By Lee Coan
On an industrial estate on the outskirts of Bristol, there is a giant shed big enough to house an entire television studio – which is handy, because that's exactly what's inside. Go through the front door and you'll see a shiny white staircase; up it, for six months of the year, lives Noel Edmonds.
It's a wet Friday and, after being stuffed with Mexican food, I am being lead up this staircase because Deal Or No Deal has a new app coming out and Noel wants the publicity, or at least Noel's publicists want the publicity. The same clever people who made the hugely successful Pointless app are making this thing, I don't get out often – from the beginning the whole charade feels like a win-win situation.
"Have you met Mr Edmonds before?" I am asked.
"Hell yes!" is the answer.
In 2005 he tried to convince me that oil prices were about to sky-rocket, and the three wheeler Q-pod electronic cars he had started importing form France were the future. He was ahead of his time, I was an arse. I'll admit back then I cared not for electric cars, I just wanted to know things about Crinkly Bottom and Noel’s helicopter. "Do you ever just hang out wearing the Blobby costume?" I think I asked him. I am not sure he liked me much, thank God I have such a forgettable face.
A decade on, I find Edmonds alone, eating a solitary apple. His lunch. A Granny Smith. Golden Delicious perhaps. Edmonds leaves it half eaten, and welcomes me (plus four other bloggers, a woman from the telly company and the Deal Or No Deal app's developer) into his dressing room. As I look at Edmonds’ apple, I feel guilty – my lunch was better, there were potato wedges, homemade salsa, the works. Edmonds had paid for my feast – Deal Or No Deal at least.
"Your dressing room is ridiculous," I enthuse.
"Good isn't it?" says the former Telly Addicts presenter.
I have been in many dressing rooms, and I can confirm that Noel Edmonds has one far better than even Tom Hanks. The carpet is a thick as the fur on a badger's bottom, scented smoke billows from an electronic incense burning device, a portrait of Noel dressed like some kind of prince hangs on the wall. There are books, a flat-screen TV, sofas, some kind of remote controlled fire.
"My wife designed it all," Noel tells me (he met her on the set of Deal Or No Deal apparently). "You have to remember this is where for half a year, I spend all of my time, so it has to be homely."
I am then taken to look at the largely hedge-based view. A Lidl carrier bag lays stricken in a dirty puddle. Noel seems disappointed.
"I've been talking about building a lake," he sighs, "give me something a bit more inspiring to look at."
I suggest he could fish from his window; he agrees this would be a fine idea, and then I spend a few moments just looking at his hair. Edmonds, oh Edmonds, such a national treasure. Some of the people around me start to take photos, one female blogger puts on a woollen beard she has knitted, Noel politely asks everyone not to put anything on Twitter.
We are sadly not together long, and during our time it is hard to know when the miniature Swap-Shopper is being serious/when he's frankly taking the Michael. I suspect 90 per cent of our time is based in the latter camp. The lake is the first example of his dry wit, the next is when asking if his app's developer is some kind of groupie that he should have removed from the room.
"We've actually met before," says Simon Knight, reassuring Noel he doesn't need his photo taken next to him. Simon is the exec producer of the quiz-based app, which he made in house with a team of three at the TV company Endemol UK.
"I know," says Noel. "I remember."
"Thanks for doing the video for the app last week," replies Simon, "it was great." Noel looks delighted by this good news, but also seems quite keen to get back to his apple. We say our goodbyes.
Following our tour de Noel, I am allowed to waltz around the whole Deal Or No Deal machine. I say machine on purpose here, as it is an absolute beast compared to other TV sets I have been on.
We all know DOND (do people call it DOND?) is this weird cult thing – like Countdown, it's always there, like an old friend for it's millions of viewers. Such consistency takes a colossal amount of effort and professionalism.
At the studio, the contestants, who refer to each other as family, have every need catered for – they are kept in a constant state of being happy/pumped. Everywhere you look people are busy on walkie-talkies, yet everyone seems so calm, and incredibly happy. Like sickeningly happy. Disney happy.
The brand new production gallery keeps everything ticking along faultlessly, and not one person seems remotely stressed. Three or four shows are recorded a day, every week, for six months of the year, and everything has to run like clockwork.
I ask where the banker is, and I am shown a glamorous locked cupboard in which he has to hide to maintain his secret identity…
I put my ear to the door and there is a sound inside not dissimilar to a hamster rustling around on yesterday’s copy of The Telegraph. I can’t help but smile – the happiness seems to be horribly contagious.
Even the game show’s audience, Welsh pensioners referred to as "the pilgrims", are treated astonishingly well to keep the happy feeling flowing. I find one friendly codger, who I had earlier helped work the machine that let you into the car park, merrily playing the Deal Or Deal pub quiz machine, as seen next to the fruities in every self-respecting boozer across the land for the past ten years or so.
"It's free for us to use," he tells me.
"But can you still win a tenner in pound coins?" I ask.
"I don't know!" he shouts with great excitement.
The pub quiz machine here thankfully provides me a perfect segue into actually talking about the thing I am supposed to be here talking about. The app. It was designed by the same man who created that lovely pub machine, Simon (remember him, from a few paragraphs ago?).
Unsurprisingly, the app has a very similar feel to the pub whatsit. You answer quiz questions, open boxes, the banker gives you an offer that somehow both insults and tempts you. Despite the Deal Or No Deal studio's lack of a Wi-Fi signal, Simon gets the app going on my phone, and I am given a hands-on go on the thing.
I answer some questions about David Haye, fish fingers and baby animals then win £17,500 of virtual money. There are glitches, but this is not yet the finished version. I play again. Then again. It is in fact telling that I did not delete the app off my phone straight away, or indeed even the next day once I was safely back home. I am a man who hates my phone cluttered with apps I don't use daily, and currently have less than 30 installed. Yet Noel’s quiz somehow remains. For now, at least.
After playing the game multiple times, we our ushered under lights – there is music, there is a lady with a walkie-talkie, telling me my shirt is too blue for TV. In somebody else's black jumper I sit and watch an episode of Deal And No Deal being recorded, and am awed – genuine awe – by what a pro Edmonds is. Apple in his belly, hairspray on his mullet, he runs the show like an absolute don.
He puts the contestants at ease, and the audience in their place. He's genuinely funny between takes, and quick-witted without an Autocue or producer in his ear during recording. Our contestant wins very little, yet smiles. He’s still somehow happy. Happy as all the other happy happy people who live in the Deal Or No Deal happy world.
The free app, Deal or No Deal: Noel's Quiz, will be out in the next couple of weeks on iOS and Android, and who knows – if enough of you download it, Noel might be able to afford that fishing lake, thanks to all the in-game ads. The thought of Edmonds, rod in hand, angling out of his window between episodes of DOND (yeah, let's go with that) is one that shall live with me for a long time.
Actually, that could make another good game for your phone: Window Fishing with Edmonds, a virtual Blobby every now and then popping out of the water to steal your bait. Endemol, you have my number, let’s make this happen…