With Red Nose Day fast approaching, presenter duo Sam Nixon and Mark Rhodes are about to burst onto our screens in a riot of music and colour. The cheeky chappies, better known as Sam and Mark, will present a new show, Comic Relief Does Glee Club, which will run on BBC1 from 14th to 18th March at 5.15 each day.
I caught up with the pair last week to chat about their upcoming projects and to find out more about the secret to their success. Hailed as the new Ant and Dec, I could tell straight away by their infectious personalities and the twinkle in their eyes just why the nation is falling in love with Sam and Mark.
I wanted to take the boys back and find out a little about their singing career. We first saw them back in 2003 when they were finalists in the second series of Pop Idol. How did it feel to stand on that stage in front of millions of viewers each week?
“It was absolutely incredible to get up on that stage,” says Sam, who came third in the competition. “It was the biggest and best platform we could ever have hoped for. Mark and I hit it off really well from the start and it was fantastic that we both ended up in the final three.”
“Yes,” agrees Mark. “It was a brilliant time in our lives. It was such an amazing feeling to stand beside Michelle Mc Manus in the final. Those moments before the winner is announced are so tense. Obviously I really wanted to win. There’s no point in saying otherwise, but it was such an honour to get so far.
At this point, I mention that I watched every episode of the series and followed their journeys right from the beginning. “So who did you vote for then?” asks Mark, fixing me with an unblinking stare.
Uh oh! “I… em… eh…” I should learn to keep my mouth shut!
“Aha!” he says, accusingly. “So it was Sam!” I plead memory loss and thankfully there’s no fisticuffs.
With their Pop Idol history, I assume the boys are glued to X-Factor each year. “Oh
we’re massive fans of the show,” says Mark. “Because we’ve been there, we can empathise with the contestants and know exactly how they feel. We still get butterflies in our stomachs when we hear that music at the start and remember how it felt to be about to perform in front of millions.”
So how did the boys end up as a duo, having entered Pop Idol as solo performers? “Simon Fuller was the man who put us together,” says Mark. It was a shock at first when he suggested it but we’ll always be thankful to him for seeing our potential. Simon is a visionary and was able to see beyond our musical abilities. He saw a long term future for us as a duo, not only in music, but in TV too.”
Before launching themselves on the world of presenting, Sam and Mark had a UK number one hit single with a cover of the Beatles With a Little Help From My Friends. After such an amazing achievement, did they not want to pursue a music career? “Our careers have just taken a different path,” says Mark. “I think we’ll always love music. I do a bit of writing and I enjoy that and I’ve been known to indulge in a little karaoke!”
“Ha! You’re a bit of a karaoke singer alright,” laughs Sam, and they’re off again! “Mark is right though. Music is important to us too. I sing and play guitar in a band called Mason. There are four of us and we play gigs now and again. But it’s purely a hobby and that’s the way I like to keep it.”
Sam and Mark have presented some very successful children’s tv shows over the last few years and I wondered do they have a favourite. “We’ve loved them all really,” says Mark. “But I’d probably have to say TMi because it was our first big break into Saturday morning tv. We presented it with Caroline Flack and we were very proud of the show. We did some really funny sketches… well… at least I hope they were funny!”
“Yes,” says Sam. “It was a great achievement to be able to put our stamp on Saturday mornings. It ran for five years so we became sort of attached to it. But having said that, you can only recycle the same gags for so long! It’s good to look to the future and branch out into new things.”
Having presented children’s tv for a number of years, the boys suddenly found themselves on ITV’s This Morning last year. How did that come about? “Well we were contracted exclusively to BBC for four years,” says Sam. “So when we went freelance after that, we decided to look to new projects. We had a chat with the This Morning people and convinced them to give us a shot. We love the program and hugely admire the presenters so it was a huge achievement for us.”
“Oh yes,” enthuses Mark. “Philip Schofield is the king of presenters. We have so much respect for him and to be given the chance to work alongside him was amazing. We love Holly too. We’ve worked with her before and she’s just fantastic.”
“And Eamonn and Ruth are brilliant too,” adds Sam. “We worked with them through the Summer last year and they were such a help to us. Their son, Jack, is a fan of ours and Ruth brought him to one of the live screenings of TMi. He really enjoyed himself and we were so chuffed that Ruth brought him along. In fact the whole This Morning team are like a little family. There’s a great atmosphere in the studio and everyone gets along really well. We’re very lucky to be a small part of it.”
With the success rate of the pair to date, I wondered if they might be harbouring the dream of taking over from Philip and Holly. “Oh of course,” laughs Mark. “Wouldn’t we just love that! Seriously though, Philip and Holly make it look so easy but it’s such a difficult job. They seem to like a boy/girl combo too so I might have to get my dress out if I’m to convince them!” Hmmm! I look forward to that!
As with a lot of celebrities these days, Sam and Mark have embraced the wonderful world of Twitter and have over 23,000 followers. “We love Twitter,” says Sam, “although I’m definitely more of an addict than Mark. It’s brilliant to get an immediate reaction from fans about our shows. People aren’t afraid to tell us what they think and we always read the comments and take them on board.”
One of their most exciting projects to date is the upcoming Comic Relief does Glee Club.
I wanted to know more about how it will work. “It’s going to be really amazing,” says Sam. “We’ve travelled up and down the country for the auditions and we were really stunned by the talent of the kids.”
“It’ll be an X-Factor type format,” adds Mark. “On Monday 14th, you’ll see the auditions and then over the next four days, the acts will be whittled down as the public vote them out. The grand finale will be on Red Nose Day. It’s going to be a lot of fun and we have some fabulous celebrity judges.”
I’d heard that the main judges will be Carrie and David Grant and Sisco Gomez but what about these other celebrity judges? “Ah, if we told you, we’d have to kill you,” laughs Sam. “Suffice it to say, they’re good ones – people who really know what they’re talking about!”
I could see Sam wasn’t about to be moved on that one so I took my Irish chocolates and held them under Mark’s nose! “Well… okay then,” he says, eyeing up the Baileys ones. “Singers, Melanie C and Alesha Dixon will be on as well as tv presenter and actress Denise Van Outen.” Ha! Works every time!
“We’ll have some fabulous guests on the show too,” adds Sam, in hopes of joining the chocolate feast. “The Wanted will be singing Comic Relief single Gold Forever on Red Nose Day.” It all sounds fantastic and I for one will be watching.
Despite his busy career, Mark is training at the moment for the London Marathon. “It’s pretty full on,” he says, “but it’s for a good cause. I’m running to support Whizz-Kidz in memory of my nephew who passed away a couple of years ago. It’s a fantastic charity and one very close to my heart.” You can click here to support Mark and sponsor him for his run. Every little counts!
I’d heard that Sam is a bit of a whiz in the kitchen so I ask him whether it’s true. “I don’t know if you’d call me a whiz,” he says, modestly. “Before Pop Idol, I was actually training to be a chef and I still adore cooking.”
So maybe it’s not Philip and Holly’s job he’s after then – maybe it’s Gino‘s! “Funny you say that,” he laughs. I keep texting Gino with pictures of the food I make and he says ‘are you trying to take over my slot’? I have so much respect for cooking presenters. Having to present and cook at the same time is so difficult. No, I certainly won’t be doing that. I think Gino’s job is safe!”
Sam and Mark also have their own radio show on Sundays between 11 and 1 which goes out on the Orion network across the midlands. How does doing radio compare to television? “We love both,” says Mark, “but the radio is just something different and we have such great fun doing it. We get to talk complete nonsense for two whole hours and we’re really good at that!”
Spending so much time together, the two boys must be great friends. “No, not at all,” they both answer in unison. “We can’t stand each other!”
“We’re only joking really,” laughs Sam. “We’re the best of friends. It would be a terrible working environment if we didn’t get on. We try to be as natural as we can on camera so if we weren’t friends, it just wouldn’t work. You can only put on an act for so long and people would see right through it.” I feel all warm and fuzzy from Sam’s declaration of love for his friend until he adds; “We’ll be friends long after I leave him to better my career!” Cue the fisticuffs again but luckily, Mark finds it hysterically funny!
So do the boys have any time in their busy schedule for hobbies? “Football!” says Mark, enthusiastically. “I love it. I’m a big supporter of Wolverhampton Wanderers and I play a bit myself too. I’m an all-round sporty guy really. But I’m very patriotic too so if England were playing Tiddlywinks Championships, I’d be shouting for them.”
“I’m not as sporty as Mark,” says Sam, “but I do play a bit of badminton. To be honest, I’d much prefer to be playing my guitar or doing a bit of cooking.”
Having already worked with so many people they admire, I wondered who the boys would most like to work with. “Hmmm! Brooklyn Decker,” says Mark. “She’s really fit!”
“Oh and Ryan Reynolds,” adds Sam. “I might even have a bit of a man crush on him!”
“But seriously,” says Mark, when they manage to control their giggles, “we’ve already been so lucky working with people such as Philip Schofield. And I know it’s probably an obvious one, but we’d really love to work with Ant and Dec. They’re absolutely brilliant at what they do and it would be an honour to work alongside them.”
Out of all the things the boys have done so far, what would they consider as their biggest achievement? “It’s really been an amazing eight years,” says Mark, “and we’ve had quite a few top moments. Probably one of the highlights was when we were nominated for a BAFTA for best presenters for a program we were working on called Level Up. That was really unbelievable. Just to be recognised for the work we were doing and loving was an amazing feeling.”
“The Pop Idol tour was a highlight too,” adds Sam. “Actually the whole Pop Idol experience was amazing. It felt like such an achievement to get down to the final three out of all those talented people.”
So what’s next for Sam and Mark? “We’d love to eventually do a family entertainment show for a Saturday evening,” says Mark. “It would be amazing to do a show that would lend itself to our style and humour. In an ideal world, that’s what will happen for us maybe a couple of years down the road.”
“In the meantime, we just want to carry on doing good shows,” says Sam. “We’ve really been massively lucky with the shows we’ve done. They’ve all been successful and really good fun to do. We just want to keep having fun and hopefully our audience will have fun too.”
The time has passed all too quickly and unfortunately it’s time to say goodbye. It’s
impossible not to be drawn in to their obvious joie de vivre and I’m leaving with a big smile on my face. Sam and Mark are certainly going places – they’re ones to watch!