Dec. Roll it around your mouth a little, try to say it without the tart-sour taste on your tongue: Dec. Just: Dec. “Dec.” Ladies and gentlemen … Dec! Something is wrong. You can feel it, deep in your soul.
You can feel the spiritual rift. Something is misaligned in the universe and everything now feels cosmically altered. Tonight, while Ant recuperates away from the limelight following his drink-drive arrest, it’s on Dec to host Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway entirely Ant-less. There is something sinister about this, and I hate it.
We have to admit now that Ant and Dec are the bedrock on which British culture is made, and pay them dues accordingly.
For blockbuster Saturday night TV everyhosts who leaped fully formed from a harrowing drama scene in which one of them had their eyes shot out, they have between them an astonishingly delicate touch: funny, original, soft with the civilian guests and perfectly hard with the VIPs. They can do everything from T-shirt-and-jacket-clad-giggling presenting (I’m a Celeb, Britain’s Got Talent) to black-tux-and-a-clean-link pedigree stuff (the Brits, The X Factor). They are the best at what they do, but they are very crucially just that: a “they”, a collective.
Dec without Ant is the sun without the moon, and this Saturday we will have to stare unblinkingly into it, waiting for our irises to turn white.
Arguably, this show-must-go-on decision is the correct one.
As Ant’s private battles are made public, it feels like a complete absence of Ant and Dec would be conspicuous somehow; that half an Ant and Dec is better than no Ant and Dec at all. And the reality of the situation is this: Dec, an absolutely consummate professional, will perform flawlessly on his own, to the point that – after about 20 minutes and some scripted banter with Scarlett Moffatt – you will hardly notice Ant is gone.
Not so much that you can ever envision a full life without Ant, but enough to keep moving along with. Still, Dec without Ant is a 99 cone without any sauce or sprinkles: you can choke it down, sure, and you can even enjoy it, but it’s not right. It hasn’t got the necessary final smooth layer of gloss, the pizazz, the Flake.
What we are secretly hoping for, of course – we, the ghoulish viewers – is that Dec will slowly unravel into some performance of phantom limb syndrome, incrementally more lost and insane with every minute under the studio lights alone. That is why I will be watching, anyway.
I want to see Dec cheerfully turn his head 90 degrees to the empty void Ant normally occupies, making small geordie nudging noises to try to push his vacant co-host into a chuckle. I want to see him stumble, to miss his mark on the stage, suddenly thrown by a single “X” mapped out for him in tape. What I want, truly, is Dec to fold up a comedy leaning elbow and push it out on to the air to the right of him, and collapse into the space Ant occupied.
If Saturday Night Takeaway doesn’t end with Dec, delirious and crying, begging for someone, anyone, to stand next to him – “Even Stephen Mulhern! I’d even endure Mulhern at this point!” – then, for me, the show will have been a failure. Good luck, though, Dec. May your temporary Ant-less life flow smoothly.