Chris Tarrant Interview: Tarrant Lets The Kids Loose

As we all know, the golden rule of working on television is that you should never work with kids or animals – unless your name is David Attenborough.

But rules are meant to be broken.

Chris Tarrant’s latest show Tarrant Lets The Kids Loose will begin next week, and when the Millionaire presenter spoke to OTB, he told us that he has high hopes for the family programme.

Is that your final answer Mr Tarrant?

Hi Chris, we’ve seen a couple of clips of the new show and it looks good, what’s the basic premise?

In the show, young children (usually 4 or 5) are left to take charge of shops or other outlets for short periods while we film them with hidden cameras. Some of the results are very entertaining and really heart-warming. Their mum or dad will take them to places they are very familiar with like the local library or hair-dressers, before ‘popping out for 10 minutes’. Then the person in charge of the shop or whatever will do the same and ask the child to run things for them. Obviously we have undercover security everywhere to make sure everything’s alright, and then we just record what goes on. We left one little girl in a hair salon and she ended up cutting lumps out of someones hair, we had another strictly enforcing the rules of a library, one piece featured an autistic boy running a gardening centre, and all this goes on while the parents are watching on monitors.

But at the end of it, unlike other hidden camera shows, no-one tells them that they were on TV, their parents simply come and collect them and they go home. Then a couple of weeks later we invite the family down to London to watch what the child thinks is simply the live recording of a TV show and that’s when we surprise them with the footage. When they make the connection the look of realisation on their faces is wonderful. I found it really enjoyable, it was a real buzz.

Hidden camera has been done before but this is a very original idea – what did you think when they asked you do it?

When they sent me the idea I thought, “this is a really sweet ideaâ€?. We used to have loads of shows involving kids on the TV, but now there doesn’t seem to be so many, so there’s potentially a hole in the market. Initially, I thought that kids of 5 would be too young – one of the boys is even 3 – might be too young to take part in these pieces. But we soon learned that kids of that age don’t have any inhibitions or much fear of anything.

Maybe if we’d asked 9 year-olds to do these tasks then they might have been a bit overawed. Some of the results we had were just extraordinary. My favourite was the boy who was in charge of the dog beauty parlour, he was just so cool. It was chaos there and he dealt with everything brilliantly. He even sang the whole of ‘You Make Me Feel So Young’ by Frank Sinatra. We even had one little girl presenting the news on radio! They were just amazing.

After the success of the girl on the radio, were you a bit concerned that producers might get a toddler to present Millionaire?

We laughed at the time because she really showed how easy our job is, but that’s a separate thing because we’ve been talking about a kids Millionaire for a while now. And we think it could be a success.

Tell us more…

It’s an idea that we’ve had for ages and we’re still not sure how it would work. It would definitely have to involve slightly older children who might have a bit more general knowledge to call on and we certainly wouldn’t give them a million pounds either, but it’s an obvious follow-up to the main programme. There are a lot of complications with it, but it’s still being discussed and remains a possibility.

Well that would be interesting, why do you think the show has been so successful?

Nowadays everyone says that it was always bound to be a success, but back when it started none of us ever thought that it could be as a huge as it was. I’m contracted to do it until 2011, which will be the best part of 12 years. We’ve done 600 shows, given away £60m, now we’ve even got Slumdog Millionaire the Oscar-winning movie! None of this was ever considered when we did the first pilot. The format’s just worked all over the world with continuing generations.

Are you ever tempted to help a struggling contestant? How difficult is it to keep quiet when you know the right answer?

I’ve developed this poker-face. So many people say, “You’re trying to tell me somethingâ€?, which of course I’m not. In reality I’m thinking the same as everyone at home: “A lifeline on this question? Oh for god sake! You must know this!â€? Although sometimes it can work the other way, and people will really surprise you with their knowledge.

So you don’t know the answers – you’re in the dark like everyone else?

Well I’m not a complete fool, I know some of them. But they’re not on my screen. The first time I know whether they’re right is when they go to final answer. I have got quite a wide-range of general knowledge, so if I’m honest I probably know about two-thirds. I have strengths but anything to do with computers, I would be one of those people saying “I’m sorry, I know its only £500 but I don’t have a clue.â€?

Going back to the new show, what struck us was the talent and charisma that some of these kids had, how did you select them?

What we wanted to avoid were the stage-school kids that had been groomed from an early age by parents who were already pushing them in this direction. We wanted kids that were completely raw in that sense. Although we did go round the country doing auditions, it absolutely is not ‘Kids Have Got Talent’, they’re all really grounded kids. I hope that the show will just be very sweet moments in their lives, they will be heroes in the playground for a couple of weeks and then get back to normal again.

So no Chris Tarrant talent academy then?

(laughs) Definitely not.

Sean Marland

Check out our review of the movie that rejuvenated the Millionaire interest, Slumdog Millionaire, or if you’re craving something kiddier, read our review of the celeb-tastic Yo Gabba Gabba or our feature on the most Dignity-Shredding Kids’ TV Celebrity Cameos….