Music

Byker Grove stars now – Hollywood fame, beaten up because of show, sudden death

BBC children's drama Byker Grove broke boundaries when it first hit our screens in 1989.

The programme, about groups of youths who visited the centre, tackled a number of huge storylines from teenage pregnancy to bullying and drug use.

It also made stars of a number of its young cast, including I'm a Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here! hosts Ant and Dec, as well as Coronation Street actress Jill Halfpenny.

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On the anniversary of Byker Grove's first episode (November 8, 1989), Daily Star takes a look at where some of the cast are now.

Ant and Dec (PJ and Duncan)

Two of the most memorable stars of Byker Grove were PJ and Duncan – otherwise known to us today and award-winning presenting duo Ant and Dec.

The pair played best friends on-screen as well as off, with Dec's character PJ sadly being blinded in a harrowing paintballing incident during their time on the programme.

After four years on Byker Grove, Ant and Dec had a slew of pop hits under their character names, including Let's Get Ready To Rumble and The Game Of Love.

However, they're most famous for presenting TV programmes including SM:TV Live, Pop Idol, Britain's Got Talent and I'm a Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here! to name a few.

Away from the cameras, Ant also embarked on romance with Strictly Come Dancing make-up artist Lisa Armstrong during their pop star days, when Lisa's group Deuce were performing on the 1994 Smash Hits music tour alongside Ant and Dec's pop star personas PJ and Duncan.

The couple went on to be together for over 23 years and married in 2006.

However, after rumours that their relationships had been on the rocks, Ant and Lisa divorced in 2018, with Ant's representatives releasing a statement at the time of their split saying: "Ant is very sad to announce, that after 11 years, he is ending his marriage to Lisa McPartlin.

"Ant asks for privacy at this difficult time, for both himself, Lisa and their immediate families. No further statement will be made."

Reports later stated that they finalised their split in April 2020 in a huge £31million divorce settlement.

Ant has since married his PA Anne Marie Corbett, following a number of turbulent years for the star, which also saw him arrested on suspicion of drink-driving after a collision in London in 2018.

He also entered rehab for addiction to painkillers one year earlier, with the star announcing in 2018 that he would be taking a break from presenting duties until 2019.

However, he has since returned to our screens to host Britain's Got Talent and I'm a Celeb with co-star Dec.

Meanwhile, Dec is married to Ali Astall, with who he has two children.

The pair started dating in 2014 after they'd known and worked with one another for a number of years – with Ali being Ant and Dec's talent manager.

Over time their friendship blossomed and Dec revealed in an interview with the Daily Express, that being romantically connected had been "strange" for them at first.

At the time of their wedding, he told the publication: "We always hung out.

"When she was single and I was single we'd go out for dinner on Valentine's Day together.

"Last year we went out as a couple. It was a little strange because we've had a working relationship for so long."

Nicola Bell (Debbie Dobson)

Nicola Bell played Debbie Dobson in Byker Grove between 1989 to 1993 – with her character most famously remembered as the person who accidently blinded poor PJ with the paintballs.

It is also reported that during her time on the programme, she also had a relationship with PJ star Ant McPartlin.

From there, the actress appeared in Kavanagh QC, Crocodile Shoes II and Paradise Grove.

However, she made a career u-turn when she stepped away from acting and became a flight attendant for Virgin Atlantic, before becoming a make-up artist.

That's not all, as she is also a qualified PT instructor.

Nicola also wows her followers with a glamorous series of selfies on Instagram, with the star flaunting her ageless appearance, more than 30 years since Byker Grove first aired.

Not much is known about her personal life, but it is reported that Nicola has four children.

Jill Halfpenny (Nicola Dobson)

Another TV icon to be launched to stardom as a teenager was Jill Halfpenny, who played Nicola Dobson in Byker Grove between 1989 to 1992.

From there, Jill hit soap fame, playing Rebecca Hopkins in Coronation Street, as well as Phil Mitchell's love interest Kate in EastEnders in 2002.

She has also appeared in TV series including Waterloo Road, Humans and Wild At Heart.

The star also showed off her impressive dancing skills too, when she won the second series of Strictly Come Dancing in 2004.

Along with a dazzling onstage career in productions such as Chicago, where she once again showed off her dancing skills, Jill is now a presenter for BBC Radio 2.

She also returned to TV in 2021, appearing in drama series The Drowning, and most recently appeared in the BBC series Everything I Know About Love.

In her personal life, she was married to Craig Conway from 2007-2010 and they had one child together.

The actress is private about her personal life, but opened up about the death of her partner on Craig Parkinson's podcast in 2019.

Her partner Matt sadly died after suffering a heart attack at the gym in 2017, with Jill revealing that his death mirrored that of her father's, who died of a heart attack in 1979 when she was just four years old.

She said: "My grief at losing Matt, my partner, was so brutal and so shocking but then what happened was it brought out all of the grief from my dad as well. It was like dealing with a double loss – a loss I'd never actually dealt with."

Billy Fane (Geoff)

Where there was Byker Grove, the youth club leader was not far behind, with Billy Fane playing Geoff for more than 10 years on the programme between 1989 to 2000.

He became a role model to many of the young people who walked through Byker Groves doors, but sadly, youth club leader Geoff was killed in a gas explosion at the centre in the programme.

So devastated by the character's loss, his funeral saw many old Byker Grove faces return to the programme, including Ant and Dec's PJ and Duncan.

Geoff actor Billy has since collaborated with Ant and Dec away from the programme, making a cameo appearance on a 2014 episode of Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway.

Billy also offered his support when Byker Grove co-star Ant entered rehab for addiction to painkillers in 2017, saying to The Mirror that Ant is a "lovely, hard-working lad."

He added: "I was so sorry to hear of the ­problems and wish him a quick recovery."

Away from Byker Grove, Geoff has appeared in programmes including Heartbeat and more recently, The Last Leg, as well as in pantomimes across the UK.

The star also has a career away from the limelight, after graduating with a distinction from a postgraduate education course at Hull University.

Speaking to Chronicle Live, Geoff said: "Being awarded my degree was the proudest day in my life.

"Myself and school had a mutual dislike of each other and they wrote me off as an educational failure, so it was an amazing feeling to actually wear the cap and gown and collect my degree.

"I loved studying and although it was hard work travelling to Hull for lectures and doing my dissertation at the same time as my son Peter, 24, who was at the same university, I found it so fulfilling."

It is reported that he now has a job teaching at six different prisons throughout the north of England.

Andrew Hayden Smith (Ben Carter)

In 1995, a new generation of youths entered Byker Grove, including Andrew Hayden Smith as Ben Carter.

He became one of the longest running characters on the children's drama, appearing for more than eight years until 2003, when his character was sadly killed off.

From there he landed presenting roles of a number of children's programmes for the BBC, as well as appearing in a 2006 episode of Doctor Who opposite David Tennant.

He also appeared in including Cucumber and Banana for Channel 4, as well as playing DS Gavin Armstrong in Hollyoaks between 2016 to 2017.

Andrew's Twitter profile also states that he works as an announcer for ITV.

The star has also spoken about coming out as gay at the age of 21 years old, with Andrew telling Revamp Magazine that he was "the first kid's presenter to come out while still on the job."

He said: "I went to speak to my boss at CBBC and he was incredibly supportive. I'm so grateful to him for his help with that. The reaction was mostly positive. I've never regretted it for a second."

Andrew also revealed the roles he would like to tackle next, with the star revealing that he would like to take on another soap, but that he does miss presenting, saying: "Maybe one day I'll get the old ear piece back out… You can't beat the thrill of live telly. I never like to rule anything out."

Chelsea Halfpenny (Lucy Summerbee)

The apple does not fall far from the tree, as they say, with one of the stars from the show's final years being none other than Chelsea Halfpenny – the niece of original Byker Grove actress Jill Halfpenny.

Between 2004 to 2006, Chelsea played Lucy Summerbee in the children's drama, before landing the role of teenager Amy Wyatt in Emmerdale in 2010.

In an unexpected co-incidence, Amy starred opposite Charlie Hardwick in Emmerdale, who also landed one of her first roles in Byker Grove too.

Since then, Amy has appeared in Casualty as Alice Monroe, as well as a number of musical theatre productions including 9 to 5, Beryl and most recently, Waitress.

Away from acting, Chelsea is also a talented singer and formed the girl group Vivo in 2009 – and is reported to have duetted with her Emmerdale co-star Charlie Hardwick.

Chelsea is also engaged to actor James Baxter, who played Jake Doland in Emmerdale.

The couple began dating in 2018, but they first met at a drama workshop aged 14 years old, with Chelsea telling The Mirror: "I really fancied him and he did not fancy me at all!

"He's a year older and I thought he was really cool, but I also remember thinking, "Well, no wonder he's not interested, because he's just so much older than me!"

Lyndyann Barrass (Kirsty 'Spuggie' Campbell)

Original cast member Lyndyann Barrass played Spuggie for four years on the show when she was a teenager, with her red hair soon becoming iconic to viewers.

But following her exit, she struggled to find work on screen before trying her hand in the music industry without success.

She told The Sun: "I appeared in a few one-off dramas, but I’d been typecast as the redhead from ‘that Geordie show’ and struggled to find work.

"Aged 21, I joined a band called Angel, but we weren’t successful and I left after a year.

"Three years later, I was beaten unconscious in the street by three strangers who recognised me as Spuggie. Thankfully, I wasn’t badly injured, but it was the final straw. I decided to quit show business for good."

Lyndyann later revealed she was working in a call centre and was a single mum of two.

Charlie Hunnam (Jason)

Believe it or not, Hollywood hunk Charlie Hunnam landed his first ever acting role on Byker Grove in 1998, where he played a character called Jason for three episodes.

From there it was onwards and upwards for the star, with Charlie landing roles in TV series including Queer As Folk.

However, he hit international fame when he appeared as Jax in critically acclaimed drama Sons Of Anarchy, and has starred in Hollywood films including Crimson Peak, King Arthur, Pacific Rim and The Gentlemen.

Away from the limelight, Charlie was married to Katharine Towne between 1999 to 2002, with the couple reportedly wed in Las Vegas after just three weeks of dating.

Charlie has also dated model Sophie Dhal and actress Stella Parker.

It is reported that he has been in a relationship with Morgana McNelis since 2005.

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