Toby Anstis recalls terrifying weeks suffering Covid and ‘coughing up blood’

Toby Anstis recalls terrifying weeks suffering Covid and ‘coughing up blood’

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Toby Anstis has a story or two to tell after 30 years in the entertainment industry. Well, quite a few more than one or two.

From fronting BBC music show The O Zone in his early twenties and being one of a select group to host from CBBC’s Broom Cupboard to a 20-year stint on Heart Radio, he has enjoyed a career so varied our list of questions fills an A4 sheet of paper.

And when we catch up with the I’m A Celeb star after our exclusive shoot at his cottage in West London, he’s more than happy to take a trip down memory lane with us.

Notable highlights include his days of 5am pub lock-ins, interviewing the late INXS singer Michael Hutchence and jet-skiing with Guns N’ Roses guitar legend Slash. “It’s the bands who have been around for years, big stars, who are really easy in interviews,” he tells us.

Here, Toby also opens up to OK! hitting the big 5-0 last year, battling Covid-19 at the start of the pandemic, his career goals and his thoughts on settling down with that special someone…

Hi, Toby! Tell us about your gorgeous home…

It’s a little cottage in West London. It’s like a little haven in a really quiet area but only 20 minutes door-to-door from the Heart studios in Leicester Square.

When I bought it, it was just a two- bedroom, one- bathroom place, but I’ve done as much as I can to it. I’ve extended the kitchen three metres and built a bedroom and en suite on the top floor. I had the garden finished in time for the shoot.

It’s been a year of ups and downs. We hear that you suffered with Covid quite badly…

I did. I put a picture up on social media when I thought I was dying from Covid last March and if that isn’t a scary wake-up call,
I don’t know what is.

When I had it, I coughed all the way through my Heart show on a Friday and my producer said, “You’ve been coughing a lot and don’t look well.” By the next Wednesday I thought, “I’d better phone an ambulance.”

As I went to call it, the phone dropped out of my hand and I fell asleep. Then I turned a corner. It was like having a parasite.

My doctor said it was pneumonia. And it probably was that, but brought on by Covid.

I really wasn’t in a good place and was coughing up blood and all sorts of horrible stuff. I got through that and made it back to full health very quickly.

It really ignites that passion to live every day to the fullest. It impacted me quite a bit.

And you celebrated your 50th in lockdown…

It’s funny, I’ve never attached any great significance to the number, because I’ve felt the same throughout my career.

I’ve never lacked any drive or ambition, so I feel in the same headspace as when I was 20 and just graduating from uni.

The nice thing at this age is I don’t feel the pressure of expectation on myself to forge a career, because I’ve kind of done that. I’ve worked my arse off for 30 years. But I’ll never let myself get old and say, “Oh, I can relax now and put my feet up.”

What have been your career highlights?

To get to launch Heart Dance, a new national radio station, was an incredible and wonderful thing. I’m still buzzing from that two years on, it is such an exciting part of my career.

The first thing I did was a music show called The O Zone. I hadn’t long graduated and I landed the BBC job. Very soon, they sent me off to interview INXS with [frontman] Michael Hutchence.

I was really young and they obviously wanted to drop me in at
the deep end. I was so nervous. I’d just graduated in psychology and suddenly I was in Rome interviewing Michael Hutchence.

What was he like?

Bloody lovely! It was so effortless, because the band were happy to just kick back with a beer and sit in the sun for an hour. It’s the bands who have been around for years, big stars, who are the ones that are really easy in interviews.

We interviewed Guns N’ Roses in Athens and spent the day on their private yacht – I got to jet-ski with Slash!

Do you have anymore memorableencounters?

We once flew to Vancouver for seven days and spent five doing an O Zone special with Radiohead. At one point I was interviewing Thom Yorke in a cable car going up Grouse Mountain.

I remember interviewing Blur when they did Mile End stadium in London. Let’s put it this way, I think Alex [James] and Damon [Albarn] had a few drinks before the gig.

They were a lot of fun to interview. More recently, Charles and Camilla came in [to Heart] and I was about to introduce the news – so I had to say to the future King, “I am really sorry, Your Highness, could you just hold on one moment?” Ha ha!

You were one of the original CBBC presenters. What are your memories of those days?

They were really happy, enjoyable and exciting. You’re young, on BBC One live and working with gorgeous people like Zoe Ball, Philippa Forrester and Andi Peters.

It was a happy family and we all just went on the air and had a laugh. You’d get mobbed in McDonald’s by loads of girls who’d seen you in Smash Hits. It was a laugh.

It was great fun when girls came up and asked you to sign their McDonald’s napkins. There was no social media and people wrote you letters. And I got to do the CBBC Broom Cupboard, which is quite an institution.

Phillip Schofield was the first person to present from it and there were only four of us who did it. I look back at it really fondly – what an exciting thing. We’ve all gone on to do alright.

Do you all keep in contact?

I see Andi in the gym – I mean, look at the size of him! He looks like a wrestler! I saw Tim Vincent the other day and we meet up now and again. And you see people about. I see Jamie Theakston at Heart every day.

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Were there lots of wild parties back then?

There was no social media or camera phones, so we probably got away with a lot of partying. There were these bars around the UK called Po Na Na. The original one was on the King’s Road and we’d all go down there and have lock-ins until four or five in the morning and get wildly drunk and have a right old laugh.

We were just having a good time and drinking a lot of vodka and Red Bulls. I remember being on tour with Take That and doing a special for the BBC and getting very drunk with Howard Donald, who is a top man.

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Have you had any weird fan experiences?

In the late 90s me and my mates would go out around bars in London and my mate Paul said, “Every time we go out, this girl appears.” She was quite tall and Paul would say, “Oh God, look,” and I’d turn round and she’d be there looking at me.

I had a chat with her and she said, “Isn’t it funny I keep seeing you in these bars?” And I’d be like, “Yeah, really funny.” She was a fan.

What do you fancy doing next, career-wise?

One of my ultimate career dreams now would be to broadcast live from Ibiza and do my Heart Dance Breakfast show as the sun rises over the Es Vedra rock, then do Club Classics on Heart at Café Mambo as the sun sets.

I’d also love to do Strictly. It’s either that or Dancing On Ice. Both are about learning something. I danced for seven or eight years and got into the Royal Ballet! It was a bit like Billy Elliot, going through the hassles of being the only boy in a ballet class and getting the mickey taken.

I’ve got no regrets and only positive thoughts about it. Darcey Bussell [the former Strictly judge] would have been in my year at the Royal Ballet but they always kept the boys and girls apart. So there’s a vague Strictly connection. I’ve done lots of TV but I want to learn something new – and what a way to do it!

How about finding a special lady? Are you seeing anyone at the moment?

No, but I’ve been on a few dates, so we’ll see. I almost got engaged around the time I was on I’m A Celeb [in 2006] and she was a lovely girl but it didn’t happen.

It’s never really been, “I’ve got to get married and have children” for me. I’m really close to my twin sister Kate and she has three wonderful kids. She’s always said, “If you don’t have any kids, these are your kids as well.”

I can spend a lot of time with them and then go back to London and party. I’ve got the best of both worlds. I’d like to find someone but you can’t rush these things. There are no rules in life and I don’t feel any pressure.

Catch Toby on Heart Dance Breakfast, weekdays 7am to 10am, and Heart Club Classics, Fridays 7pm to 10pm

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