As Ewan McGregor’s heroin-addicted character Renton is forced into cold turkey in Trainspotting, Dale Winton appears to him in a hallucination. It’s a nightmarish scene in which Winton invades Renton’s inner torment, playing “himself” as an irritatingly cheerful chat show host in a pink satin suit, his television patter ominously juxtaposed against visions of a dead baby, blood-curdling screams and a relentless dance beat.
That Winton agreed to appear in the film was both an indication of his refusal to take himself too seriously and a mark of how ubiquitous a figure he was in 1990s TV culture.
Presenting Supermarket Sweep, the daytime game show, dressed in a series of bedazzlingly coloured jackets and garish ties, Winton was as much a part of the mid-Nineties zeitgeist as the Blur v Oasis Britpop wars.
As he posed questions dumb enough to give Renton withdrawal symptoms, winning pairs were invited to “go wild in the aisles” and were rewarded with a trolley dash around a supermarket, piling the freebies as high as health and safety permitted.
“The next time you’re at the checkout and you hear the beep, think of the fun you could be having on Supermarket Sweep,” Winton declared with a wave of his arms at the end of every show.
It was easy to mock and many did. One critic called Supermarket Sweep “the tackiest, most tasteless, most moronic show on television”. Another claimed the show was so crass “it makes Celebrity Squares look like Panorama”. The viewing figures for the show indicated, however, that millions loved him for it. They ranged from bored housewives to students with a taste for post-modern irony. Indeed, NME suggested Supermarket Sweep was the main reason undergraduates were always late to lectures.
Winton’s popularity helped to turn the kind of shows that were once regarded as low-grade daytime TV fodder into mass primetime viewing. Other successes included the Saturday night game show Pets Win Prizes, a dating show called The Other Half, Celebrity Fit Club and the National Lottery game show In It to Win It, which he presented between 2002 and 2016. “More people play the National Lottery than vote in the general election,” he noted proudly.
Like Bruce Forsyth, who was one of Winton’s role models, he never patronised his guests or his audience. “The bottom line is people want friendliness. No one wants a clever dick,” was his stock response to those who criticised his style as banal.
For a decade he also presented Pick of the Pops on BBC Radio 2, after taking over in 2000 from Alan Freeman. Winton was a natural choice; his love of pop music was profound. Long before TV fame, he had worked as a DJ, first on the London club circuit and then in local radio. He had wanted to be a pop singer, but as he couldn’t sing, playing other people’s records was the next best thing. From there, he viewed his career progression as a series of Russian dolls. DJing in clubs was “a path to radio”, which in turn was “a means to becoming a telly star”. There was a literal as well as metaphorical reduction in his “doll” size: because the camera adds pounds he went on a crash diet and went from 18 stone to 13, where he stayed, although he never forgot what he called his “former fattie” self. “You can call me a terrible presenter,” he said. “You can even say I’m far from erudite. But if you say, ‘Dale, you’re fat,’ I want to kill you.”
Handsome, tall and perma-tanned, he had just the right hint of outrage in his camp banter to temper the witlessness of many of his shows. Yet his endlessly upbeat exuberance concealed a difficult and troubled personal life, which was characterised by family tragedy and romantic disappointment.
He was born Dale Jonathan Winton in 1955 in north London, although his name might have been Dale Winner. His father, Gary Winner, was a furniture salesman. His mother, Sheree (née Patrick), was an attractive blonde actress known as “the British Jayne Mansfield” and often appeared on TV alongside comedians such as Frankie Howerd and Terry-Thomas. She also had a bit part in the Bond movie Thunderball. She concluded that Winner was a little too pushy as a surname and before agreeing to marry, she insisted that her husband change it by deed poll. She named their son after Dale Robertson, the American actor who found fame with the 1950s TV series Wells Fargo.
The family lived in comparative affluence and Winton was educated at the fee-paying Aldenham School, Hertfordshire, which he left with five O levels. He later revealed that he was bullied by his father, who died on the morning of his son’s bar mitzvah in 1968. By then his parents had been divorced for three years. He recalled going to the funeral in his mother’s red sports car and feeling no grief.
His relationship with his mother was close and intense, but she fought a lengthy struggle with clinical depression. At the age of 21, Winton returned one night to their Hampstead home and found a “do not disturb” sign on her bedroom door. When she did not appear the following morning, he entered the room and found that she had taken an overdose of barbiturates.
After the inquest, a psychiatrist examined him and he was shocked to be asked “bizarre questions like, ‘Did you have sex with your mother?’ ” Her suicide and its meticulous planning haunted him for the rest of his life.
He inherited a sizeable sum of money, but within three years it had all gone in a gargantuan spending spree. He never stopped filling his shopping trolley and the bailiffs were at his door on several more occasions before TV stardom afforded him a life-style of debt-free luxury.
Winton realised in his teens that he was gay, but never told his mother, although she almost certainly knew. He recalled that she had heard him on the phone to a “very obviously gay” boyfriend and had told him: “I never want you to feel there’s something you can’t tell me, and I will never judge or discriminate”.
The gossipy style and the sentences that began with a Larry Grayson-style “oooh” were not hard to decode, but Winton was 47 years old before he addressed his sexuality publicly.
“I just never wanted to reveal it in a Michael Barrymore, flamboyant sort of way,” Winton said. “I hoped to do it with dignity. I don’t want to know what goes on in other people’s bedrooms any more than I suspect they’d want to know what I get up to between the sheets.”
He was attracted “emotionally and physically” to what he called “alpha-male types”, but complained that his search for a partner was not helped by his celebrity status. A friend told Winton that his relationships went wrong because “deep down you don’t believe it’s possible for someone to love you”. Although he was never one for self-analysis — he would dismiss his swings of mood with a breezy “typical Gemini!” — the remark hit home.
He confessed to having fallen in love with “a married TV celeb”, whom he never named, and once asked David Baddiel, who is heterosexual, for a date. When the request was declined, he gave him his number and a note that read: “If you ever change your mind . . .”
In 2015 Winton revealed that he had suffered severe depression after “a bad break-up” that left him barely able to leave his home. He credited his friend David Walliams with helping him through it. He was also good friends for many years with Cilla Black.
The advancing years were resisted with a facelift and nose job. “I’m in a young person’s business and it’s my job to look presentable,” he said. Recently, Winton’s obsession with his appearance seemed to balloon into a full-blown midlife crisis.
He celebrated his 60th birthday by getting a Mohican haircut and he was spotted zooming around town in a £130,000 convertible Bentley Continental GT with the roof down, wearing mirrored sunglasses and pumping out rap music at an ear-busting volume. The haircut caused so much adverse comment that Winton was forced to tweet: “Thank you for concerns, but I am fine.”
He owned a £5 million home in Marylebone, London, and a house in Florida overlooking a golf course. When filming his TV shows, Winton preferred a camper van, which he stationed in the car park. It had the words “Roughing it Smoothly” written on the back. An inveterate smoker, he found the van useful for cigarette breaks between takes once the smoking bans were in place.
By the time Winton became a star he was in his late thirties. “I never wanted to be David Frost or Ludovic Kennedy,” he said. “I set my heart on becoming a quiz show host. You can call it shallow. But I was born to do ‘win a fridge television’. Let’s face it, I was made for this and probably very little else.”
Dale Winton, TV host, was born on May 22, 1955. He died of undisclosed causes on April 18, 2018, aged 62