Angus Batey meets the men behind the official England song, Geordie funsters Ant and Dec
LIKE A FAIRY on top of the tree, eggs at Easter or summer speculation over Nicolas Anelka’s next club, some things are constant. The England World Cup single is now as much a part of the pre-tournament build-up as injuries to key players and worrying about penalty shoot-outs.
Since New Order proved that it was possible to make one that wasn’t naff with their Italia 90 effort, the football song has come of age.
The poisoned chalice of performing the official England World Cup song has been passed this summer to Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly, two Newcastle United supporters who have become among the country’s highest profile TV presenters. Once something of a laughing stock after their Byker Grove alter egos, PJ and Duncan, had a pop career, the boys are currently one of the hottest properties in British showbusiness. After hosting Pop Idol and making a tribute to The Likely Lads, weren’t Tyneside’s dynamic duo a little concerned that recording ‘We’re On The Ball’ would harm their hard-won credibility?
“We knew the disadvantages,” Ant says. “We didn’t really need to do it, because we don’t release records any more. But if I’d turned it down, and once World Cup fever had kicked in, and somebody else had recorded it, I’d have been kicking meself for the rest of me life.”
“We couldn’t turn it down,” Dec agrees, “not being football fans.”
Being football fans is something Ant and Dec are almost as good at as being television celebrities. The World Cup TFH is meeting the pair shortly after their home-town club secured qualification for the Champions league, a fact that sends them into maximum cliche mode.
“We’re over the moon,” Ant says, “It’s more than we could have ever hoped for this season.”
“I would have been happy to scrape into the UEFA Cup,” Dec adds.
Time, then, for the acid test: God comes down off his fluffy white cloud and says: “Right lads, you can have England winning the World Cup or Newcastle winning one trophy next season, but not both.” What would you say?
“I think,” Dec says after the briefest of pauses, “you go with your club, let’s be honest.”
“And we haven’t won anything in so long,” Ant adds, “not in my lifetime anyway. But after finishing fourth, I’m right behind everybody in backing Bobby Robson for a knighthood. He’s brilliant.”
Despite their TV commitments, and the fact that theirs are two of the most recognised faces in the country, Ant and Dec still take in as many Newcastle matches as they can, preferring to sit with their fellow Newcastle fans than in VIP seats or the directors’ box.
“We were getting a bit worried because Newcastle’s bad run in London tallied with when we left home,” Dec says. “When we realised, we were like, ‘Ah, s***’. But we went to the Arsenal game which we won before Christmas, so it’s OK now.”
Over the years, the duo have enjoyed a squeaky-clean public image and evaded tabloid scandals. So do they have any advice for the England manager?
“Don’t get caught!” Dec says. “Though it’s a bit late for that now.”
“I think he’s handled it well, to be honest,” Ant adds. “And anyway, as a football fan, I couldn’t care. I’m not bothered what he does off the football field as long as we do well at the World Cup.”
But how successful their record is at summing up the nation’s spirit during the tournament is something they do care about. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t bothered,” Ant says. “You’d like people to like it. And you’d like it to be the soundtrack to the World Cup. But that’s out of our hands.”
“In 1998 there were loads of World Cup records,” Dec says, “and there was room for all of them. ‘Three Lions’was done for Euro 96 but it did better in France 98 than the official song by the Spice Girls.”
“There’s that thing,” says Ant “You could be Spice Girls, or you could be Skinner and Baddiel. And that’s not up to us, that’s up to everybody else.”
“That Spice Girls one was rubbish though,” his partner concludes. “Let’s be honest. It was crap.”
My World Cup
Mark Lawrenson, BBC pundit
I went down Steven Dewhurst’s house six doors down our road in Preston when England won the World Cup in 1966 because his dad had a massive television. We watched most of the game but with the score at 2-2, we withdrew to the garden to re-enact the match that far. We went back in when a scream signalled 3-2, but we were back outside playing three-and-in by the time Hurst completed his hat-trick.
© Angus Batey, The Times, 29 May 2002