Chris Evans: Will Wogan's TOGs be happy?

As Chris Evans takes over Terry Wogan's Radio 2 breakfast show, he is keen to leave his reputation as an arrogant, drunken loudmouth behind him. But can he stop himself from self-destructing all over again?

Chris Evans kicks off his autobiography with a 'top ten' of various words used to describe him by tabloid newspapers. "Tosser" is at number one, just above "Liar", "Tyrant" and "Drunkard", notes The Observer.

These days, the erstwhile enfant terrible of the airwaves is keen to present himself as a reformed character. But as he slips into Terry Wogan's comfy Radio 2 breakfast show (which, with 8.1 million listeners, draws the biggest audience on British radio), can he stop himself from sabotaging everything all over again?

Self-sabotage has been the leitmotif of Evans's career since he was expelled from grammar school at the age of 13 for smashing a chair over a teacher's head, says Lynn Barber in The Sunday Times. "This is the great snakes-and-ladders pattern of Evans's life. He attains success thanks to his incredible drive and ambition but then periodically seems to wreck it." In the process he has lost a fortune. Reckoned to be worth some £87m at his peak, he hardly leads the life of a pauper, with ten Ferraris in the garage of his £10m Berkshire pad. But he makes no bones about having to work. "I don't have any money it's all spent. I've got a current account and that's it."

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Ask anyone under 20 why Evans is famous and you'll be met with a blank stare. Yet little more than a decade ago, he was among the most powerful men in the British media, says The Guardian. "He wasn't just a DJ but a multi-platform brand and national icon" feted for presenting some of the most popular and genre-busting TV programmes of the era, such as the Big Breakfast and TFI Friday, and for his work as a pioneering radio DJ.

Many found his drunken antics and inflated self-confidence profoundly annoying, adds The Observer. But the "bespectacled loudmouth" from a Warrington council estate broke out all over the schedules "like a ginger rash".

At the time, many judged him to be an astute businessman, says The Independent. Evans formed his own firm, Ginger Media, to produce the shows and sold the formats internationally. After resigning from Radio 1 in a fit of pique in 1997, he bought Virgin Radio from Richard Branson for £80m. Two years later, he sold Ginger Media to Scottish Media Group for £225m, pocketing £30m in cash. Evans continued as Virgin's top DJ and increased the audience.

But the public drinking binges continued and, in 2001, an "embarrassed and humiliated" Scottish Media Group fired him after he'd phoned in sick, but was photographed on a bender with his teenage pop bride Billie Piper.

It was the start of a protracted "lost weekend" that reached its nadir in 2003 when Evans sued Scottish Media Group for breach of contract, lost the case and was branded by the judge "a petulant prima donna of overbearing arrogance and conceit as well as a liar".

Now 43 and remarried to golf coach Natasha Shishmanian, Evans says he's happier and calmer than in his youth. Instead of drinking Soho dry every night, he's hit the other extreme: sitting at home doing The Daily Telegraph crossword and watching Countdown. Maybe the TOGs Terry's Old Geezers have nothing to fear from the "Ginger Whinger" after all. "Perhaps he really is turning into Wogan."

Rise and fall of a revolutionary programme-maker

"Living the dream" is still important to Evans and to his mother, who likes to borrow the Roller when she heads to Lidl to stock up on bargains, says The Sunday Times. It's hardly surprising, given his tough upbringing as the youngest son of a bookmaker who died of cancer when Evans was 13.

When he left school, Evans took a series of odd jobs (including becoming a Tarzan stripogram) before getting his first break with Manchester Piccadilly Radio as a gofer on the Timmy Mallett show. Typically, he was fired for "gross misconduct", but it was there that Evans learned his craft, says The Observer.

Even at his lowest point, Evans was always impressive on that score: renowned for his "meticulous" preparation. Indeed, it is easy to forget now "just how revolutionary" his zoo-format shows were. After being picked up by GLR it was a short-step before he scored his "dream job" at Radio 1. So how did he throw it all away quite so dramatically? Much of his fortune was blown away in taxes, legal fees and high living. But many attribute Evans's downfall to selling out to Scottish Media Group. Hanging onto his shares there was a mistake; when he sold the last of them in the autumn, he received just £261,000.

But the deal damaged him professionally too, according to his first wife, media pundit Carol McGiffin. "It's not surprising he couldn't turn it down. Yet...the wealth he craved made Chris boring. The brilliant, innovative programme-maker... became a bloated businessman with nothing in common with his audience." As she noted in 2003, perhaps losing a fortune was "the best thing that could happen to Chris".