Presenter Richard Bacon, who has hosted shows ranging from Blue Peter to The Big Breakfast, is soon to oversee the proceedings on ITV’s Eternal Glory. A sort of Celebrity Krypton Factor with lots of tight lycra.
How was Eternal Glory explained to you at the beginning?
“I met with the production company and it was really easy for me to get my head around it because they had clips of the other versions. It’s been a hit in Sweden and in a few Nordic and Scandinavian countries, so they said, ‘Look at this’. When you describe it on paper your brain starts thinking about Superstars or Gladiators or something like that, and it’s really nothing like that.”
What did you make of the challenges?
“They are clever, and often really simple. They are games that you will want to play yourself! There’s one where they have to walk blindfolded through a tunnel of electric wires, it’s a bit like a grown-up, adult version of a buzz wire game. But you’re the hoop! There’s one where we fire a load of tennis balls at people and they have to try and deflect them with their hands. Another really simple one, which has been in all of the versions of the show, is where they have to hang on to bars over the water, and they’re all next to each other. The winner is the person who lets go last and falls into the water. So you have the cinematic quality of falling into the water, the endurance quality of actually holding your own body weight and the psychological aspect of being opposite other sports people and being able to see them. Sometimes they might talk to each other or taunt each other.”
Is the key to this show the fact that they are sports stars?
“The challenges are cleverly worked out and stylish, they have science behind them rather than that knock ‘em out nonsense. It is a test of endurance and skill and psychology, and what it does is it taps into the idea that sportspeople are competitive forever. When they return to civvy life, that competitive instinct that has defined them probably since they were six years old doesn’t switch off.”
Do they feel like there’s a void in their lives?
“Yes, they often say, ‘There’s this void in my life since I stopped playing or running, or swimming’. We’re switching that back on. These people are going to come together and they really want to win, so you’ve got that lovely match-up between something as simple as people hanging off a bar over water, allied to innately competitive people, as competitive as you can get, because they all played sports at the highest level. I think with any competition show, they only ever really work if you believe that the contestants want to win – here all of them are going to want to win the show!”
What did you think when you first saw the line-up?
“I thought it was a fantastic mix. What’s clever is that we’ve put together challenges that men and women can do together, and at different ages, so you’ve got people like Jade Johnson, who retired only recently, and then you’ve got people like Fatima Whitbread and Matt Le Tissier who retired years ago.”
Who do you think will be the most competitive?
“I think Fatima being older, and out of the game for longer, might feel like she has more to prove. My memory of her as an athlete and javelin thrower in the late ‘80s is of a fiercely competitive person. She seemed like a ball of quite hard-edged determination in those days. I assume that never leaves you. Matt Le Tissier’s life seems like it’s quite a big jolly. Does that shave a little bit of the competiveness off you? I don’t know. He seems to have a very nice life. Then there’s James Cracknell – it will be interesting to see.”
Do you think there will be a clear male/female divide?
“I don’t think it will come together that way. They’re also living in an athlete’s style village together – better known as ‘the villa’ – and I don’t know what happens in a situation like that. The women probably naturally gravitate towards the women and the men towards the men, that’s probably a human nature thing, isn’t it? So you might find that that happens in the house a little bit.”
How did you find the challenges when you tried them out?
“That’s the other thing that’s appealing about this show – if you’re watching Shane Williams play rugby or Fatima throw a javelin, or Matt dribble past a load of players for Southampton, you can’t have a go at that, right? It’s not possible. But you play along with most of these challenges at home. I think I’d be a bit pathetic, to be honest with you! I had a go at the crouching one and I gave up as soon as I felt any pain. I’m not actually that competitive.”
Do you think that unique sports element does make the show stand out from other celebrity based series?
“I think the sports element, unlocking their competitiveness that’s always there, is a potential advantage. The show is about defying the science with sheer will. It’s going to come out in the first challenge, on day one, it’s going to come straight out and it will be fascinating to see. Some of the challenges involve quite a lot of pain. There’s one where they have to adopt a kind of crouching position for as long as they can, a type of squat, and hold it, and I’ve had a go of it and it really, really hurts. They can, if they want to, talk to each other, but I can imagine, in a situation like that where they are naturally competitive, they’re in pain, one is taunting another, but the other might well get annoyed, and you can imagine that affecting their relationship back in the athlete’s village.”
The sporting legends – James Cracknell, Matt Le Tissier, Fatima Whitbread, Jade Johnson, Liz McColgan, Shane Williams, Gail Emms and Christian Malcolm – will battle it out as their endurance is tested in a the six part Eternal Glory, which will air on ITV in October. The eight sports stars are to compete against one another, taking on tough physical and mental challenges in a bid to prove which sport and which athlete is the ultimate champion.