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Bradley Walsh "Variety is great for the soul"

From award-winning dramas to daytime quiz shows this versatile star just can’t stop performing. By Simon Evans

Had the dice fallen rather differently Bradley Walsh could have carved out a career as a professional footballer.

The actor, comedian and game show host is perhaps best-known for the long-running drama series Law & Order, for his stint in Coronation Street, and for hosting ITV1 quiz show The Chase, but at the age of 18 he had signed professional terms with Brentford FC. Ankle fracture injuries put paid to his dreams of soccer stardom, but Bradley already had his eyes on an alternative career.

“Growing up it was always going to be football until my mum, Margaret, took me to the London Palladium to see Tommy Steele in Hans Christian Andersen. I said if I don’t play football for a living, that is what I want to do,” he recalled. The year was 1974, and Bradley was 14-years-old, and that show instilled a life-long love of showbusiness.

“I thought all I ever wanted to do was kick a football but I can remember being overawed by these young kids on stage.

“I saw football as showbusiness anyway. As a young child at family gatherings I’d stand up and tell jokes and I acted and sang in productions at school, so right from the start I had a natural aptitude to perform.”

Bradley was born in Watford in 1960 and grew up in a council house in nearby Leavesden. “My mother was a single parent, who had to struggle hard to make ends meet,” he told the Telegraph. “At one point she was holding down three different jobs. It was a happy childhood but we certainly didn’t have a great deal of money.”

From the age of 14 Bradley started taking on odd jobs, including a stint as a baker’s boy. He would get up at 4.30am to help the baker unload his van at 5am, go home to grab an hour’s sleep, and then get ready for school.

“I think I’ve inherited my mother’s attitude, that hard work will pay off,” he says. “I believe you can achieve anything if you put your mind to it.”

Bradley left school at 16 and started working as an apprentice jet engineer in the Rolls Royce Helicopter Engine factory before being snapped up by Brentford FC. Although he never made the first team, Bradley had a run in the reserves, and also had successful loan spells with Dunstable Town, scoring 15 goals in 25 appearances, and Barnet.

When his football career ended, Bradley was able to indulge his early love of showbusiness by working as a bluecoat at Pontin’s in Morecambe for three months, earning £37 a week after his board and lodgings were deducted.

“It was there I got the bug to perform,” he says. “I wrote to about 25 bookers and agents yet only one replied, with a gig at a club in Kilburn. But I was paid £45 for a 40-minute slot, which was a fortune for me, as I had only been paid £120 for a week’s work at the factory.”

He started picking up more and more gigs but becoming a father in his early 20s made Bradley realise he had to start earning some serious money. “In the early days it was a struggle to juggle my day job with showbusiness ambitions and there were times when we were left with £5 at the end of the week for food,” he says.

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