picked a great time to visit Amsterdam as it was Queen's Day, to celebrate Queen Beatrix's birthday, with a full-on party. They hold an internationally-renowned street party, which goes on through the night until the evening of the next day and a huge carnival.

We felt underdressed as the whole population was decked out in bright orange. At least if we'd flown Easyjet we could have borrowed some staff uniforms and blended in with the crowds!

My overall impression from Thailand this time was that there are more ladyboys than ever before - it's also getting harder to tell whether in fact they are ladies. We took 2 friends from England on holiday with us and being first timers to Thailand they couldn't believe their eyes. To help them work it out I gave them a few of my tips:-

They are too beautiful to be true
They wear excessive make up
Thai ladies are not tall
Look out for big hands and feet
An Adam’s apple?
There are of course other more discreet signs if those 5 don't help.

I love the markets in Thailand as I can never resist a bargain so ended up bringing home the usual suitcase full of gifts - sunglasses, bags, t-shirts, but one person I really struggled to buy for was our niece Elle, who celebrated her 10th birthday at the weekend.

I'm great at coming up with gifts for adults but I find buying for kids so much more difficult - I always worry that they'll be disappointed by what I thought was the coolest present but to them is so last week.

I think she was more than happy that we held her birthday party at our house though �" who wouldn't be over the moon at the opportunity to show off to your friends by having a pool party at your Uncle's castle?

I'm sure she is the most popular person in the class when her guest list is being drawn up!

After reading about the story of the parents who were successfully sued for around £1 million following an accident on a bouncy castle they hired, we did start to worry about the implications for holding Elle's party.

3 Years ago, an 11 year old boy in Kent was left brain damaged and the parents of the triplets whose birthday party it was have been blamed for a lack of supervision.

Elle's parents hired a bouncy castle and ball pool at our house but can you imagine asking her friends parents to sign a disclaimer before their child was allowed to join in? We had to double check that our public liability insurance was up to date, but like many people we may think twice about hosting the party next year.

Keeping a secret is hard!

Having taken part in Secret Millionaire you would think I had perfected the art of keeping secrets, however I have to admit I'm struggling to stay tight lipped this week.

Yesterday, my partner Michael and I travelled to London along with 7 other hopeful homeowners, to film the final of 'I Own Britain's Best Home.'

The programme will be broadcast this Thursday, the 15th at 8pm on Channel Five but until then we are all sworn to secrecy so I can't give you any indication either way of whether we won or not.

You'll either have to watch it to find out or keep an eye out for me shopping for party gear as a clue. I set up a Facebook group when we originally appeared on the show and promised all members that I'd throw a party if we won. The group now has over 1800 members which I think would be too much of a squeeze at the house. It does prove however that social networking sites are definitely the place to be.

If you're already registered on Facebook, look me up and add me as a friend.

Shamelessly good time with Alice!

I had great fun in my bar, Fibre in Leeds last weekend. My fellow Directors and I were holding an April Showers themed party for our VIP guests and friends in the top floor Directors Lounge.

We had encouraged everyone to come dressed for the theme in their wellies and with brollies and not wanting to miss an opportunity for dressing up, their outfits didn’t disappoint. One member of staff even dressed as a cloud!

I was delighted when a friend brought along actress Alice Barry who plays Lillian Tyler in the Bafta award winning comedy drama series Shameless.

Shameless, now in its 5th series, is one of my favourite TV programmes and one of the few things on TV that I will stay in for. My partner Michael and I love it’s portrayal of chav culture in Manchester, particularly as Michael was brought up in Salford.

‘Lillian’ had scrubbed up well for the party and ditched her tracksuit however as she wears glasses in real life she really did look like she was still in character. They weren’t quite as ‘Deidre Barlowesque’ but enough to keep me amused. Her strong Lancashire accent is also real and not adopted for the part like a lot of stars. I’ll never forget the first time I heard Jean Alexander aka Hilda Ogden speak in public, she was so posh.

I spent a while chatting with her and couldn’t resist telling her I was a big fan of Shameless and 2 other shows she previously starred in �" Phoenix Nights and Clocking Off.

She’s a lovely lady, but fairly quiet compared to me. She kept a serious face on most of the time which made me laugh even more as I kept thinking of her resemblance to Mel B’s caricature of Bo Selecta. I know she wasn’t offended by my humour however, as she’s invited herself to my house for a dinner party.

It would be great fun to get some of the other Shameless cast members round for dinner too, especially if they came dressed as their characters. Our neighbours would be surprised!

Secret Millionaire �" Where are they now?

The episode of Secret Millionaire which I appeared in was repeated on Channel 4 last week, and I received lots more texts from people who hadn’t seen it before. One text came from pop star Gareth Gates who I’ve met loads of times and get along well with.

He text to say he loved the programme and got emotional watching it. He’s very close to his Mum too so I guess he can identify with missing home like I did while filming down in Cornwall.

I have to admit to watching the repeat as every time I see it there are different aspects that affect me.

I’ve already been contacted by the Producers who are looking into the possibility of making a follow up programme. I’ve got to know the people I met in Cornwall much better in the year since we filmed and would love to get involved an update of what we are all doing now and how the programme affected their lives.

I’m also in touch with most of the other Secret Millionaire’s and we are discussing how collectively we can help and raise awareness of community projects around the UK. So watch this space…

My Missed Hollywood Opportunity

Regular Examiner readers may remember last summer when I travelled to Las Vegas to watch boxer Ricky Hatton defeat Jose Luis Castillo. During my trip, as well as meeting Wayne Rooney and his fiancée Coleen McLoughlin, I visited the set of the movie Iron Man which stars Gwyneth Paltrow and Robert Downey Jr.

I used my English charm and easily managed to worm my way past security and queued up for a costume with the extras outside the famous Caesar’s Palace Hotel where the action was happening. Whilst waiting I picked up some acting tips by watching a few scenes being filmed but after a couple of hours of that I got bored and decided my film debut could wait.

The film has just been released in this country and I couldn’t believe it when the producers broke the story that 29 year old Carl Kelly of Knebworth blagged himself a part when he explained to security guards that he’d left his pass inside and eventually ended up sharing the set with Gwyneth.

Apparently the guards believed his excuse and let him in because he had a British accent. Exactly how I had convinced them too.

Having no previous acting experience it took him 38 takes to perfect his lines and he missed his plane home as a result. Sounds like it was worth it to me and I’m kicking myself for missing out on the opportunity of Hollywood stardom!

Week tinged with so much sadness

This week has been very emotional for me. Firstly it was my Mum’s birthday. She shares it with the Queen, and I like to treat her as if she is royalty. Due to the illness she has I never thought she would be here with us this year. Each day is a blessing and I visit her every day.

On her birthday I received a call with the sad news that my Uncle, her youngest brother had passed away. He and his family live in Scotland so I decided to let my Mum enjoy her birthday and saved the news for her until the next day. It upset me to think that she's the last surviving member of a big family and all her siblings have now passed on.

Mum is staying at our house this week as my Sister has taken a well deserved holiday - She’s a single mum and due to Mum's health she is living with her and my nephew at the moment. I’m sure Mum will be glad when Rosemarie gets back though as she can’t put up with my cooking for long.

Before Mum arrived I flew to Morocco for a couple of days to oversee the renovations which are ongoing at my house there. I wanted to check that the builders were knocking down the right walls and the house was still standing! I arrived late at night so went straight off to bed. When I awoke to the sound of hammering it still felt like the middle of the night. The builders were downstairs.

The next few hours felt like a scene from ‘Holidays from Hell’ as wherever I tried to eat my breakfast or find a place to sit I was being pelted with debris and an army of workers invaded the house. Usually I get frustrated that they take so many breaks and have a sleep period in the afternoon but the silence really was golden.

I couldn’t even dive in the pool for a relaxing swim as it had been drained and half filled with rubble. My Partner Michael decided that having such a deep pool is a waste of water so that was a no-go area too. I couldn’t wait to get back to England. I usually leave all that side of things to Michael and stick to my hobby of taking pictures, it’s much less stressful.

On my return from Morocco I was waiting for my connection in Paris airport when I received the shock news that one of my office staff had been stabbed to death in the early hours of Thursday morning in Leeds. I couldn't believe what I was hearing; it wouldn't sink in and particularly as I was in Paris so far away. Michael had to gather all our staff together to deliver the dreadful news. There has never been such a sad quiet, day in our normally buzzing and vibrant office.

When I returned and walked into the building and saw his empty desk I could hardly hold back the tears - he was a person so full of life who always had a quip for everyone. It hit me so powerfully how fragile life is.

I have created a website for Damian on the memorial site I set up It has given not only his friends and colleagues the opportunity to leave tributes and messages but his family to leave their own tributes and share their memories of Damian. I hope that when his Mum reads the touching messages that have been left it will give her comfort at such a tragic time.

The Bafta’s

I watched last week’s Bafta ceremony from the comfort of my bedroom at home as even though the programme ‘ Secret Millionaire’ which I appeared in last year was nominated for an award as best feature, I missed out on a ticket for the prestigious event.

I had already planned my list of thank-you’s and had written a few words about the friends I met when filming down in Cornwall. The elderly couple Kath and Don who I gave some of my money to in the show keep in regular contact with me and have welcomed me into their family ever since. Recently they’ve sent me some photographs of 2 Yorkshire Terrier pups they bought for their disabled daughter Juliette with the last of the money they had left from the gift.

That programme changed all our lives in so many ways and I felt sure it deserved the accolade but I guess Ramsay’s Kitchen nightmares which won must have wowed the judges more.

Perhaps I should produce my own programme visiting bars and clubs around the country who are struggling and helping them to turn their businesses around �" on second thoughts though; I don’t swear or drink so maybe it wouldn’t be outrageous enough!

Catching up with ex-sprinter Dwain

In the jungle with Dwain

I’ve really got into rugby league since I published ‘Access All Areas’ which is a book of photographs I took when following Leeds Rhinos on and off the pitch last season.

Rhino Rob Burrow’s father Geoff is the secretary of the Yorkshire Sports Section of the GMB Union and he invited me to an event at Castleford Tigers’ ground The Jungle last week.

The union has been created to protect professional sports people from such pitfalls as signing unscrupulous contracts they don’t understand, and they are encouraging all young sportspeople to join.

Former Yorkshire boxing star Herol ‘Bomber’ Graham was there and he gave a speech telling of how he’s lost out on millions of pounds from signing contracts in the past that weren’t exactly looking after his interests.

Castleford Tigers have been attracting so much publicity lately following the arrival of Dwain Chambers at the club. The disgraced sprinter is currently undertaking a one month trial in his quest to find a new career outside athletics.

Dwain was at the event, and he seems like a nice enough guy. I thought it an odd cross over for him to make to rugby which is so much more physical than running, although I guess he knew that already having tried out as an American Football player too in the past.

He makes his debut as a reserve player for the Tigers on 27th April in a friendly game against York, scheduled mainly to give him a run out . If this works out then perhaps he’ll finally turn his back on athletics �" unless he appeals against his lifetime ban from competing in the Olympics this year. Castleford or Beijing �" I wonder if he regrets his past?

I think the other Castleford players must be trying to keep up with Dwain in the hunt for media coverage as they have all started growing beards in a competition to see which one can grow theirs the longest. I can just imagine a whole team of ZZ Top look-alikes running onto the pitch!

Yorkshire's Best Home

After our house appeared on Channel Five last week in the programme 'I Own Britain's Best Home' so many people have told me they voted for us - even our dustbin men came to tell me they had spent £4 phoning in!

The day after the programme was shown we got a phone call from the Producer with the fantastic news that we had won our episode and are now through to the grand final. As soon as I heard the news I literally ran round the house screaming with excitement, I couldn't believe it.

When it finally sunk in, I realised that of the 3 Yorkshire homes to be featured, we were the only ones through to the final, so I guess that makes us Yorkshire's best home. What an accolade.

I hope we or one of the other northern properties wins the coveted title as it will really put us on the map and silence all those southerners who think that all Yorkshire homes are back to back on cobbled streets.

The final will be shown on Thursday 15th May, and will involve us travelling down to London along with all the other winners for nail-biting result. We've had to cut our holiday short to get back in time so I hope it will be worth it.

It's ball season

Even though the weather isn't spring like, the season is bringing it's fair share of opportunities to don my dinner suit for lavish parties.
2 weeks ago I travelled to Birmingham to attend their Pride Ball, where the star guest was Nikki, the dinner lady with the belting voice who came 3rd in last year's X Factor.
Last Friday saw me at the George hotel, Huddersfield for the Pink Ball, which was organised to raise funds for the Pink Picnic which takes place every year at Castle Hill. This year's event is on Sunday 27th July.

As you know I'm never a shrinking violet when it comes to getting up on stage so when I was asked to take on some hosting duties I couldn't resist.

Next month I'll be rubbing shoulders with hundreds of celebs at Manchester United's ground, Old Trafford for a charity ball which will be featured exclusively in OK magazine. The event is to raise money for testicular and ovarian cancer and I’ve offered my services as a presenter free of charge for the evening. One of my ambitions is to do some presenting for TV so maybe I’ll get spotted?

A night out on the town with Shayne

When I finished my daily workout at the gym last Wednesday I switched on my phone to half a dozen messages telling me that pop star Shayne Ward was having dinner at Nandos in Leeds.

He had appeared on Look North and Calendar that evening to promote his UK tour which comes to Sheffield on 16th May and Manchester on 25th May.

I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to meet up with him again so I drove to my office where I had his number.

As soon as I’d text him offering to show him around Leeds he replied and said he’d love to meet up.

We met up in the Greek Street area where there are lots of trendy bars and even though it was a quiet Wednesday night Shayne was really enjoying sampling Leeds’ night scene. He’s been there 4 times before but never on a night out.

We then jumped in my car to drive to my club Mission so I could give him the VIP treatment. It was also close to where he was staying.

He started to look through the CD’s I had in my car and immediately picked out one with eighties music �" “I really love the eighties” he said and proceeded to serenade me at the top of his voice with Vienna by Ultravox. It sounded amazing and I said he should definitely release it as a single. I gave him a couple of eighties CD’s that I had and he was delighted.

My sister is Shayne’s number one fan and when I gave her tickets for Xmas to Shayne’s Sheffield concert in May she was over the moon and couldn’t stop crying. I took her to meet Shayne last time he was in Leeds and she has the picture of them together by her bedside as if he’s her boyfriend. That same picture is on her facebook profile too!

I couldn’t resist phoning her to tell her he was out with me that night and Shayne offered to have a chat with her on the phone and wished her goodnight. I think she was speechless so she text me afterwards to say she couldn’t believe it.

Shayne told me that’s the best part of being a famous pop star that you can have such a positive effect on people and it’s so rewarding.

His next career goal is breaking into the US charts and he has some international tours in the pipeline. In Japan he’s already a huge star and has appeared on loads of their TV shows. Apparently they do lots of crazy things and because he laughs along with them they think he understands what’s going on.

He spoke to me in Japanese and I was really impressed. When translated though it meant ‘Hello good evening, I’m Shayne Ward and I’m so happy to be here.” It’s the only sentence he knows!!

Community Service in Stainland

Michael and I were invited to our local community centre last week to attend their monthly committee meeting and see whether we can get involved in the locality.

I’ve always been fond of community centres as that’s where I started my DJ’ing career at my local youth group in Leeds. It kept me out of trouble and I think it’s such a vital part of every community.

Ours is in desperate need of help as it is an amazing building but struggling financially with repair bills.

We had a great evening and it has given us a sense of belonging to meet more people from our neighbourhood and get to know them.

We’ve agreed to join the committee and with subs of only £10 per year we’re hoping to drum up more support. I’m trying to arrange for my friend, the comedian Alan Carr to come along and host a comedy night which would be fantastic.

Fashion Rocks Mr Gay UK

On Tuesday 15th April last year’s winner of the Mr Gay UK Leeds heat which I organise, is hosting a charity event at the University of Huddersfield’s Student Union.

The event will showcase unsigned bands alongside unsigned designers and all money raised will go to the Laura Crane Trust.

It starts at 7pm and entry costs £3 per person. If you are free that evening please go along and support such a worthwhile cause.

Chatting with Gok, mingling with the stars!

What a day I had last Thursday when I travelled to London for a couple of meetings.

Thankfully I’d chosen to take the train, on the day that Heathrow Terminal 5 welcomed it’s first passengers. Within hours of opening, chaos erupted as the baggage system failed and thousands of people were left in turmoil.

On the last couple of flights I’ve taken with BA they managed to lose my luggage both times, so I can empathise with those who were stuck waiting for hours on end. It’s not too bad when you are only watching for your suitcase crammed full of dirty washing to whiz round the carousel but if you’re on the first leg of your journey with not so much as a toothbrush and spare pair of pants to your name it’s such a hassle.

I’m sure BA will eventually get it right though and passing through the new terminal will prove a relaxing, efficient experience like Amersterdam’s Schipol Airport.(one of my favourites). I’m glad I don’t work for BA’s Press Office though!

When I emerged from the station in London I immediately bumped into a familiar face "Gok Wan from ‘How To Look Good Naked’. My first thought as he approached me was oh my God, do I really want to bare all on TV " being filmed in the shower when I appeared on Secret Millionaire last year was bad enough. Thankfully though he only wanted to ask my opinion on whether I preferred woman with flat stomachs or larger tummies. I told him that a six pack was my ideal and he looked bemused until I explained I was referring to men.

My lunchtime meeting was with Ben Way, the 27 year old who’d appeared on the first series of Secret Millionaire. We’d been in touch since I asked his advice before agreeing to appear on the show myself.

Ben was one of the first millionaires. He set up his own business on his 15th birthday and became the youngest company director in the UK.

After securing £25 million pounds of investment for his business he made the Sunday Times rich list one spot below Robbie Williams.

Unfortunately after a dispute with his investors he lost the lot and didn’t even have the money to buy a tube ticket. In true entrepreneurial style however he’s climbed the ladder again and his businesses are thriving. He’s just returned from a 4 month sabbatical in Australia where he got bored so set up a business selling giant balls that you can climb inside and roll down a hill.

Talking about his sabbatical certainly gave me some food for thought, but some of my colleagues would probably say I take one every few weeks anyway!!

In the evening I was invited to the South Bank Studios by my friend, the comedian Alan Carr. He was filming his show The Friday Night Project and asked me along to the green room.

I chatted to Barrister Nicholas De-Lacy Brown who became the first to get the chop from the new series of The Apprentice. He’s been lapping up all the press since his eviction is so full of his 15 minutes of fame I don’t think he’s realised how quiet his phone will be once another bolshy go-getter falls flat on their face in next week’s show. He was quite obnoxious and kept asking for a waiter to bring him another drink. Alan Carr soon put him in his place and told him he had to serve himself in his green room.

He was also made to run through the audience wearing a coat full of money " a task Alan and Justin used to do themselves but the audience got too rough with them. They now only let the celebs who they don’t mind getting a bit of roughing up to have that privilege.

Alan’s other, much more grounded guests were Dancing on Ice winner, Suzanne Shaw, Doctor Who aka David Tennant and Freema Agyeman who plays the Doctor's latest companion, Martha Jones.

David kept looking at me in the green room, and I could see he was trying to work out where we had met before. I reminded him it was at last year’s switch on of the Illuminations in Blackpool.

He confessed he was scared to come out of his trailer that night as he attracts such a strange group of fans, and I witnessed this first hand as we left the studios at the same time. Hundred’s of the weirdest people were hanging around waiting for David outside. Most of them could have passed for characters straight out of the show.

Alan has invited me back to filming next week as his guest will be Mariah Carey. Apparently she is bringing a huge entourage with her and has already asked for petals on her dressing room floor. I can’t wait.

My bland date with Cilla

My bland date with Cilla

I was reading in the press about Paul O'Grady on holiday in Paris with his best pal, Cilla Black. I'd like to be a fly on the wall when those two hit the town ...

Apparently they're thick as thieves and get on so well because they share the same outrageous sense of humour.

People often ask me, who's the nastiest celeb you've ever met? Well, I wouldn't call her 'nasty' as such but I remember Cilla being downright dismissive when I met her as an eager teenager. I hope I caught her on an off-day, and that she's not really like that.

She can't be - Paul O'Grady is a lovely bloke who doesn't see himself as a big star and he wouldn't be friends with a vacuous prima donna.

Anyway, when I was a kid I absolutely loved Cilla Black, I couldn't get enough of her. I loved Surprise Surprise! and when she did a Galaxy chocolate advert I remember putting the TV on all the time, on the off-chance that I would see my favourite commercial!

I just thought she was fabulous. So I was delighted to meet her when she did a singing show at a theatre in Dewsbury, when I was about 15. Regular readers will know I spent my formative years chasing A-listers around with a tiny tape recorder, doing interviews with them for nothing other than my own amusement.

Most were happy to be interviewed - generally about their favourite colour, or latest record - and were entertertained by the sight of this cheeky Yorkshire kid charming and blagging his way into their dressing rooms.

But not Cilla. She did the interview, swiftly and coldly, and made it pretty clear she wanted to be alone to get ready for her gig. Her husband Bob, who of course has since passed away, stayed firmly in the background - you could tell who wore the trousers. I was gutted.

I hope Cilla was just having a bad day, but I've never risked a re-run - any time I've had an opportunity to introduce myself, I haven't, which isn't like me at all. I just don't want to believe that Cilla is really an ice queen!

Shut up, Robbie

Robbie Williams has been moaning on again that he's giving up music to go 'hunting aliens'. It would be more of a story if he said he WASN'T giving up music. I like his style and his stuff but I'm sick of him acting all lonely and depressed, and 'poor me!', like he's some sort of victim.

He's got success, money, adoration, talent ... I think he's just bored. He lives in Hollywood, why doesn't he take up acting? That might distract him from his constant introspection.

Marry in haste, repent at Heather

Poor Paul McCartney, I bet he'll never trust anyone again. Usually hard-nosed, determined women in the public eye split opinion but absolutely everyone I know is united in having no sympathy at all for Lady Mucca who's come across as desperately unappealing in all the divorce hoo-ha.

Having said that, she did Paul's stern-looking lawyer, Fiona Shackleton, a fashion favour by tipping that water over her in court. Fiona, nicknamed the Steel Magnolia because of her tough reputation, went into court with a heavily coiffeured Camilla-style hairstyle and emerged with a sexily slicked-back Diana do, post-drenching.

Let's scoot

My civil partner Michael bought me a 50cc scooter for my birthday, for use at our home in Tangier, Morocco. I celebrated with a lot of riding about in the mountains. Scooters are great in North Africa where it's nice and warm but you'd never catch me on one in the UK, I'll stick to my X5, thanks.

It did bring back memories, however, of my first ever mode of transport, a burnt orange colour Suzuki F250 scooter, my cheap and cheerful wheels bought with £45 - two weeks' wages from the pickle factory where I worked when I was 17. I loved that scooter, and the independence it brought me. Ahh!

If you're Happy and you know it

If you're Happy and you know it...

Well it was my 43rd birthday on Friday - thanks for all the cards and pressies - and anyone who knows me will be well
aware that I'm very touchy about my age.

It's not so much a chip on my shoulder as a huge 5lb bag of maris pipers... but I'm pleased to say I've managed to get
over myself a little, in this respect at least, during the past few months.

And that's all thanks to Happy. A strange nickname, maybe, but it's one that kind of suits my personal trainer.
I've never, ever been able to motivate myself to go to the gym more than about twice before losing all fleeting interest in
my new fitness regime. I've spent so much cash on memberships of exclusive fitness centres, never to get anywhere near
by money's worth.

When we had a pool installed at home and a gym, I still couldn't be bothered to exercise. But back in November, after I'd
been on Channel 4's Secret Millionaire and mixed with older people in decline, I made a resolution to keep myself as fit
as I possibly could, and give myself the best chance of good health in life.

I joined a gym, hooked up with Happy, and several months later, I haven't looked back. I honestly think I've never been in
better shape. I'm 43 but I've a better body than I had when I was 23. If that's not a result, I don't know what is!

My weight's the best it's ever been, my waist is the best it's ever been and I have proper muscles for the first time ever.
A couple of years ago I was delighted with the effect that liposuction had to slim me down, but the fat just came back.

My civil partner, Michael, likes hanging out with fellow business people in his spare time, a lot of whom are older, but if
you're not careful you just end up having a lot of rich dinners, late in the evening, and talking shop.
My friends are all in their early 20s and we go out clubbing and dancing. I never used to dance but I feel like I'm reliving
my youth!

People will say: ''It's easy to keep your exercise routine going when you can afford a personal trainer,'' I know, but Happy's
more of a gym partner than an instructor.

He does the exercises alongside me and makes sure I do them properly. Now when I look around the gym I see so many
people with terrible techniques who aren't getting the proper benefit for their efforts.

It's certainly not rocket science but a sensible diet - I've cut out cakes and biscuits - and exercise are the key. People keep
saying to me: ''You look well!'' Now I'm thinking of taking up running when the weather warms up...

Since I started with Facebook, I've had this picture of a muscleman on my profile, with my head superimposed ... maybe
sometime soon I'll actually start lookiing like that!

Could staying in be the new coming out?

Reading about the latest celeb to come out as gay, a friend of mine rather bitchily remarked: ''Ooh, he should have stayed

Which made me wonder, why does anyone have to come out anymore? Why is it a big revelation? Why do we assume
that people are heterosexual unless they tell us otherwise?

I wonder if there'll ever be a time when people don't have to 'come out' as if they're giving up a long-kept secret.
But when I start pondering this sort of thing I often forget how progressive Britain is compared with, say, Iran, the homeland
of the 19-year-old gay man who's currently in the papers with his fight to stay in Britain after the homophobic murder of his
partner. Over there, coming out can be an infinitely bigger decision.

No new Mission for returning Hero Harry

After the news broke about Prince Harry serving in Afghanistan for the last 10 weeks, I was hoping he would celebrate his return at my club Mission on Saturday night.

Harry’s long term girlfriend Chelsy Davy is a student at Leeds University and has already visited the club with Prince William’s girlfriend Kate Middleton last year.

But alas, the champagne I had on ice for them wasn’t needed as Chelsy had taken the week off University and returned to London to spend time with Harry there.

It seems as though absence does make the heart grow fonder, and apparently Harry kept Chelsy’s picture with him the whole time he was on the front line in Afghanistan.

Their on-off relationship seems to have been very much re-kindled as they are planning to spend Easter together in Africa.

I’ll keep the best champagne in the fridge until Harry decides to have a weekend with Chelsy in Leeds!

Dancing On Ice

I’ve continued to enjoy watching my friend Gareth Gates impress the judges with his skating as he and partner Maria Filippov reached the final 5 couples remaining in the contest.

One of the downsides of all the time Gareth is spending in training and the concentration required is that his stammer is returning. It was very bad when we first got to know him on Pop Idol but in recent years it had got much better. He is not taking time out to do his breathing exercises at the moment so it’s getting worse again.

He also had a shock last week when a crazed stalker broke into his dressing room and lunged out at him trying to give him a kiss when he came in. It wasn’t me I promise!

Let’s hope all the hard work is worth it and he glides all the way to the final.

Noodle Month

I had to laugh when I was told that March is officially ‘national noodle month’. An image immediately sprung into my head of everyone walking around with sauce dribbling down their chins from eating noodles every day.

It doesn’t stop with noodles either, national garlic day is in April, doughnut week and watercress week are in May, maple syrup day in November and my personal favourite ‘split pea soup week’ in November �" I must put that one in my diary…

Patrick Swayze

I was very saddened to hear the news that Dirty Dancing and Ghost star Patrick Swayze has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

He was partway through filming a new comedy where he played a gay cheerleading instructor but unfortunately has had to stop filming presumably due to his health.

I hope the negative reporting of his prognosis is exaggerated and that he is able to battle against this aggressive disease.

Patrick and his wife Lisa Niemi have been happily married for 32 years, a rare thing in Hollywood. My best wishes go out to both of them.

Cheating with Delia

I met Delia Smith last week when she was signing copies of her latest book for staff at ASDA Head Office in Leeds.

The book entitled ‘How to Cheat at Cooking’ is an update of her original 1971 best seller of the same title.

She was very polite; however I didn’t seem to be able to strike up the same rapport with her as I do when photographing most celebrities. Perhaps she was just bored of the conveyer-belt style tour that book signings involve and didn’t feel like chatting.

Cookery books always seem to fly off the shelves, and they make great gifts however I’m sure that most of them hardly ever get used. Most people I know have a shelf full of Delia, Nigella, Jamie Oliver, Gary Rhodes et al. At our house they just collect inches of dust but I still couldn’t resist taking home a signed copy of this latest one!

I do admire how Delia has become such a huge household name and given so many previously poor-selling products ‘The Delia Effect’. Sales of eggs, cranberries and Kenwood Mini Choppers all went sky high when Delia recommended them.

Despite my enthusiasm for her new book, I still chose the easy option and went out for Sunday Lunch. I took my family to the carvery at The Nag’s Head at Ainley Top, which was delicious, and I love the new contemporary interior they have created there.

Perhaps now I’ve mentioned it in this column, The Nag’s Head will benefit from the ‘Terry Effect’!

I love Sunday Lunch and am always searching for the best one so if you have any recommendations they would be more than welcome.

As the majority shareholder in Norwich City Football Club, Delia could no doubt beat me hands down at a game of ‘guess the celebrity footballer’. So when my sister Rosemarie pointed out former Leeds United defender Clarke Carlisle, who now plays for Burnley, enjoying lunch at The Nag’s Head too, I didn’t recognise him.

I was stumped again when Liverpool midfielder Jermaine Pennant came into my bar, Fibre last week. I had to ask my Partner, Michael an avid Manchester United supporter to tell me who he was.

From Echo Beach to Transylvania

Introduce me to a soap star however and I’m much more likely to know them. So when Christian Cooke came to chat to me at my Club Mission recently I recognised him instantly.

Christian is better known as Brae Marrack in Echo Beach and when I met him in the VIP Lounge he was partying with his girlfriend and brother.

He is very good looking, which along with his acting will prove an attractive package as he tries to break into Hollywood. His latest role, produced by Sony Pictures is a drama based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula which has been sold to America.

When I mentioned his good looks he said he hates being chosen for that alone. He’s obviously not shy though as he took his shirt off and got down on the dance floor.

I was laughing to myself about the Dracula role, as his girlfriend kept kissing me. She was very flirty and friendly. I wondered how she would feel if I pretended to do the same to Christian, but she just laughed it off.

Losing Neverland

I was shocked to hear that my old friend Michael Jackson may be forced to auction his Californian ranch, Neverland as he faces a financial bill of $25 million.

He hasn’t returned to his former home, since it was ransacked by detectives a few years ago however he doesn’t want the estate with it’s roller coasters, water slides and zoo to be sold.

I can’t help thinking it would prove more financially lucrative to turn it into a commercial venture, like Elvis’ former Memphis home Graceland which is the second most visited private residence in the USA behind the White House. It has even been declared a national historic landmark.

The Times feature: Good times, tough times

Good times, tough times

The businessman and philanthropist, Terry George, and his personal assistant, Nicola Davis, talk to

our correspondent

When the tribute web-site Gone Too Soon last week removed messages of condolence posted in memory of

the Bridgend teenagers, the site's founder, Terry George, said that it was to help to minimise the possibility of

copycat suicides.

Terry is a lover of life. A million-are now, he had a hard time in his own teenage years: one of five children, he

grew up on a notoriously rough estate in Leeds. ''It was very run-down and we were poor,'' he says. ''We had no

electricity for two years after my parents couldn't pay the bills. There wasn't any gas, so we cooked over a coal


''When I left school at 15, the first thing I did was negotiate to pay the electricity bill. I took two jobs, working in a

pickle factory and collecting glasses in a nightclub.''

When Terry went to Cornwall to take part in Channel 4's Secret Millionaire series, screened last November, it

was like travelling back into his past. Today, he and his partner Michael Rothwell are hugely successful: they

run property companies, magazines, clubs and bars, plus the annual Mr Gay UK competition, and live in luxury

in a castellated folly near Leeds. Yet for Secret Millionaire Terry worked in a care home, lived in a caravan and

met local people who opened their homes and extended hospitality to him, even though they were living on

pensions or the minimum wage.

''It made me think deeply,'' he says. ''I'm still in touch with the people I met. I went to the care home's Christmas

party, and Kerry, the young mum working there, has been to our house. She reminds me of my sister Rosemarie,

a single mum who works as a home help - and who doesn't want handouts either.''

Terry's fortune is entirely self-made. As a council-house kid he was fascinated by the lives of the rich and

famous, whose autographs he collected. Then, at 12, he started asking them questions. Among the 300

celebrities he interviewed were Boy George, Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney.

His career progressed into voluntary DJ work on hospital radio at 17: ''Someone showed me how to work the

turntable and I was away.'' A professional stint as a DJ followed, during which a regular gay night would attract

400 people.

Terry had realised he was gay when he was at school: ''But I was confused. Gay people were portrayed as John

Inman or Larry Gray-son, and I was nothing like either. I remember standing outside a gay club in Leeds and not

having the nerve to go in.''

Today, Terry and Michael - the pair have been together for 20 years and ''married'' on the day that civil

partnerships became legal - own 13 businesses employing 147 staff, all informally recruited: ''We have a great

team behind us, but I've never done a proper job interview,'' says Terry. ''I prefer to judge character.''

His PA, Nicola Davis, the niece of a neighbour, remembers vividly how she got her job. She recalls: ''They had

found an injured goose in their grounds, and I happened to be on the spot with my car. We rushed the goose to

the RSPCA, and on the way Terry interviewed me and offered me the job.'' Terry remembers: ''She came over

as caring, attentive and efficient - and my impressions were right.''

Nicola adores her work: ''The businesses are varied and give me 101 things to do. There is also the annual

Bonfire Night party, which I organise in aid of charity. Last year 950 people came.

''Another of my responsibilities is Gone Too Soon, which was created in 2005 after one of Terry's closest

friends died suddenly in Thailand. Terry went to the funeral but a lot of people couldn't afford to, so he had the

idea of putting the order of service online and allowing people to put their own tributes there.

''Today the site has 20,000 memorials, including some famous names. It attracts 12 million page views a month

and gives a lot of people great comfort. We sit here in tears at some of the tributes. We still provide the service


''Terry is a compassionate person with vision and humour. He and Michael run their companies with a lot of

friends and family involved, and I never think of them as my bosses. We all work very hard, but it's never like

being at work.''

When Melissa Came To Stay...

When Melissa Came To Stay…

Michael and I were really flattered a few weeks ago when a TV Production company contacted us about the possibility of filming our house for a new Channel 5 show ‘I Own Britain’s Best Home’.

Basically it is a series of programmes showcasing different types of homes throughout the UK, and viewers will vote in for their favourite.

We agreed to take part as we thought it would be really fun to do, what we hadn’t realised is all the hard work that would be involved!

Of course when you know you are going to be on TV you want your house to look it’s best so we have spent the last month tripping over dust sheets and avoiding wet paint as we ambitiously decided to have the whole place re-decorated.

So when the crew arrived for 2 days of filming last week we were just hiding the vacuum cleaner as they knocked on the door, after having an army of friends over at the last minute to help us get it looking perfect.

The presenter of the programme, Melissa Porter stayed over at our house on the first night. She is currently on BBC2 every evening presenting Britain’s Dream Homes.

It was such great fun having a celebrity staying over, she is a really lovely down to earth person and even offered to do the washing up after dinner. We didn’t let her of course.

During dinner we had been telling her that our house is haunted, and can you believe during the night her bedroom lights kept switching on and off by themselves. She thought it was us playing tricks on her but honestly it wasn’t �" how spooky though?

One of the scenes planned for the second day of filming was Melissa in the swimming pool, so we decided to invite 6 male models around to surprise her. When she came down to the pool there were six hunky guys in their red swimming trunks waiting to dive in and rescue her. She thought it was hilarious and loved playing up to the camera as they all jumped in at once to splash her. The director then decided to film them all in the hot tub with her drinking champagne!

Not surprisingly she didn’t want to leave at the end of the shoot, particularly as she had to drive up to the Lake District late that night to the location of the next shoot.

I’ve always had ambitions to be a TV presenter myself, but what this made me realise is what long hours they keep. They worked 13 hour days on the filming plus travelling between locations. I would certainly have to give up my late nights!

Anyway the series will be shown on Channel 5 during March and April so I hope you’ll be voting for us.

The Brits

If like me you watched last week’s Brit Awards on TV, it makes you wonder if the producers tell the presenters to spice it up during the show like Sharon Osborne tried to do by swearing at Vic Reeves. Personally I thought it was inappropriate from the way the whole thing was going and it was unncesseary.

It was quite clear her mike had been left open as she commented on the Arctic Monkeys and the way they were dressed in flat caps..

I don’t think they did themselves any favours, acting too rock and roll. I reckon they’ll look back in yrs to come and cringe.

I was delighted that Take That won 2 awards. They seem to be so humble in everything they do, appreciating that they have been given a second chance. Every one of them seemsed so pleased with their awards, you can’t help but love them.

Most of the press are saying that Amy Winehouse put in the best performance but I disagree with the critics. I wasn’t a fan of her rendition of Valerie and thought she was wobbly. She is great value for the media though, so outrageous and unpredictable.

Well done Macca on your lifetime achievement award, hope you read my column last week!

More tea, Sir Alex?

More tea, Sir Alex?

Coming home from a jaunt can be pretty tedious. We're all guilty of acting tetchy when we've been killing time in airports and falling asleep in uncomfortable seats, then waking up with a severely cricked neck and creased-up face ...

You can mutter and frown as much as you like, safe in the knowledge that no-one's taking any notice, least of all your nearest and dearest who you're travelling with. But imagine if you're famous and people have got their eyes on you?

Our flight was delayed for 24 hours returning from Rio de Janeiro - though the hardship wasn't too great because when we did finally board, we had business class flat beds. Amazing!

Such luxury usually commands the price of £4,000 per ticket but I managed to get our flights more or less gratis, thanks to the magic of saved-up air miles.

We flew with British Airways and you get real glassware and crockery when it's time for your meal. Later you get a lovely blanket and a big fluffy pillow, your seat reclines to become properly horizontal and you can choose what film you want to watch, when.

You even get a telephone right next to you that you can plug your credit card in to then chat away to your friends and relatives to your heart's content, if you're happy to pay £5 per minute for the privilege!. I loved it so much I felt like moving into the plane permanently.

So we arrived at Heathrow and jumped on our connection, also with British Airways, to Manchester. Who should be sitting a couple of rows in front of me but Sir Alex Ferguson and his missus?

They'd been ushered aboard early so they didn't have to queue with the likes of us. Sir Alex looked decidedly grumpy and was firmly glued to the sports pages of the Daily Mail. He and his wife barely spoke to each other, their body language was awful.

Mrs F was very smartly dressed, like she'd been at a business meeting rather than a posh social do, and he too was very dapper in a grey tweedy jacket and a black and white stripy shirt.

There was no first or business class on the flight, everyone was seated together, and the stewards made a huge fuss of Sir Alex, constantly asking him if he wanted a tea or a coffee ... well I suppose he is a Sir!

Not even their friendly attentions were enough to get him to crack a smile. Before you ask, I didn't do my usual trick of befriending him, I was too scared!

My civil partner Michael had left Rio a couple of days earlier than me and some of the other members of our group - we'd been at the world-famous Carnival. He's a big Man United fan and when I excitedly told him about Sir Alex, he said: "Well there's no mystery why he looked so glum. He's probably still gutted about Man United's shock defeat at the hands of Sven Goran-Erikksson's Man City on Sunday."

Ah, I see. If I'd peeped at the sports news over Sir Alex's shoulder I'd have no doubt figured this out for myself.

When Macca made me coffee

Like everyone else I've been following the McCartney divorce case ... and I have to feel sorry for Paul. Heather's so angry and aggressive, she doesn't do herself any favours or get anyone on her side.

You don't know what goes on behind closed doors but I remember Paul McCartney being absolutely great when I met him, back in the 80s, when I was 22.

I'd come to London to meet up with Michael Jackson, who'd befriended me as a teenager, and the two superstars were recording material together, including The Girl Is Mine.

I introduced myself to one of Macca's people at the Air recording studio in Bond Street and he agreed to let me interview him with my tape recorder - not for any particular journalistic assignment, just because I was a fan.

"Hi, I'm Paul," he said, and shook my hand. As if I didn't know who he was!

He invited me into the studio and made me a cup of coffee! Can you imagine that? I was totally at ease, he was so cool and friendly. He made me laugh, doing an impression of Michael Jackson, and describing the first time Jacko rang him up to ask him about working together.

Paul was thoroughly confused and bemused because he couldn't believe the high-pitched softly-spoken tones on the telephone weren't those of a girl! Of course once he met Michael he realised that he does indeed sound a bit girly ...

And so to Fed

I'm delighted that our big club night, Federation, has a new venue - a dirty, gritty disused car body shop in Holbeck, Leeds. We're doing little to Victoria Works on Bowling Green Terrace, apart from bringing in great lights, a huge sound system and lots of entertainment. The first night is Saturday March 1 and then it's the first Saturday of the month after that. Go to

Me, Jesus and the rain-soaked beaches of Rio

Me, Jesus and the rain-soaked beaches of Rio

When you're jetting off for a cheeky February getaway in exotic South America, the last thing you expect is non-stop rain.

Not just ordinary British drizzle but proper pouring down, mingling with the heat to make Rio de Janeiro all steamy.

The column comes to you from Brazil this week. I'm sitting in a restaurant overlooking Sugar Loaf Mountain as I write this, admiring a hummingbird that's hovering around the plants outside the window during a rare break in the deluges.

The beaches here are deserted, there's not a soul on them. It's like Scotland on a bank holiday, minus the midges.

Not that precipitation's stopped our fun. There are six of us here for the world-famous Carnival, the greatest show on earth ... I can't big it up enough. This is my seventh time here and I just keep coming back for more.

Last year a hotel balcony crashed down around our ears, this time an amazing carnival float fronted by two 50ft lions veered out of control and bashed its way into the crowd. That's latin chaos for you, there's no health and safety here.

And that's part of the excitement. You just don't know what's going to happen next. Before I tell you about the celebrities here, let me describe the restaurants. They're amazing.

So many of them operate an eye-poppingly luxurious buffet system where you pile up on salad and other side dish goodies and let waiting staff carve you pieces of sumptuous meat at the table.

You see Brits and other first-time foreigners acting greedy, like the meat will run out any minute, and piling their plates up. I've learned to eat slowly and savour the flavours. I'm being good, though, I've been refusing all deserts apart from deep-fried bananas that I can't resist.

The Sambadrome where they host the procession competitions is the place to see the stars. I've spotted Maradona before and P Diddy. This time I saw Lucy Liu, the star of Charlie's Angels, happily watching the action from a luxury box.

I took a few photos of her and she smiled and blew kisses to me. I also saw Quincy Jones and Lambert Wilson who starred in The Matrix.

Well, there are a few days left of our holiday - let's hope we get a bit of sunshine. I can't come back to West Yorkshire with no suntan!

Up in the clouds with Christ the Redeemer

Rain certainly hasn't put us off seeing sights while we're here and it was amazing to get up close to the famous statue of Christ the Redeemer overlooking the city.

It's quite rightly lauded as one of the seven wonders of the world. There's an escalator up to him that they apparently installed so that Pope John Paul II could get nice and close when he visited a few years ago.

On the hill it was pretty cloudy but the clouds kept shifting and I took some nice photos. Just being there was brilliant, thinking of all the other people who've made the same trip. I felt the same when I went to the Pyramids.

I'll be back down to earth with a bump next week.