Ant and Dec's enduring friendship: From Byker Grove to NTA record holders

From meeting on Byker Grove to standing shoulder to shoulder through tough times, the lads have an enduring partnership.

Ant McPartlin and Declan Donnelly return to host I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here 2022. (ITV)
Ant McPartlin and Declan Donnelly return to host I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! for another year. (ITV)

Ant and Dec have arrived in Australia to host the latest series of I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here!, with fans looking forward to more of the duo's perfectly-timed jokes that hold the show together.

They've been best pals for more than 30 years and have enjoyed career highs side by side, as well as weathering storms shoulder to shoulder.

Here's all you need to know about Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly, the greatest friendship in TV.

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Byker Grove

Declan Donnelly and Ant McPartlin in Byker Grove. (BBC)
Declan Donnelly and Ant McPartlin in Byker Grove. (BBC)

The lads joined Newcastle-set kids' TV drama Byker Grove just a year apart in 1989 and 1990, where their on-screen friendship as PJ and Duncan soon spilled over into real life.

Ant and Dec will be best remembered for their storyline about a paintballing contest gone nightmarishly wrong which left PJ blinded and shouting: "Duncan! Me eyes!"

Proud Geordies Ant and Dec may have left Byker Grove behind a lifetime ago, but they're still regularly seen on Tyneside supporting their beloved Newcastle United and even owned a city centre bar together.

PJ & Duncan's pop career

PJ & Duncan pose for pictures back stage at the Radio One Roadshow in Eastbourne 1995. The duo changed there stage names to Ant and Dec shortly after theses photographs were shot.
Pop fame comes calling. (PA/Alamy)

When PJ and Duncan began belting out hits at the Byker Grove youth centre, it was only a matter of time until a crossover into real world pop stardom.

Launching their act PJ & Duncan in the charts, their first single was Tonight I'm Free (as performed in the show) but by far their best known hit from three albums and 16 singles was Let's Get Ready to Rhumble.

The lads finally achieved a number one song when they re-released Let's Get Ready to Rhumble in 2013 after performing it on Saturday Night Takeaway, giving the proceeds to charity.

Kids' TV presenters

(From left) Ant, Cat, and Dec during their SM:TV Live days. (Getty)
Ant, Cat, and Dec during their SM:TV Live days. (Getty)

PJ & Duncan might have been their springboard out of kids' drama and into mainstream fame, but they were about to see their careers really take off when they moved from acting and singing to TV presenting.

Did you know that one of British TV's most famous duos might have gone by the name Tony and Lan instead? That's what they called themselves in an early role presenting kids' TV show Gimme 5 for CITV in 1994.

They then moved back to CBBC and rebranded again for The Ant & Dec Show, before recruiting a third co-star, Cat Deeley, for their weekend morning hits SMTV Live and CD:UK on ITV.

Primetime beckons

Saturday Night Takeaway
Saturday Night Takeaway is an enduring hit. (ITV)

TV execs obviously spotted they'd struck gold with Ant and Dec's best-mate presenting style, and propelled them from their kids' TV niche into primetime hosting.

Their first slot was with BBC show Friends Like These in 1999, but they really hit the bigtime in 2001 when they landed the Pop Idol presenter role as well as launching their long-running hit entertainment show Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway in 2002.

In the same year, they launched I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here!, one of their best known TV hits which allows them weeks of golfing and quality time together in Australia each winter.

Ant and Dec have hosted a huge number of game shows over the decades, including PokerFace, Red or Black? and Limitless Win.

In 2007, they secured another career keystone as hosts of Simon Cowell's talent show Britain's Got Talent, which they still front now.

The duo made a brief cameo in 2003 film Love, Actually where Bill Nighy's rock star character introduced a now classic joke about the pair's interchangeable identities when he replied to a TV interview question by saying: "Well, Ant or Dec..."

Ant and Dec, OBE

TV presenter Declan Donnelly is made an OBE by the Prince of Wales during an Investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace, London.
The pair were awarded OBEs. (PA/Alamy)

Decades on TV beloved by the viewing public lead to the ultimate recognition in 2017, when both Ant and Dec were awarded OBEs.

The duo collected their awards for services to broadcasting and entertainment from Prince Charles (now the King) at Buckingham Palace.

It looked like life couldn't get much better for the two best mates, until...

Ant leans on Dec

Ant McPartlin outside Wimbledon Court after he was given an £86,000 fine and banned from driving for 20 months after admitting a drink driving charge.
Ant had a rough year in 2018. (PA/Alamy)

Ant was in for a rocky few years after becoming addicted to prescription painkillers following a knee operation in 2015.

He checked himself into rehab in summer 2017, but more tough moments were to come as in January 2018 he announced that he was getting divorced from wife Lisa Armstrong.

Dec had been the couple's best man in 2006 and Ant had later returned the favour for his friend when Dec married their manager Ali Astall in 2015.

In March 2018, Ant was arrested for drink-driving after being involved in a car accident, marking the first time (aside from ITV's competition phone-in scandal) that the duo's squeaky-clean reputation had ever been tarnished.

He was fined £86,000, Britain's highest ever amount for the offence, and announced that he would be taking a break from TV until 2019 to focus on his recovery.

Dec meanwhile hosted Saturday Night Takeaway and Britain's Got Talent solo, and called in long-time pal Holly Willoughby's help for I'm A Celebrity - the only series of the show he and Ant have ever not hosted together.

Ant told The Sun of Dec's reaction: "He’s angry, of course he’s angry. But it’s justified and I understood it."

When the pair spoke to The Guardian about the incident, Dec said: "How could he do that? I wanted to punch him and hug him at the same time – and I didn’t know which one I wanted to do first."

Although Dec had felt angry with his friend over his actions, he stood firmly by Ant's side throughout his troubles and was there to celebrate when Ant married his former personal assistant Anne-Marie Corbett in 2021.

NTA record holders

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 05: Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly (Ant & Dec), winners of the TV Presenter award, pose in the press room at the National Television Awards 2023 at The O2 Arena on September 5, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Alan Chapman/Dave Benett/Getty Images)
Ant and Dec at the 2023 NTAs. (Getty Images)

It's become something of a TV industry joke that no presenter nominated alongside Ant and Dec at the National Television Awards has any chance of winning.

After their 18th win at the 2019 ceremony, the mates won a Guinness World Record for most consecutive NTAs in the best presenter category.

However, they have gone on to break their own record four times since after picking up further trophies for their cabinets every year since, with a current running total of 22 in a row.

The pair summed up their success in the winners' room after the 2023 awards, where Ant said: "We're friends. That's it. We're friends first and foremost and the TV shows come after that, so I think at the heart of it when you watch it, you know it's a true friendship."

Dec added: "We've always said that ours is a career built on friendship, not a friendship built on a career, so I think our foundations are very, very strong in our friendship and we've known each other now for 31 years, I think."

Ant said: "We met at 13. We've grown like any friends do who have known each other that long. We know everything about each other. We know what makes the other laugh, what annoys the other one and, yeah, we love each other."