Nick Hewer: ‘The best thing I ever did was to quit smoking and take up drinking’

Nick Hewer: ‘The best thing I ever did was to quit smoking and take up drinking’

A former smoker, he is self isolating at his farmhouse in Northamptonshire until the end of June. “As a 76 year old, I have got to be a bit more careful because I was a smoker for many years,” he says. “I gave up 20 years ago but I did a bit of damage and so I am more susceptible to being hit hard by the virus if I were to get it.

“Like much of the population, I’ve been drinking more in lockdown but I have been ever since I gave up smoking. Everyone has to have a little vice after all.

“Quitting cigarettes is one of the things I am most proud of. I took the medication, when it was fashionable to do so, and I stopped in two days and I have never wanted a cigarette since.

“I don’t miss smoking, I just took up drinking instead and now I drink red wine and I have a glass with dinner every night or, more recently, a glass of beer. 

“The trouble with a glass of wine is that it is very rapidly followed by another glass of wine and then it can go on a bit!” 

“But I am quite fit and I had a heart check-up not long ago. I have worked very hard over the years and when I was in Rwanda working for the charity Hope And Homes For Children my vision went a bit funny.

“Unbeknownst to me, I had blown a blood vessel behind the retina and if it had gone on, it would have gone into the brain. So when I came back I saw the doctor and he said, ‘Good God, how long has this been going on?’ 

“He said I was dangerously close to having a stroke and put me on hypertension pills, which I still take, and that is the last I heard of it really.

“But because I am considered someone who is a bit high risk I haven’t been out of my farmhouse in Northamptonshire for two months.

“The last time was on March 17, which is when we filmed the last episode of Countdown.”

Nick can’t wait to start filming the gameshow again and is in contact with co-hosts Suzie Dent and Rachel Riley, a new mother to baby Maven.

“I spoke to Rachel the other day and she called me when she was out for a stroll with her baby,” he says.

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Nick grew tired of chasing young contestants around in foreign countries (Image: PA)

“We are scheduled to go back in July to film Countdown but I am very cautious. We were due to film Countdown on March 18 but we decided it was too dangerous then.

“However I always get lots of people tweeting me saying how much they love Countdown and how it has been keeping them going in lockdown.

“It is sad that we are now showing re-runs but this virus is not going to see off Countdown. The first episode aired in 1982 and it will never stop.

“The one thing I won’t be able to do, though, is give Maven a cuddle. She is such a cute baby. I love kids – and they seem to like me. I think it’s because I’m a big kid at heart and I have got a childish sense of humour.”

However, for now Nick is content to be “rattling” around in his farmhouse with his partner of 25 years, Catherine, and their black cat Sid.

“Now there is no longer the pressure of work but it’s more about age catching up,” he says.

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Nick fears he’ll never travel as he once did, driving to Mongolia for charity (Image: PA)

“I’ve been trying to heave mowers around in the garden and I was up a scaffolding tower the other day fixing a light bulb and I’ve been building a workshop.

“I am desperate to get to B&Q to get some screws for my workshop but instead I’ve been online every day attempting to order them. So while I wait for them to be delivered, I’ve been trying to busy myself in the kitchen.”

Nick reveals how he has been honing his cooking skills in lockdown.

“I have to admit I’m from a generation for whom the kitchen is something you hear about but you never actually see and you certainly don’t get involved in it,” he laughs. “However since we’ve been forced to stay at home, I have become a bit of a cook.

“I cooked Catherine a steak a couple of nights ago and my speciality is a leg of lamb and I cook breakfast every morning.

“We have six chickens, who I affectionately call “the ladies” and we have so many eggs to get rid of that we either give them to the Amazon delivery driver or Colin the postman. I actually cook fried eggs with bacon most days.”

Nick recalls how he also used an astonishing number of eggs – 23 – to make a three-layered chocolate cake on The Great Celebrity Bake Off for Stand Up To Cancer.

Despite all his efforts, it was a disaster and Prue Leith confessed that he was the most “appalling baker” she had ever encountered.

“Actually I didn’t mind making a fool of myself,” he says. “I am not one of those deeply competitive people at all – in fact I rather dislike deeply competitive people, I think they’re boring.”

As Lord Sugar’s right hand man on The Apprentice for 10 years, Nick encountered many irritating contestants and he doesn’t miss the hours he had to work, admitting that it “became too tiring” while being on Countdown at the same time.

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Great British Bake Off hosts blasted Nick ‘the worst baker ever’ (Image: Channel 4)

‘I worry “The Apprentice did have a huge impact on my life,” he confesses. “But in no way was it a burden other than it became a struggle following the contestants around all day.

“After 10 years I thought, ‘It’s time to stop this’. By which time I was making documentaries, then Countdown came along and frankly I was working every minute of every day. I was on the after-dinner speaking circuit and I had charity commitments but I was starting to get burnt out and I couldn’t do it any more.

“I’m in my ninth year of Countdown and my contract runs until the end of this year and I would happily continue, if they want me that is.”

A keen traveller, Nick has spent many a summer spell on Lord Sugar’s boat sailing around the Mediterranean but accepts that because of the global coronavirus pandemic that it is unlikely to happen this year.

“It’s such a shame as I love to travel and I find it frustrating that I can’t jump on a plane and go exploring and I won’t be able to travel through Mongolia and central Asia as I did 10 years ago. What a devastating impact the coronavirus has had. The world has shrunk and is poorer for it.

“I am 76 and it is difficult to get travel insurance at my age but now presumably it will be doubly so because of coronavirus. It’s going to be a problem and you can’t go dancing off into the unknown without any insurance.

“I struggle to comprehend what has happened to us all and the world has changed for ever. I do worry about the world I will leave behind for my five grandchildren.”

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Nick loves Countdown, joining after leaving The Apprentice (Image: PA)

One thing Nick insists will never happen is for him to end up in a care home, which have been badly affected by Covid-19.

“I would never go into a home,” he says shuddering at the thought. “I would hopefully be looked after by Catherine. She is younger than me and she is very hands on. Mind you, she does already look after me, royally!” 

Meanwhile, Nick works tirelessly to make things better for others.

“As a result of my public relations background and media profile it has enabled me to work with many charities close to my heart including Hope And Homes For Children, Street Child, Pancreatic Cancer Action and Fairtrade, all of which I am patron of,” he says.

“Last year I was very excited to be appointed as President of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists and I have been working very closely with the college highlighting the great work that speech therapists have been doing in the ICU units helping Covid-19 patients who have come off the ventilators and teaching them to speak and swallow again.

“But once my work is out of the way, I like getting on my exercise bike – I cycle every morning – and I do manual work in the garden every day.

“I’m going to come out of this lockdown fitter than I’ve ever been!”

Published at Sun, 17 May 2020 11:22:00 +0000