Belfast Telegraph

Home Life Weekend

'Eamonn Holmes pretends to hate me on telly, but he doesn't really'

Comedian Leigh Francis, aka Keith Lemon, is back with Through The Keyhole. He tells Georgia Humphreys how he's grown up

Keith Lemon is probably the last person you'd want snooping around your house. Unashamedly crude, relentless with his mocking of celebrities and hilariously unpredictable - there's no one quite like the alter ego of Leeds-born comedian Leigh Francis.

Yet, surprisingly, his hit show - a remake of 1990s favourite Through The Keyhole - is about to return for a fifth series. And according to Keith (44), it might just be his best yet.

"I've come out a lot with, 'That were good, weren't it' - we got some great houses," teases the star, who conducts our entire interview in character.

"When it goes out, it feels like years ago to me, but I know it's really good."

The series, which sees him travel around the world to invade celebrity properties, will feature the likes of Paddy McGuinness, Gregg Wallace, Louis Walsh, Shane Richie and Scarlett Moffatt on the studio panel.

Together, they use clues that Keith finds - he's not afraid to rummage through the celebrities' valuables - to try and guess who lives there.

And the TV personality, who we first met on Channel 4 parody sketch show Bo' Selecta!, knows it's a different discipline to his other work.

"I've got lines to learn," he exclaims of the Saturday night prime-time show. "I don't really get nervous. Last time I got nervous was actually the pilot - I didn't understand what was happening to me," he says in his thick Yorkshire accent.

As he points out, "there's nowt to go wrong really" because most of the show is pre-recorded, but he's living his childhood dream.

"I had a video camera as a kid and the first thing I spoofed was Through The Keyhole. I'd pretend I was Loyd Grossman. And now I host it, so I'm really happy."

It's far from the only successful show Keith has under his belt. He has presented more than a dozen series of ITV2's Celebrity Juice, along with pals Holly Willoughby and Fearne Cotton - he calls it their "night out".

Famous for the outrageous games the celebrity guests join in with and Keith's notorious catchphrases, like "bang tidy", that comedy panel show has won numerous awards, including a Bafta in 2016 for Best Entertainment Performance.

"When I get recognised by kids in the street, I always think they must have seen Through The Keyhole and not Celebrity Juice," says the comedian, whose on-screen look is normally completed with flamboyant outfits, fake tan and a ginger moustache.

"And then they'll say something from Celebrity Juice and I say to parents, 'Don't let your kids watch Juice'."

But one thing is set to change on Celebrity Juice in the future - Keith insists there will be less, erm, nudity.

"I just think that I've grown up recently," he says.

So, hang on - it will be a more mature Keith Lemon on our screens in 2018?

"I feel like I'm a bit more mature, yeah I do," he suggests. "It (Celebrity Juice) hasn't quietened down, it's still stupid and silly and childish. There's just certain things we don't do. And I'm nicer to Fearne."

Out of all the Celebrity Juice cast, Keith reckons he hangs out with regular guest, chef Gino D'Acampo, the most.

"He's got a restaurant in Camden and, since it opened, I've been about four times," he says enthusiastically. "There's pictures of me all over his restaurant and I don't ever pay. He says: 'No, no you're family, you'll never pay'."

Actually, one topic Keith loves to chat about are the celebs he hangs out with.

Of TV personality Jonathan Ross, who appears on the panel in an upcoming episode of Through The Keyhole, he says: "He likes to give me grief on television, but in real life we're good friends. He's given me a lot of advice and he helps me out a lot, actually."

He adds: "Eamonn Holmes is another one I'm good friends with - on telly he pretends he hates me, but he don't."

And then there are the non-celeb mates - yep, even Keith Lemon has superfans.

"There was a lady called Tracey on Twitter and Instagram and I became friendly with her and if she wants to come see the show, I just give her a ticket.

"She used to give me gifts all the time. I like the band INXS and she just gives me INXS stuff a lot of the time. She'll get, like, a picture of Michael Hutchence and just put, 'Hi Keith', or something on it."

But while a lot of us love Keith's unique comedy, there's no denying his out-there humour divides the public.

And he confides he's received abuse in the past from online trolls.

"There are some horrible people that say, 'Keith, give it up man, I wish you were dead'. And then I just mute them (on social media). But, generally, everyone's really nice to me. When I go back to Leeds, people always want to buy me pints."

Talking of his home town, the northerner, who now lives in London, becomes sentimental, saying: "I miss me mates, you know. I've got some lovely friends down here, but you do miss people that you grew up with.

"But I go back, they're very protective of me and I like that, so I feel, like, safe when I'm with them. When I'm in a boozer, it's nice."

Well, one thing's for sure, it would never be a dull night out with Keith.

Through The Keyhole, ITV, Saturday, 9.30pm

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