Inside Vanessa Feltz’s astounding bounce back from TV pariah to BBC top earner

Ten years ago Vanessa Feltz' career lay in tatters after her chat show was cancelled amid a row over 'fake' guests.

But a decade on and the presenter has astounded naysayers by making a somewhat surprising appearance in the BBC's top earners list.

Not only did she come in at number nine with her £355,000 earnings, but she's also nipping at the heels of the Beeb's top female earner, Claudia Winkleman, who received £370,000.

So how did Vanessa transform herself from desperate reality TV regular into the BBC's second highest paid woman?

There are certainly no flies on Vanessa, 57, who graduated from Cambridge University with a first class honour degree in English.

After taking over from Paula Yates on the Big Breakfast, she scored her own ITV chat show, Vanessa.

It was such a ratings hit that she was poached by the BBC in 1998 in a £2.5million two-year deal after Anglia TV reportedly refused to meet her salary demands.

But despite being the highest paid female on TV, it would prove to be a fatal move for her career.

The reincarnated Vanessa Show was instantly trounced in the ratings by her ITV replacement, Trisha Goddard, pulling in less than half her rival's viewers.

Vanessa feared stories about her alleged financial demands had killed her popularity.

"I think that fitted the stereotype of the fat, greedy Jew," she told the Guardian.

"But actually I hadn't approached the BBC – they approached me. I hadn't asked for money. I did nothing whatsoever except sit in my garden and take a phone call."

And at the peak of The Vanessa Show's flailing, scandal hit when production staff were accused of hiring actors to pose as models and strippers on the show. Two strangers were even said to have appeared posing as sisters.

While Vanessa had nothing to do with the guest booking process, she took the hit when the BBC decided to axe it in July 1999.

And despite publicaly promising to continue working with her, it would be almost 12 months before she returned to screen with low-key offerings such as Talking TV, I Will Survive and Net Rescue – none of which failed to set the world alight.

Her personal life was equally devastaing, with her surgeon husband Micheal Kurer walking out on their 17-year marriage for a younger woman – but not before issuing her with an ultimatum to lose weight fast.

She described that time as, “cataclysmic and horrifying,” and ended up dropping six stone.

In 2001 she joined BBC London to host its mid-afternoon phone-in show and desperately attempted to rebrand as a reality star, featuring in the first ever series of Celebrity Big Brother .

"My career had gone so low I thought I couldn't f*ck it up any more," she said of the disastrous stint which saw her suffer a breakdown and frantically scrawl random words on the kitchen table.

She later accused producers of making her look like "Jack Nicholson out of The Shining" and insisted she had simply been 'bored' watching fellow housemate Anthea Turner constantly clean up.

But Big Brother didn't do anything for her popularity and in 2003 she was voted 93rd in Channel 4's poll, 100 Worst Britons and labelled a 'brand killer'.

The years of pariahdom rolled on, but Vanessa refused to turn down work, no matter how tedious the project.

"I believe in doing something for 50 quid. If someone's offering you 50 quid, then do it," she famously said.

Desperate to keep earning, she fought to keep the fat off in Celebrity Fit Club and turned her front room into a restaurant for Virgin 1 show, A Restaurant in our Living Room.

She returned to the Big Brother house twice and even had another punt at The Vanessa Show on Channel 5 in 2011. It was cancelled after one series.

But despite the sneers and snarky comments, Vanessa's approach of trying anything once slowly began to pay off when she took over BBC Radio 2's Early Breakfast Show from Sarah Kennedy that same year.

After fronting the 5am to 6:30am programme, she would sprint to the BBC Radio London studio for her 7am to 10am programme. And that's something she still does every day, having hosted 400 instalments in the last year alone.

On top of that, she started covering for Jeremy Vine on his 12-2pm Radio 2 show, and soon the cash started pouring in.

With her unceasing chattiness and rare directness, she attracted record ratings for both slots and saw her star power once again flourish.

"It is unusual, and I suppose that's because it requires quite a lot of physical endurance and stamina just to keep at it," she told BBC News of her extreme workload, which she regularly combines with appearances on ITV's This Morning and Loose Women.

However, 2017 brought a further knockback when Radio London David Robey accidentally emailed a confidential memo slagging off Vanessa to staff.

"When we launched Vanessa's breakfast programme, we were aware we would have to find the right balance between her skills and the much tighter format," the document read.

"We reduced the number of stories (fewer, bigger, better) and tried to create more time for her personality and interaction, but it still felt constricted and lacking personality.

"Vanessa loves a long interview… but it's a constant battle to get her to suit the pace of breakfast".

It's not something the star was ever prepared to be drawn on, and her protective fiancé Ben Ofoedu, of Phats and Small fame, defies anybody to question his girlfriend's talent or salary.

“I think Vanessa’s a fantastic journalist and she’s been relevant since 1993," he told The Sun.

“I think the BBC value her and she’s good at what she does.

“She doesn’t actually drive a hard bargain at all, Vanessa does the job that no-one else can do — she can go from radio to entertainment shows to reality.

“I’d like to see another woman as intelligent as Vanessa, she has to come down from her intelligence to chat to people in conversations.”

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