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Week in Review - Comment
Scotland on Sunday
Sun 27 Oct 2002
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A very hands-on guy

Dani Garavelli

WHEN John Leslie rushed to the aid of Judy Finnigan, whose halter-neck dress fell down at the TV awards at the Royal Albert Hall, exposing her bra, she described him as "gallant". It is not a word likely to be uttered in connection with him again.

Whatever happened in a hotel bedroom with Ulrika Jonsson 14 years ago, the former Blue Peter presenterís squeaky-clean public image has gone forever.

In the past week, a stream of women have come forward to make allegations about Leslieís apparently voracious sexual appetite. "He threw me round the bed like a leg of lamb," claimed one. "He came across like a complete sex maniac," said another.

Not all of the women are alleging any wrong-doing: some of them arenít even complaining about his behaviour. But together they present a sordid picture of a man who used his status as a minor celebrity to seduce a bevy of women, often in unsavoury circumstances.

Some say Leslie has a penchant for group sex and mirrors. Others that in drink, his enthusiasm teeters towards violence. None of this is illegal between consenting adults. But whether ITV will consider it appropriate behaviour for the man whose posterior graces the This Morning sofa remains to be seen. There also remains the matter of the alleged rape of Ulrika, and of another woman who has reported a similar claim to the police.

ITV should have seen the current furore coming. For those who worked in television, Leslieís reputation as a "ladiesí man" had long been recognised as something of an understatement.

That he was a cad was evident when he boasted he had taught former girlfriend Catherine Zeta Jones "all there is to know about sex". "Catherine was quite young when we started going out," he said. "Michael (Douglas) owes me one."

At Scottish Television, where he hosted the Wheel of Fortune programme, rumours were rife about his direct and indiscriminate propositioning of fellow workers. "When you went into Scottish Television, the make-up girls were the ones who warned you who was likely to pester you," says one source. "John Leslie certainly fell into that category. But the rule has always been: ĎDonít upset the talent.í" He is known to have bedded a number of those he propositioned at the station.

Aficionados of tabloid newspapers would also have been aware of more sensational stories. In 1997, two lesbians claimed he lured them into his room and then watched while they kissed on his bed. Then two years later, three Edinburgh women were forced to call the police after he came back to their flat, stripped and tried to force two of them to kiss him.

For the last few weeks, if Leslie felt like a man on the edge, he did not show it. Even as the first rumblings of the scandal that was about to envelop him began to be heard on the Jonathan Ross Show (when Ross claimed he knew the identity of Jonssonís alleged attacker), Leslie was at an ĎOrgasm Patrolí party organised by Cosmopolitan, at Stringfellowís, the London lap-dancing club, accompanied by five glamorous women.

From that moment, it was only a matter of time before Leslie would be outed as the man in question. It happened days later when Matthew Wright - apparently in error - used Leslieís name on his Channel 5 programme.

Since then, many more women have come forward, some of them via publicist Max Clifford, to make allegations. At least one of them has gone to the police, and both Leslie and Jonsson will now be questioned in connection with her allegations.

It must be a bewildering time for his parents, Leslie Stott, a salesman for United Biscuits, and Lexia, a social worker, who live in Edinburgh.

Born John Stott in 1965, the TV presenter enjoyed an apparently ordinary upbringing with his parents and his younger brother, Grant, who would also go on to a career in television and radio.

His childhood, however, was characterised by a fierce sibling rivalry, which extended to the equal division of their shared bedroom and the odd physical fight. Apparently daunted by Grantís quick wit and gregarious nature, John began to feel less favoured. One Christmas, convinced his brotherís pile of presents was bigger, he switched the tags, only to have his mother switch them back saying: "Santaís made a mistake."

ĎThe make-up girls were the ones who warned you who was likely to pester youí
Leslie was a talented musician, and at the age of 11 he was sent to board at St Maryís Music School to study choral singing. He was allowed to return home after a deeply unhappy year, but back in state school fared little better, with his rapid growth - he was 6ft by the age of 12 - increasing his sense of isolation.

In his early teens, the Hibs supporter found it difficult to communicate with girls. But that was soon to change.

After leaving school, he began DJ-ing, which opened up a whole new world to him. Given the power over the turntables in packed clubs where hormones raged, he found women came flocking.

It wasnít long before his charisma had been noticed and he was asked to host Music Box on Yorkshire Television. A lonely spell in London followed during which, his friends claim, he dated and had consensual sex with the then TV-AM weather girl Jonsson.

In 1989, he joined Blue Peter, and then, two years later, began his high-profile relationship with Zeta Jones, fortuitously just as The Darling Buds of May was about to propel her into the big time. For 18 months the pair were media darlings, appearing on the front pages of many newspapers. But then Zeta Jones mentioned the M-word, and Leslie, an alleged commitment-phobe, was off like the clappers.

Since then, his career has hit peaks and troughs, with his place on This Morning coming largely by default after the departure of Richard and Judy. For the last few years, Leslie vowed his "elevated, hedonistic" years were over, after he found love with Abby Titmuss, a nurse at Londonís University College Hospital.

"Thatís not to say that there werenít a few years when I didnít know any better and didnít care," he has said. "It comes with the territory, and itís not like you are going to say, ĎOh no.í But I wasnít girl-mad for the sake of it. I wanted a girlfriend but I couldnít find anyone to stick with."

But his relationship with Titmuss broke up earlier this year, and he began to be seen in the pubs and clubs again.

The death knell on his career was sounded by the Jonathan Ross interview. Even before he was publicly identified, women had come forward to make further complaints.

In the world of spin, his decision - on the advice of a lawyer - not to issue an immediate denial probably worked against him. On Monday, while recording This Morning, he asked Max Clifford off-air what he should do. He is now widely expected to put his side of the story through a national newspaper.

ĎMany more women have come forward to make allegationsí
Meanwhile, Ulrika has refuted suggestions she was involved in a plot to name the television presenter as her attacker, and has continued her book tour with media-savvy poise. Wearing low-cut blouses and smiling congenially at her fans, she has nevertheless refused to talk about the alleged rape. If she wanted revenge on Leslie, she has certainly got it.

There are two sides to the This Morning presenter, however, and the battle is not over yet.

Despite his reputation as a seducer after dark, he inspires loyalty in his closest friends. On the first day he was absent from the ITV breakfast programme, his co-presenter Fern Britton made a point of backing him on air. Clutching a batch of supportive e-mails, she referred to Leslie as her "friend". Yvette Fielding, his co-host on Blue Peter, has also spoken well of him, describing him as a "lovely, lovely bloke".

Leslie has gone into hiding and is thought to be somewhere in Scotland. Workmen have erected a 12ft fence around his £8.4m futuristic home - which, with its Jacuzzis, is described as a "pulling pad" - in Sheen, Surrey.

His charm will do little for him now. His thirst for women is also likely to have deserted him, if only temporarily. His career, which already looks to have been dealt a fatal blow, will suffer from further allegations this weekend.

How long will his remaining friends stay loyal? The once-lonely child may soon find himself a lonely man.

Addicted to the high life at all costs (29-Oct-02)
Drug claim presenter's TV career hanging by a thread (29-Oct-02)
Leslie - a career sinking without trace (28-Oct-02)
Crisis talks as Leslie hit by claims of drug taking (28-Oct-02)
Leslie 'dated McConnell's daughter (27-Oct-02)
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