Vanessa Feltz opens up about her split from cheating fiance Ben Ofoedu

Vanessa Feltz opens up about her split from cheating fiance Ben Ofoedu and his ‘tapestry of lies’ and reveals why she’s on a mission to find a new man on a celebrity dating show

  • Vanessa Feltz, from London, is going to be on Celebs Go Dating after her split
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Vanessa Feltz is looking for love. 

‘Obviously I want him to have the looks of Omar Sharif, the poetic phraseology of WB Yeats and the humour of Billy Crystal, and I’d like some chemistry and magic,’ says the radio and TV presenter who broke up from her long-time fiancé Ben Ofoedu in January and has now signed up for reality show Celebs Go Dating.

‘People say, “Oh, when you get to your age, all you really want is a companion.” Absolute tosh. When you get to this age, you want exactly what you wanted when you were 14,’ says Vanessa, 61.

‘You want to fall in love and be swept off your feet. You want to feel all the flutterings in all the different areas of your anatomy, because they’re still fluttering away when they get the right signals. You want some flutterings.’

Vanessa is halfway through six weeks of filming, going out on camera with members of the public who have written in to the E4 show and been chosen as potential matches by the producers.

Vanessa Feltz, from London, is going to be on Celebs Go Dating, hoping to find a new man after her split

 There are unlikely to be any awkward silences when this accomplished broadcaster and raconteur is around, so how have the dates gone so far?

‘The first one, who I met for coffee, was a perfectly nice fellow. Polite, smelt nice, looked nice, but there was a distinct lack of spark between us,’ she says, ruefully. ‘No chemistry at all.

‘I really did my best to be scintillating, hilarious, full of absolutely witty banter and enormously engaging. I was trying to make the guy smile, but unfortunately he was an immutably serious person of a very Eeyorish countenance who really did look at the doom-laden side of life.’

That sounds disappointing for Vanessa, whose wonderful way with words has taken her far in life, from a childhood in north London to a first-class degree in English at Cambridge and on to stardom with a presenting role on The Big Breakfast, her own chat shows on ITV and BBC, and long runs as a host on Radio 2 and Radio London.

‘So when I’d really let off a salvo of my most hilarious quips and comments and all of that, the response was nothing but a deadening gloom. 

‘I thought, “Oh my God, I’m trying to have a fun summer, an adventure of frivolity and fandango, and I really don’t need to be enmeshed in existential misery and despair over a Bakewell tart at 11 o’clock in the morning, on TV. Who needs it?”’

She doesn’t want to give spoilers, but we can probably guess they won’t see each other again. Vanessa looks bright and beautiful this morning, and she’s persevering with more dates. 

She signed up to do this just months after splitting from singer Ben, then 50. They’d been engaged since 2006, but at the start of this year he spoke publicly about having been unfaithful while on tour. 

‘There was such a complicated and convoluted tapestry of lies,’ says Vanessa. ‘I have no idea what really happened. That’s the truth. So it’s over. I can’t bear to hear you utter his name.’

The split knocked her back.

 ‘I felt like a depleted balloon, like my confidence had been crushed out of me, while I was simultaneously on TV every day.’ Vanessa has her own news and current affairs show every weekday on TalkTV and is the agony aunt on This Morning a few times a week. 

Vanessa is pictured with former partner Ben Ofoedu. She has not had a date in 17 years and hopes to find love again

‘Going in to do a live show with cameras in your face the day after a nearly-17-year relationship ends is quite demanding,’ she says. 

‘I have to do justice to the things I’m covering and the guests, I can’t be falling apart at the seams, but it’s difficult when you’re feeling like you can barely breathe, because you’re so shocked and hurt and dazed and confused and upset.’

Keeping busy during the day has helped but how has she coped in the evenings? ‘I swear to God, I have been out every single night since 14 January. 

‘I’ve been out with mates. I’ve been out to gigs, to comedy, to the theatre, to lots of premieres and parties and people’s houses, I’ve just schlepped around for 195 nights now.

‘I don’t like the idea of going into an empty house and staying there until the next morning without seeing anyone. 

‘So going out has been my self-care. People have said, “Don’t you want to just stay in and relax and have a long bath?” But I don’t enjoy the sound of silence. I’d much rather be with human beings, living, breathing, smiling, laughing, saying something I haven’t heard before.’

Is there drink involved? ‘I’m definitely drinking more than I ever have, but that’s almost nothing anyway,’ she says. 

‘I don’t think I’ve ever ordered more than one. I’ve taken to having one steadying beverage, especially at the beginning because I did feel just so awful. 

‘I thought, “It’s not fair to inflict myself on anybody in this state of fragility and febrile misery, let’s see if Bacardi and Diet Coke might steady the nerves a bit.” But I’m so excitable, drink is the last thing I need.’

She’s certainly full of energy and eloquence, even early in the morning when we’re meeting at a cafe not far from her home in St John’s Wood. 

Vanessa is in complete control of the situation, as ever in her work, and when the break-up happened she took a grip on the social media narrative by speaking to her 376,000 followers on Instagram, saying, ‘As an agony aunt, I’ve always advised people that when the trust in a relationship has gone, you can’t get it back. I’ve got to take my own advice. And it’s onwards and upwards.’

What happened next really touched her. ‘I got this unbelievable tidal wave of support. I had so many messages, I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if it was 200,000. 

‘For weeks and months I couldn’t sleep at all, I felt terrible and lonely and sad and all the things that stop you sleeping, so I would just answer the messages. It’s remarkable, the kindness. 

‘People talking about their own break-ups, how they found love again, saying don’t worry, asking me to come and stay with them and their families, saying they’d look after me. It’s very sweet. So nice. And it doesn’t solve anything, but it definitely helps.’

Stardom: Vanessa pictured in 1996 with The Big Breakfast team, where she landed a presenting role 

Vanessa has two grown-up daughters with the surgeon Michael Kurer, to whom she was married from 1983 to 2000. ‘My daughters are fantastic. Allegra [a lawyer turned TV chef and baker] lectures at the Royal College of Law. 

‘Saskia is a child therapist working in the state system. If they weren’t my daughters, I’d be absolutely honoured for them to be my friends,’ she says. ‘They’re so upset for me [about the split] and I feel upset that they’re upset, but they’ve been wonderful.’

She also finds joy in her four grandchildren. ‘They’re aged nine, seven, four, and ten months, and are all exactly like me and highly over- dramatic about everything. So maybe it’s no surprise my grandchildren are so epic!’

I’m still not quite sure why Vanessa is going on Celebs Go Dating, given her vibrant social and family life and the fact she must know lots of people, but she says, ‘It’s an adventure! It’s a light-hearted programme, not a serious voyage into the depths of your subconscious.’

But she was nervous. ‘I had hoped I’d never have to go through this rigmarole again. So there’s been trepidation and downright terror, because you think, “What if the person takes one look at me and shrieks and goes running from the room saying, ‘Not Vanessa Feltz!’.”’ 

Has anybody done that so far? ‘Thank God, no. But they could have. The shock of seeing me, just imagine it.’

Had she tried dating apps? ‘Absolutely not. I only had an £8 Nokia until the pandemic. I’ve never been on an app for anything in my life. I don’t shop online. I don’t bank online. 

‘My girls laugh at me, because I’m always putting a stamp on an envelope and posting a cheque to pay my gas bills. So I’ve never swiped in any direction, ever.’

As a great interviewer herself, Vanessa knows I want to ask her what it’s like to be the oldest of the celebrities on the show, most of whom are half her age. 

‘You might wonder whether I have anything to chat with them about, and the answer is, I do – they are hilarious. Great company. I thoroughly enjoy when we’re just hanging out. I’ve really bonded with Chloe Burrows of Love Island fame. 

‘She’s very entertaining. I’ve had some deep and meaningfuls with Lottie Moss [the model and sister of Kate Moss]. Adam Collard – of Love Island infamy – is in real life a delightful fellow with a heart of gold. 

‘He’s doing Iron Man competitions in memory of his beloved grandma, who he misses and mourns every day. 

‘Mark-Francis Vandelli from Made In Chelsea is a cultivated connoisseur who knows a great deal about Italian art. The other celeb, Spuddz, is a comedian who’s actually funny.’

Vanessa admits that she is a bit behind the times, adding that she still uses stamps and had an £8 Nokia until the pandemic

Vanessa famously had a meltdown during the first series of Celebrity Big Brother in 2001, scrawling words like ‘incarcerated’ on a table before telling Big Brother to ‘**** off!’

Reality shows have changed since then, though. ‘The whole design of this programme is to support you. They’re really careful to hold you emotionally, as they say. 

‘They don’t leave you floundering and sad and worried and freaking out on your own,’ says Vanessa. 

‘Everyone’s trying to find you someone you might fancy and like. Imagine if everybody on a date had a team behind them, to talk about it to and to look after them. That would be marvellous. I will miss it when it’s over.’

Even with all that support – and with her obvious courage, determination and charm – the actual dates can be a challenge. 

‘You’ve got to muster every ounce of oomph and guts you’ve got to even go there. Then you’re thinking, “I hope I’m attractive. I hope I’m funny. I hope I’m interesting. I hope I’m not overwhelming. I hope I don’t overpower you. I hope you find me receptive and whatever the hell you’re looking for.”

‘Which is bloody difficult anyway, as you don’t know them, you’ve got no idea what they wish you were like.’

It’s hard not to warm to Vanessa and hope she finds someone soon. ‘I feel as if I wasn’t designed to be on my own. 

‘I’ve got beautiful kids, I’ve got lovely grandchildren and I’ve turned out to have a hell of a lot of friends, so I’m really lucky and everything, but I would like someone to share my life with.’

  • The new series of Celebs Go Dating starts on Sunday 20 August, 9pm, E4.

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