Face to face, it's hard to tell if Ant and Dec realise the cameras have stopped rolling.They raise naughty eyebrows, finish each other's sentences, laugh at pretty much anything and mention their mums every two minutes ('you've got to be good to your mam').It goes without saying they're sitting 'in formation' (Ant on the left, Dec on the right as you look at them) as they always appear on television so as not to muddle the audience.
They even had a No.1 single last year with Let's Get Ready To Rhumble! 'And we have a 20-minute car journey from our hotel to the studio, so you can get a little kip then,' laughs Ant. We egg each other on - if you're having another, I'm having another, ooh, we may as well get a bottle...' says Dec. Last December when they appeared on Desert Island Discs they spoke about the fear their TV careers could have been over.
, which they'd first recorded during their brief pop career in 1994. Their humour is brilliantly puerile, but never mean. They were filmed crying with laughter as the obliging X Factor judge pretended to phone Dannii Minogue using a banana taken from a fruit bowl at his house while an unsuspecting workman looked on bemused. Dec told presenter Kirsty Young, 'We couldn't comprehend how it was allowed to happen.
Last month they were awarded a special Landmark Award for 25 years in showbusiness and enjoyed tributes from Prince Charles, Kylie Minogue, Robbie Williams, Simon Cowell and Bruce Forsyth. They tell silly stories about nicking cutlery from a posh Indian restaurant (Ant once filled Dec's jacket pockets with an entire table's worth, making the owner so furious he called the police), winding one another up with clingfilm on loos, wigs left on pillows to suggest they have a woman in bed with them and drinking a bit too much before trying to make each other laugh on air during I'm A Celebrity, which they've presented from Australia since 2002.'We have to get up at 1.30 in the morning to look at the overnight footage and be in the studio by 7am, so we really should be in bed by 7pm, though we have been known to push it to 9.30, or even ten.' Or perhaps skip the sleep bit completely? If it had been the end I don't think we could have had many complaints.'After Takeaway, they're up to their eyes in BGT - they're already midway through the auditions.
Then it's Take-away On Tour, and, towards the end of the year, I'm A Celebrity series 14. I get into bed and I'm like, "Please brain, don't go all whirry now." I get jealous because Lisa [his make-up artist wife] falls asleep instantly, and kind of purrs away.' They both come from council estates in Newcastle and met as child actors on BBC children's TV series Byker Grove when they were 14.
They make TV look spontaneous and easy, but they're famously hard-working, control every tiny detail and, according to Simon Cowell, are 'utter perfectionists'. Ant's mum brought up her son and his younger sister on her own, so while she held down two jobs, Ant (supposedly the shyer of the two) did most of the housework, cooked tea and is still 'brilliant at ironing and Sunday roasts'. One of Dec's brothers is a priest, something Dec toyed with, briefly.
'Sometimes I think, "Bloody hell, after all these years, we're busier than ever",' says Dec. People think we want to crack America, but we honestly don't have time right now.''I suffer really badly with insomnia. Dec was the youngest of seven and an Irish dancing show-off. 'I was at an all-boys Catholic school so I thought maybe I should think about it.But then I saw the girls from the convent and I thought, "No, that's not a route I'll be going down."' 'Then we'd go home and phone each other up, go to the football together or stay over at each other's houses,' says Dec.'And when we were 17, we were hanging out by the quayside in Newcastle in my MG Metro Turbo.''…with go faster stripes and red seatbelts.Anyway, our characters PJ and Duncan had just been written out of Byker Grove and we didn't know what to do next - the music hadn't taken off yet - so we made a pact.We said to each other, "Look, whatever happens, I'll always be there for you and you're never in this life on your own against the world - you've always got a mate looking out for you."''We love each other, definitely,' says Ant.'A lot of people don't seem to be able to get their heads round it but just because we're on TV, it doesn't mean that our friendship should differ from two people who work in a call centre together and are best mates.'They spend an evening a week at each other's houses, handily just three doors apart in west London, and a night in the pub together every week.