The Big Breakfast - Interview with Melvin Odoom

Category: Interview, Press Pack Article

How excited are you for the return of The Big Breakfast?
Super excited. The feedback from people after the special episode was immense and for it to come back is such a big deal for me, because I grew up watching The Big Breakfast. I'm happy to be part of it and, obviously, AJ and Mo did such a sick job as well. For the show to come back around is amazing.

What sort of feedback did you receive?
There are very few jobs of mine that my family actually cares about. On the day my mates were messaging beforehand to wish me good luck and afterwards, too. A lot of people in TV said that everyone did such a great job, and both Mo and AJ won at the RTS Awards. There was a massive sense of excitement across the board.

You kind of forget how big The Big Breakfast was and how much it was a part of people's lives, much like radio, as breakfast time is a very intimate point in people's lives. You're getting ready for work and getting the kids ready for school, so to have those mates with you while you're doing all that is important. And you have quite an important role. There's no breakfast show with the energy level of The Big Breakfast and it was the right time to bring it back.

Your choice of breakfast companions really can set your mood for the day, can’t it?
They say breakfast is the most important meal and it’s also the most important time of the day - you're setting yourself up for the day ahead. When I did the outside broadcast last year I didn’t get to enjoy the whole show until I went home and was able to watch it.

I did my madness over there in Wales, went home, and then I saw everything that was going on, with Big Zuu and Judi Love. I thought, “Wow. This is a sick show and needs to come back.” That’s when I knew it couldn’t be a one-off.

You say you’re excited about the show returning, but in the special episode you were dressed as a dragon - are you concerned about what they might have planned for you?
I got my teeth into TV when I did a show called Dick and Dom in da Bungalow. I don’t know if you have any idea how crazy that show was and what they had me do. What I did for The Big Breakfast is the tip of the iceberg. I used to cover myself in custard, cover myself in baked beans, and I would dress up as a woman called Fernandoss. You name an outfit; I probably wore it on ‘Dick and Dom’.

It was so funny - the day before The Big Breakfast the producers called me up and said, “Melvin, we hope you don't mind, but because you're going to be in Wales we've got this massive dragon outfit and…” And I said, “Yeah cool.” It’s like asking me to put on a pair of trousers and a shirt. It’s nothing, so bring it on. And, this time, I won’t be alone. The brilliant Harriet Rose is joining me…

Harriet is a lot of fun and pretty much doesn't have any rules. I would say she’s as wild as I am. I've worked with her before and I’m looking forward to doing a big TV job with her. I love it when I can bounce off someone else.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Dick and Dom in da Bungalow, so what are your memories of those Saturday mornings?
Absolute carnage. Apart from me, the other contributors were Ian Kirkby, Dave Chapman, and Lee Barnett and we were like a little family. We would arrive in the morning, get the script, and do our thing - but you don't really know what's going to happen because you're working with kids. It was mayhem and the brains behind the organised chaos was Steve Ryde, who is like a CBBC executive now.

I remember learning so much and getting in my car to go to White City being a joy. Every single show was completely different. Dick and Dom are absolute legends and I still keep in contact with them. They taught me a lot, and just sitting in the studio watching them work was like a blessing for me. Yeah, I love those boys. I do miss it.

Is the intention for The Big Breakfast team to bring back that untamed energy and spirit of Saturday morning TV?
Energy is the operative word. If you look at last year’s episode it had a completely new and fresh energy, and if you’d switched channels that day when we were on there was nothing else like The Big Breakfast. It was like a mad magazine - there was a crazy game show at one point, then there was a really cool interview, and then there was an interview with a big sports star. It was a show jam-packed with content.

We've had a hard time in the last few years, and we need something to make us smile, to get us in a great mood, to get us out of bed, and carry on with our days. We've had a lot of bad news in the last few years, and we need to change that frequency.

You’re going to be out and about on location for the show - which part of the country do you think will have the most energetic members of the public?
Northerners are always up for a laugh. My sister lives in Liverpool and I’ve got a lot of friends and family in Manchester, and when you go up North there's a different energy. Everyone's just so polite, as well. They're just up for it. So I know when we go up north, it's going to be wild.

Your background suggests you find live TV thrilling, but do you still have nerves?
I have a rule - it doesn't have to be right; it just has to be funny. Think about the funniest moments you’ve seen on live TV - it’s not necessarily the smoothest or slickest presenter, it’s the funny stuff which makes you smile. We're all human and we all make mistakes, but it's about how you transition out of a situation. As long as I'm making people smile, that’s literally my main rule. Nerves are important and nerves show you care, so, yes, I always get nervous.

A few years ago I interviewed Dermot O’Leary, a good mate, and asked if he was nervous presenting shows like the National Television Awards. He said, “If I'm prepared, I’m excited, and I'm only nervous if I'm unprepared”, and so I took that on. As long as I'm prepared and I know roughly what's coming, it's all good. I can enjoy the ride. When you don't know the name of somewhere or the people you're speaking to, that’s when it can get messy. As long as I've done my preparation, I'm good to go.

What’s the weirdest thing that’s happened to you while you’ve been on-air?
A few years ago on radio I was promoting something, and it was about the actress Sandra Bullock. I mispronounced her name. I’m sure you can guess what happened.

Then, because it’s me, I tried to correct her name, but I kept repeating her name incorrectly. It was very embarrassing. Rickie and Charlie were laughing their heads off.

Were you nervous about becoming part of such an iconic show?
Yeah, but I'm nervous about every job that I care about. Nerves are important because if you're not nervous, you don't care. I was nervous because I just wanted it to do well.

You know the old saying, “Never meet your heroes”? This had a similar ethos because The Big Breakfast is a historic show for me. It was one of the reasons why I wanted to get into TV and radio, because it was such an entertaining show; I’d wake up before school, switch on the TV, and that was my show. So you don't want to mess it up! It's like when someone gives you a car to drive and you really want to drive the car, but you also don't want to mash it up. There was quite an immense amount of pressure.

At the same time it was really exciting, and I was gassed to be able to do it, and do it with so many broadcasters who I love and admire.

How did it feel to be part of that talent roster - in front of and behind the camera - for the Black to Front initiative?
We made history. Put it this way - when I was growing up I remember telling my mum I wanted to be a presenter and that was hard for her to process because there weren't many examples of Black talent on TV. You probably had Lenny Henry and Trevor McDonald - two guys! Look at the plethora of talent that we have in the world right now. There were two Black men on TV at the time who my mum could reference, so she couldn't fathom the idea of me becoming a TV presenter. That's why representation is so important.

Never in my life have I seen a breakfast show with that amount of amazing Black talent in one space. You have one or two amazing Black presenters on other channels at breakfast, but to have one show with that amount of Black talent on television? You name me one. You’ll struggle, and it shouldn't be a struggle. What we did that day was make history.

How do you think the TV industry has fared with representation since then?
I think it’s opened their eyes because, if I'm completely honest, people are scared. People are scared because we live in a world where people don't really like change. Change is scary and everything is about money, figures, and audiences. So if you are driven by audience numbers and other figures, you're going to stick to what you know - you're going to go for the formats and presenters which are the fail-safe roads to go down. But, truly, there's so much talent.

I'm not just saying it's Black people - there are Asian people, disabled people, and people from the LGBTQ+ community who are all capable of doing a job. My rule has always been to get the best person for the job. It doesn't matter what they look like or where they're from, just get the best person for the job. The Black to Front initiative opened everyone's eyes to realise they can change things up drastically and it can still work. Stop being scared.

Why do you think The Big Breakfast has such a special place in people’s hearts?
Personally, I loved a lot of the presenters - Chris Evans was someone that I looked up to as a broadcaster. The Big Breakfast was a fun show and there was nothing like it on television. I suppose the word is refreshing - it really encapsulated what Channel 4 was and is about. The show is unique, and I can’t think of any other breakfast show that has even slightly replicated it.

Also, it doesn’t feel weird having Mo and AJ hosting because the original show had a variety of different presenters - you had Johnny Vaughan, Chris Evans, Gaby Roslin, and Mark Little. It was almost like James Bond, with all these people stepping into the role. If we knew The Big Breakfast as the show that was presented by Chris Evans, and only Chris Evans, the return might not have dropped as well.

You presented a breakfast show on Kiss for 11 years - you must be a morning person, so the early start on the show won’t be a problem for you…
I’m not a morning person. I need a little tea and a little snack and then I’m in happy mode. To be honest, I still wake up early every now and then. I was programmed for so long to wake up at 4.30am, so I’m used to it, but I'm not actually a morning person. I learned to be a morning person - but it was a minor thing to adjust my life to be able to do my favourite job in the whole world.

Given your experience in Saturday morning TV, who would you say is the biggest diva to work with on Saturday morning TV - Mo, AJ, Judi, or Basil Brush?
Basil, without a flipping doubt. He is showbusiness. He’s met everyone. The guy’s been in the game for a flipping long time. Basil is an absolute legend.

I actually saw him two months ago because he was doing some work for the Platinum Jubilee pageant, and I’d not seen him in seven or eight years. We did Swap Shop together and he is a G to work with.

What was your favourite Saturday morning show when you were growing up?
There's a few because I was a bit of a TV addict. I used to love the Broom Cupboard, Going Live, and my dad always says I used to be obsessed with Popeye.