"We were in tears for most of our latest run of shows"
For Davina McCall and Nicky Campbell, the fourth series of Long Lost Family is as emotional as ever, they tell Jeananne Craig.
With three series of reunion show Long Lost Family under their belts, and a fourth set to hit screens this month, presenters Davina McCall and Nicky Campbell are experts at fighting back the tears. But one tale on the Bafta-winning ITV show even had the ever-professional McCall “in tatters”.
It was series two, where Maureen, from Liverpool, wanted to track down the mother who had walked out on her as a toddler.
The show's producers discovered that, not only was Maureen's mother dead, she had a half-brother and sister who had also been abandoned.
Breaking the news proved almost too much for McCall, whose own mother left when she was aged three, and with whom she had a difficult relationship until her death in 2008.
“I'm going to start crying talking about it,” the former Big Brother presenter confesses as she recalls her visit to Maureen's home, while Campbell — himself an adopted child — listens intently.
“Before I even went into her house, I was sitting crying in the car. I had to phone the producer and ask her to come and talk me down in the back of the car,” McCall (46) explains. “It all caved in, but I managed to pull myself together for Maureen. I just related to her on a very deep level.”
After imparting the news, Maureen and mum-of-three McCall “talked through how some mothers just aren't cut out to be mothers”.
“And then (Maureen) came over all protective older sister, like, ‘I want to meet (my siblings), they've been through exactly the same thing as me'.”
Series four makes for equally emotional viewing. In episode one, we see a Hampshire-based woman track down the son she gave up for adoption more than 40 years ago, and McCall uses her fluent French (her mother was from the country) to help a Yorkshire nurse find her father in the Alps.
“We were both in absolute pieces doing the voice-over for episode one,” says Campbell, who tracked down his birth parents as an adult. “You're trying to go, ‘And then... (breaking into pretend sobs) we found them living in France’.”
“And I'm sitting in the voice-over booth going, ‘Hang on, keep it running, keep it running, I want to watch Nicky's bits',” McCall adds. “It takes us hours to do the voice-overs because we're totally immersed in the show.”
It must be quite draining filming so many emotional scenes? At the end of each day, father-of-four Campbell (53) explains, “you go back and you hold your children very tight and you give your wife a big kiss”.
Given the emotional subject matter, it would be easy for the show — which picked up the Best Feature award at this year's TV Baftas — to stray into mawkish territory.
Keen to “big up” production company Wall To Wall, McCall enthuses: “They do such a good job of filming it in such a way that it never makes you feel voyeuristic or uncomfortable, or like you're taking advantage and being cynical or over-emotional. I really appreciate that.”
Campbell adds: “They so deserved that Bafta, the team. They all got their Baftas — did we get a Bafta? No.”
When McCall informs him that it apparently costs £1,000 if you want your own Bafta, Campbell replies: “I know what you're getting me for Christmas.”
Despite their easy rapport, McCall doesn't get to spend much time with her “TV husband” during filming — one presenter meets the person looking for their relative, while the other is with the person who's been tracked down.
The hosts text each other about how things are going, and meet up when they are filming a reunion between family members.
“It's like being with the bride and the groom on a wedding day — Nicky getting excited with his side and me getting excited with my side,” McCall says. “We don't hang out enough. We see each other at the re
unions, but we have to whisper because they're meeting in the room next door. Or we're crying behind a pillar.”
Between series, both are kept busy with other projects. McCall fronts Channel 4 game show The Million Pound Drop and Sky 1 talent show Got To Dance, and earlier this year completed an epic 500-mile triathlon for Sport Relief.
“My left knee's still a bit iffy but I'm nearly there,” she says of her post-challenge fitness regime (and politely declines the platter of biscuits on offer during the interview).
Campbell, meanwhile, continues to host his BBC Radio 5 Live breakfast show and has recorded an easy-listening album, We're Just Passing Through, with singer Kate Robbins.
But it seems that Long Lost Family holds a particularly special place in their hearts.
“Every story, there's a part of it that I can relate to on some level, every single one — of loss, of love, of wonder, of missing something, of feeling guilty and ashamed,” says McCall.
“You keep thinking, ‘How many different stories can there be?'
“But there are millions. Everybody has a completely different story.”
- Long Lost Family, UTV, Monday, July 14, 9pm
The TV shows that reunited long-lost families
- Surprise, Surprise! — Cilla Black originally hosted this popular show, which first hit screens in 1984 and granted people’s wishes, often reuniting them with long-lost family and friends. The revamped show returned to screens in 2011, hosted by Holly Willoughby.
- Jeremy Kyle — Reunion segments on the drama-filled chat show have included ‘Find My Father Before I Give Birth To His Grandson’ and ‘Reunite Me With My Daughter — I Saved Her Life As A Baby’.
- This Is Your Life — In addition to being presented with the ‘Big Red Book’, guests on the show (which aired from 1955-2003) were regularly reunited with former teachers and old friends.
- Who Do You Think You Are? — From Amanda Redman to Jerry Springer, celebrities tracing their family histories on this gentle and moving show often get the chance to meet relatives for the first time.
- The Big Reunion — Not quite a family reunion show; the ITV2 series brings together long-lost pop acts, such as B*Witched and Damage, to offer them another slice of fame.
Belfast Telegraph Digital