I WAS born in Wallsend and left when I was 18. They were formative years,” says Dr Chris Steele.
Raised by a single parent in a working-class, industrial town, you would think that aspirations of becoming a doctor were perhaps a bit lofty.
But, says the 65-year-old TV doctor, it was a career he’d set his heart on at a young age: “I have got no idea why I wanted to become a doctor – there was no pressure for me to do anything like that.
“But I always wanted to be a doctor. There was no obvious reason and I was quite young when I decided that that’s what I wanted to do.”
Unfortunately when Dr Chris – who lived in Miller Road, Wallsend – didn’t pass the all-important 11-plus exam to ensure a place in grammar school his medical ambition seemed less likely.
However his mum Anne, 84, wasn’t going to let that stand in his way and fought for a place for young Chris at St Aidan’s Catholic School in Sunderland.
“When I did my 11-plus everyone expected me to pass it easily – I didn’t. But my mother wanted me to go to grammar school,” says Dr Chris.
So she paid for me to go to St Aidan’s in Sunderland.”
He finished his education at St Aidan’s and then, aged 18, was tempted by the bright lights of Manchester to study medicine, which is where he met his future wife Monica, now 66.
“All the lads at my school were doing A-levels and a lot of them were going on to university,” said Dr Chris.
“My uni fees were paid and I also got a grant – every term I got a grant and it was very pleasant indeed!
“It was very different living in Wallsend. I remember before leaving things were going wrong – the shipyards were closing, the cigarette company across the field from our house closed down.
“To go to the bright lights of the city was very, very exciting. Going to university was exciting as I was independent and living my own life. It was an exciting time in the 60s.”
After his course Dr Chris left Manchester for Blackpool to take on a house job at the Victoria Hospital, before securing a role as a trainee in the rural Cheshire village of Lymm.
But it was his next job – as a GP in Fallowfield, South Manchester – which changed his life forever after taking on up-and-coming TV duo Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan as patients.
“I was their GP. I didn’t know who they were at first – and at that time they weren’t on This Morning,” explains the father-of-four to Anne-Marie, 38, Matthew, 34, Catherine, 29, Andrew, 24 and grandfather-of-two to Anna, six and Emily, 13.
“When they became patients at the practice they were just on Granada Television.”
That was over two decades ago when ITV bosses were dreaming up a ‘magazine’ format programme that would revolutionise morning television.
“They wanted to put a programme out just like a woman’s magazine with a fashion page etc. It was quite a radical idea,” says Dr Chris, who still lives in south Manchester.
“They thought a husband and wife team as presenters would be unusual.”
The bosses were also after a GP to appear on the show to answer live calls from viewers concerning their health.
“They interviewed several doctors but they couldn’t find a suitable one.
“The programme was starting in two weeks and they were going to drop the idea of a doctor.
“But Richard and Judy just happened to say ‘have you tried our GP?’. They were like ‘no who’s he?!’.
“But it wasn’t just because I was their GP.
“Before all this happened I was a specialist in nicotine addiction and because of that I ran big seminars in Manchester. I spoke on the subject all over the world and whenever I went abroad I was interviewed on TV and radio etc.
“So they knew that I had experienced TV cameras.
“Two guys came along to interview me and then they said ‘do you want the job?’. I said ‘no’!
“I knew there was going to be live phone-ins and topics coming up with no warning – making a mistake as a fashion expert is different from making a medical mistake on TV. I thought ‘no, I’m not doing that.’
“But I came home and talked to the four kids. They were saying ‘go on, go on!’.
“As the show was starting in September I said I was going to do it until Christmas or New Year, and then they could find someone else. But here we are 21 years down the line!”
There have many changes to the This Morning format over the years – from the presenter line-up to its relocation from Liverpool to London.
But Dr Chris – who is now one of the most well-known health professionals in the UK as well as having an MBE – has remained constant.
“I was very nervous at first but now it’s just a job,” says Dr Chris, who is the face of Northumberland-based Pharma Nord’s Coenzyme Q10 supplement in the UK.
“I have to do a lot of homework and make sure that I’m up-to-date with all of the medical journals. I have to do a lot of work each before the programme.”
Despite the homework and the 4am train trips to London for his weekly Tuesday slot, up until four years ago Dr Chris still worked as a part-time GP.
“I’m not just doing one slot on This Morning.
“Because I’m on TV people ask me to do radio interviews and the press come to you for help and advice.
“It got more and more demanding.
“Eventually I went half time at the practice and gave that up just four years back.
“I’m still there so I must be enjoying it. I’m not nervous now – it’s just my job.”
The This Morning set is teeming with celebrities of all calibre, but down-to-earth Dr Chris takes it in his stride: “Each week there are celebrities around. “Years ago I would have been star-struck – especially when you see people like Joan Collins.
“But I’m not so over-awed now. It’s not that I’m a snob – it’s just the business you’re in. It’s a young person’s business. It’s quite a dynamic industry. I’m a grandfather now!
“Don’t ask me to make a list because I couldn’t tell you!
“I hardly watch TV and don’t know who these people are.
“I just say ‘hello there’.”
And it’s this down-to-earth attitude that has kept Dr Chris on our screens as a trustworthy family GP who we would all feel comfortable revealing our health problems to.
In fact I’m almost tempted to get some advice myself before ringing off.
I suppose I’ll just have to get in line...
Dr Chris has been behind some worldwide TV ‘firsts’ on This Morning including:
A live breast examination
A self examination of testicles
A live vasectomy procedure
A live cervical smear
He also developed skin cancer on his cheek and the procedure to remove this was also done live on air