On September 25, Declan Donnelly will celebrate his 39th birthday a full 24 hours before I celebrate mine. (If you’re reading this Dec, the offer is still open for a joint party if things are tight.)
Meanwhile in November, his best friend, golf buddy and partner in all things work related, Anthony McPartlin, will join us on the 39th step.
But I’m betting my house and all its contents (including the kids, dogs and wine rack) that despite their advancing years, ITV’s prime-time presenting pair – known best as Ant and Dec – will still be referred to as “the boys” by all who know them.
Will there ever be a time when we don’t see these two – who have just celebrated a quarter of a century in entertainment with another cabinet-full of awards – as fresh-faced Geordie rascals? Oh, I really hope not.
You see, given our closeness in age (I mean, if Dec was born at the old St Mary’s Maternity Hospital in Jesmond, it’s a knocking bet we were roomies for at least a night or two), I reckon that as long as they’re skipping and quipping about the stage like a pair of teenagers, I don’t have to worry about getting old either.
And judging by their top drawer performance at the Takeaway on Tour performance I got swept up with in Leeds recently, I feel confident in leaving the wrinkle cream on the shelf for a while yet.
Based on the Bafta-winning Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway, which guarantees the millions (both in monetary and bums-on-settee terms) for ITV1 whenever it’s on, the live show is currently delighting thousands of arena audiences around the UK.
So far Cardiff, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Glasgow and Belfast have welcomed the goodtime bandwagon which brings all the best bits of the telly show to the live stage... even the signature competition: ‘Don’t just watch the adverts (come on, you know you want to)... WIN THEM!’
“I think that’s pretty special,” says Dec. “I can’t think of another live show where you have the chance of going home with a new 12 grand car or a two-and-a-half grand, all-inclusive holiday, as well as all the other prizes.”
Neither can I. I also can’t think of another show where two people sharing a family packet of crisps and drinking a couple of pints of shandy would get a standing ovation... but this one does. You can’t script that kind of magic.
“We wanted to make the arena show feel as much like the TV show as possible and make sure everyone has a great night,” says Ant. “And I think we’re doing that.”
You’ll struggle to find anyone who’s prepared to argue.
From the moment the pair, who met on the set of Newcastle-based children’s drama Byker Grove in the late 80s, appear at the top of their respective staircases, the #TakeawayOnTour (as it trends on twitter) is infused with every bit of fun-soaked professionalism that its TV counterpart has become famous for.
There’s a celebrity guest announcer (in Leeds it was Keith Lemon); an array of set pieces and performances from the boys themselves (a Riverdance ‘End of the Act’ Show is particularly memorable); and meticulously-researched surprises for audience members (“We’ve had people contacting us to set up their mates and family for months,” says Dec).
Meanwhile the addition of a thoroughly up-for-it live audience, which runs into the many thousands, only enhances the experience.
Take Ant vs Dec, for example – the popular bit of the show which regularly sees the pals pitted against each other in a variety of tasks set by former Pussycat Doll Ashley Roberts. In the live arena, the crowd is split into Team Ant and Team Dec... and don’t just think cheering will be enough.
“To a big degree, our fate is in their hands. There’s no way you’re coming to this show and not getting involved. You’ve got to earn your place,” says Ant, who rose victorious on the night I was in his team, thanks in no small part to our team’s efficiency when it came to getting a giant boulder from A to B.
(In the interests of fairness ahead of the Newcastle dates at the Metro Radio Arena in September, I won’t divulge too many details... )
In addition, the Sing-a-Long Live feature, which on TV sees people at home surprised and tasked with singing along with a performance in the studio, gets an upgrade for the live show. Boyband Blue provide the music on stage and are joined by three people from the crowd who can win spot prizes if they sing the missing words correctly.
There’s so much more I could tell you, but I don’t want to be labelled ‘Spoiler Sam’ – especially when it comes to Ant and Dec’s home crowd who will be seeing more of the pair than anyone.
“We booked more dates at home than anywhere else,” says Dec. “When we were planning the tour, it was like when the football fixtures come out. We wanted to know when we were going to be home, how many dates we were going to be doing,” he laughs.
“To be honest with you, we’ve only sold half the tickets because we’ve had to give so many away to friends and family... I think we’re just breaking even in Newcastle,” adds Ant. “It’s going to be really special.”
Although they have played the Arena in their days as pop chart toppers, PJ and Duncan, these shows will be the first time they’ve filled the venue under their own names, and own steam.
“We never did the arena on our own,” says Dec. “It was always as part of a roadshow or something. We did the City Hall a few times and it was always a special event. It’ll be even more so this time.” So, come on, Who’s Ready to Rhumble?
There will be six performances of Ant and Dec’s Takeaway on Tour between September 5 and 7 at the Metro Radio Arena, Newcastle. Visit www.metroradioarena.co.uk or call 0844 493 6666 for details and booking.