Back on the box: Chat show host Jonathan Ross says he can't believe he's still doing it
Jonathan Ross is set to get up close and personal with a whole new batch of A-list stars as his prime-time talk show returns this evening for another season. Gemma Dunn meets up with the much-loved host to find out more
IT'S not every day you get a sneak peek into Jonathan Ross's impressive "office". Forget minimalist chic. Aside from a desk and drawing board – "That's where I write" – this workspace reads like a veritable Aladdin's cave of collectables; a treasure trove packed wall-to-wall with comic books, comic book art and pop culture memorabilia.
"There's only about 15 people in the world that would care about this!" quips the Marvel super fan, excitedly pointing out a rare title on our impromptu tour. "This collection is quite niche."
We continue. A life-sized panda suit; a huge nod to the star's love for Thunderbirds; shelf after shelf of pristine figurines, most of them still in their boxes; and an enviable throng of retro furniture, including a vintage record player, set against a stack of his favourite vinyl.
"Shall we sit down?"
Shoes off (both of us – Ross's floors are adorned with plush white rugs), we settle in to discuss the return of his hit ITV series, The Jonathan Ross Show.
"I can't believe I'm still doing it full stop," he admits. "Bearing in mind I started in 1987 and, as I'm sure you're aware, I've had a rollercoaster of a career.
"What's remarkable is that as long as we have TV and radio, we'll always have talk shows as people still like watching them. I suspect that's part of the reason why I'm still here, as the idea of the show is so solid."
The heavyweight of comedy chat, Ross (58) first earned his talk show stripes as the host of the BBC's Bafta-winning Friday Night With Jonathan Ross during the 2000s; before leaving the broadcaster – after some controversy, no less – for its rival in 2011.
He's since re-established himself, getting up close and personal with A-listers including Hugh Jackman, Richard Gere, Michael Caine and Sylvester Stallone in a revived no-holds-barred format.
And this season – his 15th with ITV – is no different.
"We have Michelle Dockery and Elizabeth McGovern from Downton Abbey The Movie," he says. "Stephen Fry, Martin Freeman – he's always great value.
"Liam Gallagher's on. I've met him socially before, and I know Noel fairly well," he adds. "So Liam knows I know Noel and I'm sorta friends with Noel, and Noel knows I know Liam, but they never talk about each other. So it's gonna be interesting.
"And Adam Lambert's on, which I'm so excited about. Gordon Ramsay's on..."
In recent years, Ross – known for his distinctive voice, trademark humour and flamboyant style – has had a vast range of famous faces on his sofa.
Is it tricky knowing who will work well together?
"You want to make sure there's a good mix – [for example] these days you'd never do a show that's all men," he reveals. "You look at 20 years ago or even 10 years ago, that was common.
"We [also] won't do a show without at least one person of colour on," he adds. "We want to reflect the world, the country, entertainment and sport as it is, which is very diverse.
"So you want at least one person who you know will be very funny. And you want someone who has lived a lot and achieved a lot, to balance the different component parts."
As for content, "it rarely happens that [guests] don't deliver," says the London native. "And if they don't deliver then that's my fault, it's my job to make it work.
"There are other factors, though," he reasons. "As you get older – and I am now in my late 20s – you realise that everyone's got their own stuff going on, so you have to make sure that you're sensitive and can coax the best out of them."
Though the show is not trying to expose anyone, Ross points out.
"It's not investigative journalism, I'm not giving them a grilling or imposing my feelings about what I perceive to be their life or career," he elaborates. "It's all about creating a memorable, fun, entertaining show."
But, he follows: "You have to be sensitive with certain topics. We live in a culture that values sharing more and more and we talk about things that even 10 years ago we wouldn't have talked about.
"[Guests] tend to feel that they want to talk about their depression, eating disorder or other bad things that have happened," he elaborates.
"It connects you to other human beings and we all seem to benefit from actually hearing that people who we might otherwise put on a pedestal go through the same things we all do," argues Ross, who shares three grown-up children with screenwriter wife Jane Goldman.
"So in a way it's got easier, but in another way it's got harder because if you're doing a Saturday night entertainment show you don't want it all to be about those things. There has to be light and shade."
Does he ever get starstruck?
"I remember a few years ago, when I was hosting Bafta, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt walked past and I had to sit down," he confesses, laughing. "They were so physically beautiful, I couldn't stand any longer.
"But some people have a real charisma or a quality," he continues. "A big director I know said years ago that the best actors are damaged people who can tap into that aspect of themselves and share it with us."
He adds: "Sometimes you meet people and there's a quality where you feel an immediate connection."
As for people he has yet to meet, Ross has the likes of Drake and Post Malone on his radar. Or if he was to extend the offer of an hour-long special – a solo format previously frequented by the likes of Madonna and David Bowie – Beyonce is understandably at the top of the list.
"And if Kanye came over with the Kardashians, we'd give them the whole show. People who you know that there's a big interest in.
"I would consider doing a David Attenborough special too, because there isn't a more loved man in British broadcasting."
Yet while he can reel off some tales – and he does – of divas he'd encountered back in the day, he's pleased to report they're few and far between these days.
"People are much more aware of perception now – with social media, stories get out," Ross reflects.
"The industry's changed so much in the time I've been doing it; [celebrities] know what they're getting into, who the audience is. They probably know the demographics of your show better than you do," he concludes.
"So everyone's very engaged with what they're doing."
:: The Jonathan Ross Show returns to ITV tonight.