SHE made her name as the jumpsuit-wearing action girl from Eighties helicopter game show Treasure Hunt. But now Anneka Rice is about to tackle her biggest adventure yet after returning from a self-imposed showbiz exile for the new series of Strictly.
The 60-year-old mum of three will be back on our screens this autumn for TV’s glitziest production. At the height of her fame in the late Eighties and early Nineties, she commanded millions of viewers with shows such as Channel 4’s Treasure Hunt and BBC1’s Challenge Anneka.
She was a regular fixture in gossip columns, had a waxwork at Madame Tussauds and even won Rear Of The Year. But after cruel jibes and criticism about over-exposure, a distraught Anneka broke up with her husband, attacked a photographer, cut her hair short and took herself into the celebrity wilderness.
For years, she shunned fame and big-money offers from reality TV shows including Celebrity Big Brother.
Anneka, who was married to West End theatres kingpin Nick Allott, with whom she has two sons, Thomas, 30 and Josh, 29, said: “A journalist wrote something like, ‘I wish Anneka Rice would fall out of a helicopter.
“She is like Myra Hindley.’ It was completely out of the blue. I thought, ‘How can anyone hate me so much? I can’t do this any more’. My children were five and six at the time and it made me want to retreat. Words aren’t meant to break you but they do. I am very sensitive.”
And while most contestants fear the Strictly Curse, Anneka will not be worried because her life has had more twists and turns than the tango. Her first hit was Treasure Hunt, between 1982 and 1988, in which she zoomed around in a helicopter helping contestants solve clues.
The TV star is coming out of self-imposed showbiz exile as she prepares to appear on Strictly Come Dancing later this year[/caption]
That was followed by Challenge Anneka between 1989 and 1995, when she had to complete a large-scale task against the clock, usually for charity.
In 1992, at the height of her fame, Anneka split with Nick as the marriage crumbled under the pressure. She said: “Without all the attention I’m so sure we would have sorted it out. It will always be a great sadness to me.”
Despite more than two decades apart and Nick now living with Vogue journalist Christa D’Souza, the pair are still not divorced.
Anneka said: “We will get around to divorcing. Most people get divorced because they are always arguing about money. When Nick and I split up, I was the breadwinner. He had a good job so money was never discussed, therefore what is there to argue about?”
Anneka pictures with husband Nick Allott before they split up in 1992[/caption]
While Anneka cited fame as the cause of the marriage collapse, it was rumoured her close relationship with Tom Gutteridge, director of Challenge Anneka, was the real catalyst.
She said: “I ended up with Tom but he was not the reason my marriage ended. I remember being hassled by a photographer in the King’s Road in Chelsea. I felt fiercely protective of the children so I grabbed his camera and started hitting him. People were cheering me on but I really thought, ‘I’m going to kill someone’.”
By 36, having completed 61 episodes of Challenge Anneka, she was at breaking point. Struggling to hold everything together, she threw in the towel on her TV career and at one point enrolled on a three-year course at Chelsea College of Arts.
She said: “I loved travelling by bus, being a student and picking up my sons from school. I cut my hair very short and stopped calling myself Anneka, a name I had only used because Equity wouldn’t let me use my real name, Annie. I put Anneka away in one box of my life. I wanted to be unfamous.”
Anneka is still married to television executive Tom Gutteridge although the couple have been separated for years[/caption]
The young Anneka was successful at school and destined for Oxbridge. Although born in Wales, she had attended a private school in Surrey but her parents were not wealthy. Her dad worked in construction and her mum was a housewife.
Anneka feared they would struggle financially, so at 17 she began training as a producer with the BBC World Service instead. She said: “I didn’t want to be famous. But I did want an interesting job because, like many women of her generation, my mother was frustrated by being a housewife.”
At 19, she left the BBC and bought a one-way ticket to Hong Kong, where she became a voiceover artist for kung fu movies and a newsreader, realising it was easier being in front of the camera than behind it.
After returning to London three years later, she got a job as a reporter on Thames TV, which led to her role on Treasure Hunt. She said: “I was still only 22 in 1982 when Treasure Hunt propelled me into a life I hadn’t thought about. In those days the cult of celebrity didn’t exist.
“Television was still a profession you trained for, so the big names, like Terry Wogan and Esther Rantzen, were much older. I was one of the few young faces so I was seized on in a way I wouldn’t be now.”
In 1997, she had her third son, Sam, with Tom. But they split six months after his birth. In the early Noughties, celebrity reality shows were big business and producers were desperate to book well-known faces to take part in unusual shows. Anneka was top of most wish lists and flooded with lucrative offers.
One idea was a cookery show in 2004 alongside former Blue Peter presenter Mark Curry, to be called Curry and Rice. Anneka refused to do it and her agent fired her. So began one of the oddest hoaxes in TV history — when Anneka invented her own agent purely to turn down jobs.
For ten years, “Clemmie Hart” dealt with all her media enquiries and became so popular with showbiz contacts she was even invited to parties. All the time it was Anneka herself answering the phone, letters and emails.
Anneka was only 19 when she launched her TV career[/caption]
She said: “It was a two-edged sword because part of me did want to go and hang out in a safari lodge with Christopher Biggins learning how to track lions. It kind of killed me to say no but I had small children.
“Sending emails from Clemmie made me feel part of it still. The requests I was getting were so outlandish. The comedian in me just couldn’t send a reply saying, ‘No, thank you’. I felt it needed banter.”
When Anneka was asked to star in athletics competition The Games, Clemmie said: “We’d love to but between you and me, Anneka’s a bit out of shape.” Eventually, Anneka decided the game had become too much. She sent one last email from Clemmie telling contacts she was pregnant and leaving her position.
By this time, Anneka had found love again with writer Simon Bell, who published a guide to celebrity bed-hopping called Who’s Had Who, with Richard Curtis and Bridget Jones creator Helen Fielding.
The 60-year-old says ‘you never see older women on telly’[/caption]
Then, slowly crawling back towards the limelight, she joined Radio 2, presenting an early morning weekend show in 2012. She now has the midnight to 2am Saturday slot.
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But her appearance on Strictly is about to catapult her back to fame, despite her reservations about the BBC’s treatment of mature women. She said in 2015:
“Whereas men are just adorable as they get older, women, for some reason, cease to exist. You are not of any interest to anyone. It’s the same if you look at BBC TV. It is always the same three or four presenters who do more or less everything.
“You never see older women on telly. Who would be the oldest? There is Tess Daly, she is about 12. It doesn’t bother me at all. It is just quite funny to observe.”
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