After ten years away from the spotlight, T4 and MTV presenter Anthony Crank opens up about the dark moments that almost destroyed him.
Remember the golden days of TV, when The Big Breakfast kicked us out of bed on weekday mornings, TFI Fridays got us in the tanked-up mood to go out on a Friday night and T4 dutifully held our hair back as we puked up our guts in the loo the morning after? Of course you do. They were boss!
Now, in cold, stark 2016, all we have to entertain us on a Saturday morning is the lingering stench of last night’s takeaway and the arduous ordeal of watching – dead-eyed – endless back-to-back reruns of Jeremy fucking Kyle.
If only we had old skool T4 back in our lives! Life would be so much better.
During its 14 year run, the magazine show introduced us to a slew of future household names. Dermot O’Leary. Alexa Chung. Nick Grimshaw. Vernon Kaye. It’s where you saw them first!
But it was during the mid-noughties, when T4 enjoyed its true golden age, with dream team June Sarpong, Steve Jones, Simon Amstell, Miquita Oliver and Anthony Crank proudly at the helm.
Together, they lived an enviable life of jetting around the world, meeting the biggest stars. They were the coolest kids on the showbiz block and everyone wanted to be them! Or at least be with them.
Steve Jones was the guy everyone fancied – even your big brother would have knocked one out over him – but it was strapping co-presenter Anthony Crank who really captured our big pink hearts.
Not only was he an out-and-proud gay guy, his rugged looks and masculine swagger ensured that, probably for the first time on British TV, we had ourselves a bonafide lad-next-door role model, who most certainly didn’t fit the traditional gay stereotype that the likes of Alan Carr, Graham Norton and Paul O’Grady had already established.
But no sooner had we taken beefy Anthony to our hearts, and – just like most fit guys we meet – he’d scarpered. Just like that. Fellas, eh?
Although he has since popped up on our telly boxes as a policeman in Corrie, a shagger in Shameless and as a host of, erm, ITV’s Bingo Night Live, Anthony has kept a pretty low public profile for the past ten years or so. Until now.
Here, in the first of a two-part blisteringly honest interview, Anthony, who is now an acting coach at The Manchester School Of Acting, reveals the real reasons why he disappeared seemingly without trace, the dark times that almost destroyed him and why now, at 41, he’s happier than ever.
Anthony, it’s lovely to have you back. How’s it going?
I’m absolutely at my happiest, hands down. Whether that be a combination of hitting 40 and learning quite a lot of ‘tough love’ along the way, I don’t think I’ve been more content, sorted, healthier, fitter, braver, hairier and somewhat grumpier as I am today – I feel like I’m absolutely ‘flying’. It’s all really, really good.
That’s great to hear. Now we know you best for your time on T4 and MTV… To be part of those amazing brands, you must have thought you’d made it. What was that period of time like.
In hindsight, that period in my life was crazy, rewarding, tumultuous and full of memories and experiences that most can only ever dream of. I’d spend Monday to Thursday in Los Angeles interviewing everyone from De Niro to Angelina Jolie, then fly back at weekends to do the live studio stuff, then back out across the Atlantic again. It was a brilliant time.
What were your golden moments?
We got to hang out at The Osbournes’ house, The Playboy Mansion, even have a rumpology session (the art of reading the lines, crevices, dimples, and folds of the buttocks) with Jackie Stallone! I particularly loved working at MTV with the wonderful Emma Willis. Our show was basically three hours, live and unscripted, where most of the time I just used to gently abuse her and she’d happily oblige! I recently met up with her in Manchester after nearly a decade and it was like we’d never been apart. A true talent and a rare TV breed in the fact that what you see on TV is what you get in the flesh. She should be presenting everything!
With all that jet-setting and hanging out with proper A-listers, it must have become very showbizzy and extravagant.
Absolutely. At the time I started on T4 and MTV they were massive shows, and with that came an abundance of showbiz parties, freebies and ‘rubber-necking’ with the rich and the famous. I think, or rather know, that that’s probably the reason my TV career went tits-up, to be honest!
What do you mean?
Doing the job itself is so high-octane and slightly far removed from reality, but when you start to become slightly prolific, that’s when all the freebies and invites to parties start rolling in, and it’s too tempting not to say ‘Yes’ to it all. Of course you want to dive in, and the minute I did it just became this furore of extra curricular shit that has nothing to do whatsoever with the job in hand. I struggled with that both at the time and for a good few years afterwards. I turned into a bit of a dick, and as a result, ended up waving goodbye to what could have been a really exciting career choice.
T4 wasn’t the end. You did Holiday for the Beeb too, no?
I was so overjoyed to get the gig on Holiday. I mean, it was a prime-time show that gave me the opportunity to really prove myself as a broadcaster – and visit places I could have only ever dreamed of, and spend a week on a cycling holiday with Angela Rippon in Majorca!
What a contrast from meeting the cool young things on T4!
Listening to her generously share first-hand stories about Kenneth Williams and Eric Morecambe whilst making rabbit paella together, that was the showbiz stuff to get truly excited about, not getting fucked up with the cast of Hollyoaks at some shit-house Soho members club.
I left London due to family issues and the fact that I went bankrupt, due mainly to the fact that I had acted like a prick when it came to money, parties and ego-driven pursuits. It was a massive shock to the system but was definitely the smack in the face I needed to wake up and stop acting like a dick.
You endured some really tough personal times at the same time, didn’t you?
At the peak of my TV career, I received the news – as an adult adoptee from birth – that my birth parents had been in touch with a local adoption agency in a bid to ‘find me’. Sadly my experience with my birth parents wasn’t anything like the weep-fest that Davina McCall puts the nation through on Long Lost Family. Far from it. It was got handled so badly and took years of specific counselling to get my head around it all.
That must have been really tough.
Add to this I now found myself devoid of any TV work or offers, insolvent and three stone heavier, I had to hold my hands up and say ‘I surrender’. So I moved back to my mum’s in the arse end of Warrington, had to sign on and found myself at a complete loss. I hadn’t a clue what to do next.
Things didn’t let up, did they?
I had to endure the pain of watching my dad die slowly from very the worst case of alcohol addiction, to the point we I had to travel out to Cuba where him and my Mum had taken an anniversary holiday, only for him to end up in intensive care in a coma for ten days and finally passing away in what I can only describe as a Cuban hell-hole of a hospital. That hit me hard, as the horror of being so far away from home in a stunning country that was still under communist rule, and having to sort everything and get home and get my Dad home just took the last bit of ‘anything’ that I had and I hit rock bottom. One hundred per cent.
I couldn’t even leave the house, I was suffering PTSD from the trauma of bankruptcy, losing everything and my time in Cuba and it took me almost a year to find the strength to swallow my pride and try and get my arse in gear again. And I did, slowly but surely, and ended up working nights stocking shelves at Waterstones over Xmas and New Year, then selling programmes and ice creams at The Opera House in a polyester waistcoat and dicky-bow whilst audience members took camera pics and sent them to celeb mags stating: ‘Oh look at how the mighty have fallen’. It was a horrible time. But I’m stupendously fucking proud of the whole journey that I went through and the suffering that I endured, because now I couldn’t be mentally richer, stronger, happier and more integral than I’ve ever been. No-one was to blame but my self, and I totally accept that.
Brave words Anthony. You were, for many young gay guys at the time, the first real, non-stereotypical role model. How was your own coming out experience? Was it an easy one?
I actually had a pretty bad time growing up gay, as did many of my peers. It was the 80s, and I was such a ‘gay kid’. The bullying I endured on a daily basis from all corners was pretty tough, I took beatings, was ridiculed at school by pupils and teachers, had no male friends growing up. But don’t forget this was 1980’s Warrington for you. I became so rebellious and such a little shit because of what I had to deal with and was forever getting sent home or put on detention and suspension. My teachers kept telling me they knew exactly what my ‘issue’ was, but they couldn’t discuss it or help me basically because of that c**t Thatcher and Section 28 which was in ace at the time. That turned me into a fighter, and I think from that day I’ve not stopped fighting for the cause, in my own, inimitable, somewhat brash, slightly aggressive manner!
As a young gay guy, how did you identify – did you feel you had to fit into that masculine persona?
I constantly feel like I have to fit into this ‘masc’ bullshit, even as I speak to you. It’s a load of old unnecessary wank that the gay community could do without. There’s enough shit going on around the world concerning LGBT issues without having to prove yourself as ‘all man’. Even though I fight, both boxing and Muay Thai, spit in the street, swear like a navvy, muscles and tatts, can ‘top’ like the best, am handy with my fists and have hairy knuckles, doesn’t mean I don’t get excited when I get bought Crème De La Mer by my boss at Xmas, queue up for Little Mix tickets or make up dance routines with my flatmate Nelly to Spice Up Your Life, or take it up the arse on the odd occasion. I love it when my mates call me ‘She’, and I’m obsessed with the Sisters Gorgeous drag family that RULE gay Manchester, so much so, I recently posed in semi-drag for an artist that is challenging stereotype and all that masc/femme crap and LOVED it. Even in my TV work I’d ramp up the camp, ‘cause that’s who I am. We shouldn’t try to be anything other than our integral, authentic selves, and I can’t be anything but. Especially if I’m pissed and there’s some R&B on. My batty riders are a sight to behold.
As a young gay guy did you ever get caught up in the reckless hedonistic part of gay life?
I turned 16 in 1990, then deemed the ‘second summer of love’, so as you can imagine, rave culture and the explosion of gay Manchester was thrilling and new and something to embrace with gusto. And I did. I would never say I was reckless, but as far as partying was concerned I partied hard. I’ve got no regrets, I should have reined it in a bit during my TV years but you learn by your own mistakes. I’m lucky enough to have completely grown out of it now, whereas I witness friends and acquaintances that are still going, at our age, and facing real addiction issues, which is heart breaking to see.
Was the Manchester gay scene wilder than London?
Different, and wilder in the sense of the freedom and the creativity that comes out of my beautiful city, as opposed to the drug/sex scene. It’s apparent, and always has been as with any section of the gay community geographically. In my day it was Es and whizz, and then sadly cocaine culture started to monopolize as it remains prevalent to this day. But all this new stuff, ‘slamming’, crystal meth and chem-sex chill outs, it’s starting to become apparent up north as in London, and that scares me to death.
Yeah, it’s become a bit of a problem, right now.
Which daft twat thought it a sensible idea to start bringing syringes into the party process? The thing about Manchester, and especially now, is that there is a real sense of ‘you CAN sit with us’, especially within the queer arts scene, which in my eyes is the most exciting thing about Gay Manchester at present. The only issue is Canal Street and the Gay Village itself, which is a horrendous place to visit at the best of times, scary in fact.
It’s interesting that the gentrification of gay London is something that needs addressing, whilst in Manchester it’s almost like gentrification is needed within the village, as it’s stuck in this cheesy, dated, timewarp. Hence why anything exciting and innovative on the gay scene takes place in the Northern Quarter now, our own ‘manor’ being a place where most would fear to tread, sadly.
Did going out and partying take up much of your life like it does some young guys?
Like I said, very much so. It didn’t take over my life, though, it enriched it to some extent. I’ve been lucky enough to co-create and promote and run some award winning, exciting club brands such as the ubiquitous 00’s London gay indie disco Rebel Rebel, and Manchester Homo Hip Hop and R&B party, Off The Hook, of which I am particularly passionate about. And I’ve carved out a decent enough career playing in clubs, bars and parties, such as HANDSOME London of which I’m about to smash the back room at East Bloc in February, as well as being the current face of the brand. As a student I worked in HMV, Our Price, Virgin from an early age, so music has always been an integral part of my being. Plus it brought us together, back in the day, and when we have mini reunions in Manchester and all the old (and botoxed!) faces get together for a night out, which is happening more and more nowadays. We’ve all still ‘got it’, or so we are convinced!
A lot of young gay guys have endured mental health issues and its only these days that people feel more comfortable talking about them. Did you experience any of kind of mental health issue. If so how did you deal with it.
Really badly. I surrounded myself with the wrong kind of people, refused to ‘see the wood for the trees’ and generally went on a self imposed destructive route. But I did exactly what you said – I spoke about it, and at every opportunity I could. I got help, specifically with After Adoption, and I started to look out for myself, hit the gym hard and just embraced the idea that, actually, I was ‘alright’.
Did that help turn you around?
I really didn’t like myself, I’d say hate, for a long, long time. It’s only the past couple of years that things started to finally fall into place, and I cherish each and every obstacle and challenge I went through. I don’t think I’d be at he point I am at today if I hadn’t been through so much, and been smart and brave enough to face it and look for a winning solution. I do it for my students now at the Manchester School Of Acting. I can’t bear to sit and watch a human being suffer. I would give my left bollock to help anyone that finds themselves in a place where life doesn’t seem an option any more, as I’ve been to that place and through patience, hard work and support from those that I love, I came through the other side. As I said at the start, the fact I’m still here and solvent and in a brilliant place is the best experience I have ever had whilst being on this earth for the past 41 years.
And over the past 20 years, gay rights have really come a long way… How have you seen the gay experience change in that time?
When I was out and about causing trouble in gay Manchester back in the early 90s, I wasn’t even legally allowed to have sex, as the age of consent was 21, so yeah, I’ve witnessed massive changes in gay rights. This year I came out of a six year relationship that took me as far away from ‘all things gay’ as humanely possible, which looking back was a bit of a shame. But now it all feels like something new again, as I’m putting myself out there again and even in my vintage years, there’s stuff that baffles me or I’ve had to ask what it means. But gay rights have come along and it’s fucking fantastic, but we’ve still got a lot of work to do, even within the community itself, so we should forever be championing the cause, absolutely.
Do you think schools need more sex education geared toward sex?
Not just schools mate, people of my age need bloody educating on a massive level. I’m not ashamed to say that when I became single this year I did as most gays do, and I was shocked at how little respect some individuals have towards their own health. I’m not some martyr – not by a long shot – but working with young people as I do in my job it’s fucking scary how attitudes to safe sex practices are sometimes non-existent. I have a lovely friend who is HIV positive and proud of his status, and I, at 41 , have had to ask his advice on stuff, especially where apps like Grindr and Scruff are concerned. I often say, if I ever did any telly again I would love to do a show on sex education within the LGBT community, as I’m learning as much about the ever-evolving world of gay sex myself as the next person. So, yes, it’s absolutely important and imperative that sex education is something that needs to be looked at on a national scale.
I think just the sheer fact that I survived, am still alive and came out the other end kicking and screaming is the biggest highlight for me. I’ve been on such a tumultuous journey over the past decade especially, it’s a pretty special place to be now to be able to embrace the past, for all it’s fun-times and huge fuck-ups. It took me a few years and a lot of stress to get to this place, but I’m so glad I made it.
TOMORROW: Anthony on why he’s not happy about Corrie’s stunt casting, the producer who told him to be less gay on TV and more….
Anthony is an acting coach at www.themanchesterschoolofacting.co.uk
Catch him spinning tunes at Handsome in London on Feb 6 at East Bloc, 217 City Road EC1V
Shoot pics: Z-o-a-h.com – Follow at Instagram
Handsome pics: Lee Baxter