A Charming man to play the Prince...

THERE'S only one way really to describe Matt Baker... he's a thoroughly nice man.

You can certainly see his appeal to television producers - there’s something rather endearingly decent about him, that sense you could put him into any situation and that he would emerge with a smile on his face, the perfect qualification for a man who spent seven years on long-running BBC children’s hit Blue Peter.

He’s equally at home presenting gymnastics coverage for BBC sport, presenting daytime shows like City Hospital or, as he will be this Christmas, joining the all-star lineup of Sheffield’s Lyceum panto Cinderella.

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Best of all, in a world full of desperate wannabes all clawing their way towards 15 minutes of ill-deserved small screen fame, the nicest thing about Matt is that he still seems rather surprised to have carved out a career on the box.

Perhaps that’s because, as he points out, you could almost say he tumbled his way into the career that made him one of the most familiar faces on British television.

“To begin with, I was a gymnast but I got involved in a college production of Grease, doing some backflips, and I ended up taking a part and found I had a flair for the arts,” he explains.

As a keen sportsman he originally intended to study physiotherapy but when his A- Level grades let him down, the lad from a farm in County Durham decided he’d at least give the acting a shot and landed himself a place at drama school in Edinburgh.

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“I was only there a year and a half when I heard they were auditioning for Blue Peter,” he says, admitting he had no idea what the producers wanted when they said they’d need to see his showreel.

Once he realised that was just a film of him performing for the camera, though, he spotted that he had the ideal material right on the family’s doorstep.

“We were lambing at the time on the farm and I thought the townies would love that!” he laughs. “Then I got on a uni-cycle and rode round the farm yard.”

Next stop London where, once the team realised they’d found someone who could trampoline with the experts, was quite prepared to dress up in a daft costume if need be and was even a dab hand with the sticky- backed plastic, a new Blue Peter star was born.

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He would stay with the show for more than seven years, eventually leaving last year to pursue other interests and he concedes that for the moment he finds it quite hard to watch the show.

“It’s a very difficult thing to do when you’ve committed your life to something,” he says.

“I believed in that programme and gave so much to it. Everything went on hold. My family life and everything suffered for it – when I wasn’t presenting, I was producing and directing.”

And while he’s not being critical, there is the suggestion that the show might, perhaps, have lost its way recently and needs to get back to the roots that have made it so strong a product for 50 years.

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“Blue Peter is a flagship,” he points out. “You can’t go round liquidising it into other programmes. It’s a cult because it is what it is and it should remain as it is.”

His appearance in panto in Sheffield will be his second time on the professional stage - the third if you count the time he joined the chorus of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the London Palladium for Blue Peter - though he’s not sure he’s cut out for a romantic role like Prince Charming.

“It’s going to be a bit weird,” he laughs. “I don’t know how I feel about Prince Charming because I don’t see myself as a charming person. I’d like it if we took a bit of a slant on it - more Prince Harry than Prince William!”