He graced our airwaves and TV screens for 40 years – not least as host of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? – living life in the fast lane until six years ago when he suffered a near-fatal stroke, with doctors convinced he was going to end up in a wheelchair. Now, despite the country being obsessed with TV drama Quiz, telling the tale of Millionaire’s coughing Major and the £1million prize scandal, Tarrant, 73, has more important concerns – his continued good health.
He realises how lucky he is to be alive
He graced our airwaves and TV screens for 40 years
He realises how lucky he is to be alive and he knows that to avoid the deadly bug Covid-19, he has to self-isolate.
“Since the coronavirus has hit, I’ve been forced to ease up on dashing about,” admits Chris, who is with his partner of 12 years, Jane Bird, at his Berkshire estate taking long walks, reading ‘The I would walk and catching up on TV.
Breaking into his trademark grin, he says: “I thought I was indestructible when I was younger and I did have a very strong constitution. Back in the day, I would party all night and go straight into my job at Capital Radio without having slept… and then I would go and film WHOWANTSTO Be a Millionaire? “But since I had my stroke in March 2014, I don’t work nearly as hard. I work enough to keep my brain ticking over, really.
“I’m still passionate about fishing and I was at this most amazing lake in France when Macron ordered the country into lockdown. I was lucky to get back here before the borders closed.
“Now I’m self-isolating and taking the advice seriously. Being over 70 and on medication means I’m high risk. However, I feel ridiculously fit for my age but now I fall into that category of someone with underlying health problems.
He knows to avoid the deadly bug Covid-19, he has to self-isolate
“The bottom line is that I have to self-isolate to survive. It’s scary. I’m like everyone else in that I’m frightened to go out. It’s awful and sometimes I think, ‘What on earth is going on?’ “We lock the gates and the only person we see is my mate who leaves food outside. It’s going to be a long summer but the alternative is pretty horrid.
“I have to take novel oral anticoagulants for the rest of my life. I don’t want to go into hospital for a check-up. Covid-19 is a horrible thing and hospitals must be a hotbed of germs right now. If you go in, there is that danger that you could just kind of disappear.
“I had a check-up the other day over the phone and my consultant said, ‘You sound fine, unless you really want to come in and see me, stay there’. I don’t think it’s a good time to go into hospital if you can help it.”
“The last time Chris was seriously ill was when he was taken into London’s Charing Cross Hospital after his stroke mid-air heading to London. “I had been filming Channel 5’s Extreme Railways and I was on a flight from Bangkok and you really said never again’ don’t want to have a stroke at 39,000ft and it was pretty scary,” he says. “I was rushed into hospital and I was frightened and exhausted. I had been through this gruelling flight and I was like, ‘I do not want to fall asleep’. I thought in my confused mind that I might not wake up. I was awake for 36 hours in the end.
The last time Chris was seriously ill was when he was taken into London’s Charing Cross Hospital after his stroke mid-air heading to London
“Doctors didn’t give me much hope when I came in and they said I would never walk again. But I proved them wrong.
“I said to the surgeon, ‘Thank you so much for everything you have done, you saved my life’.
“He said, ‘No, I don’t think you could have died but when you came in I said to my assistant I am sure that man is going to end up in a wheelchair’.
“This really shook me up and I said to him, ‘What do you think actually caused it?’ and he looked at me with a slight grin on his face and he replied ‘Excess, excess, excess’. It was too many late nights, early mornings, too much whisky and general misbehaving.
“Before the stroke, I was so sporty but after it I couldn’t catch a ball, kick a football or stand on one leg – but that all came back with a really tough six months of physiotherapy.
“I had a lot of speech therapy, which seems weird now listening to me rattling on, but my speech was a bit slurred.”
Chris adds: “I’m lucky to be here because one in three people who have strokes don’t make it.
“Before the stroke, I was so sporty but after it I couldn’t catch a ball, kick a football or stand on one leg”
“As a result of what happened to me, I’ve been an ambassador for the Stroke Association since 2014 and I can actually say to others, ‘Look, this is what happened to me, this is what you should be looking out for. And if it happens to you this is what you do’.
“The chances of my stroke happening again are pretty low, providing I take my medicine and I don’t do things to excess.
“I know drinking large neat scotches is not good for your health and there’s a bottle of whisky staring at me right now but I haven’t touched a drop. It’s like smoking. I would never light a cigarette now. I smoked a packet of cigarettes the day my mum Joan died, bless her. That was in 2013 and it was the only time I’ve smoked in about 30 years. I was obviously in a bit of a state.”
Chris’s six children, including Toby, a DJ on Radio X, are particularly protective.
“My kids do worry about me but they know that I am still off the spirits, although I am certainly drinking more wine, like the rest of the country,” he grins.
“My kids know I am a big old boy and I’m going to do my own thing but they also know I’m not stupid and if they did see me drinking lots of scotch, they would take me to task.
“But they know I won’t. I want to be around for them. In fact, I am more likely to say to them, ‘You are drinking or smoking too much’.
“Toby thinks he is indestructible too. But everybody needs to make their own mistakes.”
Chris says he has been using his time in lockdown wisely. “Luckily I have a lot to keep myself busy,” he declares. “The other day, I recorded a video to say thank you to the NHS staff because they’ve really helped me over the years since I had my stroke. I’m also helping the Stroke Association promote National Stroke Awareness month in May.”
He admits: “I have watched the ITV drama Quiz about the coughing Major trying to cheat Who Wants To Be A Millionaire out of a million pounds.
“My view is, why did they ever need to make it when we already know that the Major was guilty?” Daily video chats with his children and seven grandchildren also keep him busy.
“I talk to my kids and my grandkids on FaceTime every day but it’s not the same as seeing them and giving them a cuddle.
“They come on to FaceTime and they say: ‘When can I see you, Grandpa?’ They don’t understand and that’s the most heartbreaking thing.
“I’ve got seven grandchildren and another on the way and I think to myself, ‘I am a young, thrusting man, how can I have eight grandchildren?’ It’s ridiculous. The next one is due after my birthday in October.
“I can’t believe that I am old enough to be a grandfather.”
Since his stroke, Chris has lost nearly 2st in weight.
“Jane has been very good at watching what I eat and I’ve stopped eating pork pies – I used to love the things,” he chuckles.
“I don’t eat bread or sugar but I don’t want to be some nerd living at home eating a lettuce leaf. Before lockdown, I travelled all the time and it was difficult to say no to nice food. If I wanted steak and chips, I’d have it.
“I walk for three miles a day… I’m probably fitter than I’ve ever been!” ? For information about The Stroke Association, visit stroke.org.uk
‘The doctors said I would never walk again’ ‘I can’t believe I’m old enough to be a grandfather’