TV presenter and brother of a Catholic priest by David Jones
Declan Donnelly is arguably one of the two most wellknown faces on British television. The one time boy-band singer and children’s entertainer turned national institution has in the last decade dominated the smallscreen as one half of a presenting duo with partner Anthony McPartlin, better known as Ant and Dec.
Declan Joseph Oliver Donnelly was born in Newcastle on the 25th September, 1975, to parents Alphonsus and Anne, who originally hailed from Northern Ireland. Declan was the youngest of seven children, four boys and three girls who were brought up in a tiny council house in Cruddas Park, close to Newcastle United football club’s St James’ Park ground. His parents were devout Catholics and Dec was educated first at St Michael’s Roman Catholic Primary School and later at and St
Cuthbert’s Catholic High School in Newcastle, a school that includes in its roll-call of past pupils Gordon Sumner, better known as Sting and Pet Shop Boys singer, Neil Tennant. Dec proved to be a bright and capable student, achieving eight passes in his GCSE subjects. When it came to choosing a career, he was at first undecided and even considered a future in the Church. He would later recall: “At my school, St Cuthbert’s, they’d have these assemblies where they’d talk about vocations; whether or not you had a vocation for being a priest. I’d think about it for a few hours then I’d go home and see the girls from Sacred Heart School on the bus and I’d realise it wasn’t for me”.
At the age of 12, he saw an advert in a local newspaper stating that a new children’s TV BBC show was due to be filmed in Newcastle and was looking for young actors. His father, Alphonsus, encouraged him to apply for an audition. Matthew Robinson, producer of the iconic children’s drama Byker Grove later said he was so impressed by the young Donnelly that five minutes into the audition, he decided to cast him in the series. Also hired for the show was a youngster by the name of Anthony McPartlin. Just like their TV characters, PJ and Duncan, Ant and Dec became firm friends in real life. The award-winning children’s show, which gained many plaudits for tackling storylines about issues that affect teenagers and young adults, proved a huge success and made the likeable pair celebrities. However, like all things in show business, it could not last forever. Dec remembers: “After six years on Byker Grove we’d become the stars of the show. The production company was in talks with the BBC about doing a spin-off show with PJ and Duncan and we couldn’t have gone any higher. We were called into a meeting, which we thought was