John Leslie: I went from £350k-a-year to zero

John Leslie presenting Wheel of Fortune
John Leslie presenting Wheel of Fortune
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former TV star John Leslie has described how he “lost everything overnight” after he was falsely accused of sexual assault.

The Edinburgh-born broadcaster said that as his career and finances collapsed around him, he had to start again to rebuild his life.

Leslie, who became the first Scottish face of Blue Peter when he joined the children’s TV show in the late 1980s, came under fire in 2002 when he was identified as the presenter whom Ulrika Jonsson said in her autobiography had attacked her. She never named him.

Months later, he was accused of indecently assaulting a 23-year-old actress six years earlier, but all the charges were dropped in July 2003.

Despite this, his reputation was left in tatters and he admits that his former employers “wouldn’t touch him”.

He described how he went from earning £350,000 a year for presenting the gameshow Wheel of Fortune and ITV’s This Morning, to having nothing. “Then I realised how important money was just to survive and to do basic things that you usually took for granted,” he said.

Leslie, who was engaged to Catherine Zeta-Jones at the height of his career, said his life was “hell” when the allegations surfaced. He said: “It was about maintaining my innocence. I’d gone from earning over £300,000 to not a single penny coming in. And I also started having to pay for lawyers and PR agencies, so savings disappeared. I spent about £500,000 on legal costs but at least I wasn’t in jail.” He had to sell the house he had built overlooking Richmond Park, which peaked at a value of £4 million, and returned to the Capital to buy a modest home near his parents.

Former Liberton High pupil Leslie admitted he had to sell “absolutely everything” to avoid bankruptcy and steer clear of reality TV shows.

The 50-year-old said: “I pleaded with the bank to let me keep the Richmond house but was forced to sell it for £3.5m when the crash hit.”

He revealed that he could not get a job for four years, before securing a slot as a club DJ for £400 a week, which “just kept me afloat”.

Leslie now has a year’s contract to do the daily afternoon show on the Greatest Hits Network across Bauer radio stations, including Forth 2. This means a spot of friendly sibling rivalry with brother Grant Stott, who is a DJ on Forth 1.

Leslie – who had a part-time job during his school days selling programmes at the Playhouse – said the turbulent years have changed his perspective on what really matters.

He said: “Other things are more important to me, like my sanity and surviving and staying healthy and looking after my mum and dad.”

And he has made some investments in a bid to support his nine-year-old daughter Isabelle. He said: “I’ve bought some shares in Royal Mail, I’ve got a pension and I’m looking at making sure there will be savings for Isabelle.”

kaye.nicolson@edinburghnews.com