Anneka Rice recycles her old jumpsuits as she returns to iconic TV action role
Climbing into a whirring helicopter and yelling into a headset with her megawatt smile, it’s as if not a day has passed for Anneka Rice, who has dusted off her jumpsuits after nearly 30 years.
“I’m looking for something long and blue, oh my God there it is,” she shouts from the sky, spotting the huge blue and yellow Challenge Anneka lorry and then a giant “Help!” sign spelled out in a field.
Soundman Dave Chapman, her original sidekick, hands her binoculars and the iconic theme tune starts before the familiar running and panic begins.
“Oh, God, I’d forgotten how stressful it is,” says Anneka. The TV presenter, who was famous for zooming around the UK helping people in the hit 90s show, brings this revival to Channel 5 on Saturday.
She promises: “Everything is as it should be. This time the truck opens out to form a giant production office. It’s big enough for everyone and anything.
“I decided to upcycle some of my old outfits as I have a wardrobe full of Lycra.
“The trouble is we ended up filming in winter so all hopes of looking glamorous flew out of the window.
“Most of the time I look like a Teletubby, layer upon layer of thermals.”
“The production company kindly provided a hair and make-up lady which was exciting as I’d never had this before.
“It was lovely for about 10 minutes at 6am but by lunchtime on day one I realised I was just never going to have time to see a hairdryer again.
“So, I look as I always used to look –rainswept and dishevelled.”
The original Challenge Anneka, which aired on BBC1 for six series from 1989 to 1995, had a peak of 12 million viewers.
It was based on Treasure Hunt, an earlier Channel 4 show when Anneka would arrive by helicopter.
This update retains a 90s charm as Anneka, usually running and being followed by a camera crew, tries to finish a charitable project against the clock by persuading people and firms to help.
“I’m just going to hit the phones,” she says, cracking on with the first challenge.
However, her legacy does not always have the cachet she hopes for.
She says: “I’m Anneka Rice from the Challenge Anneka show, are you familiar with it? No? Is there anyone there a bit older?”
There are cheers in the truck-office when someone offers to help for free. The countdown flashes up every now and again, and Anneka can still win over anyone in a hard hat.
She says many TV companies have discussed reboots in the past – there was a false start on ITV in 2006 after two specials – but this one attracted her because C5 wanted to keep it exactly as it was.
She says: “Apart from a satnav in the buggy, and our wonderful production team being able to access people online, rather than sifting through Yellow Pages, viewers will find it weirdly similar.
“People still use paintbrushes and you still have to wait for plaster to dry.
“At the end of the day, it’s a programme about communities and volunteers.
“The programme shines a spotlight on the disenfranchised and harnesses the power of television as a force for good.”
Challenge Anneka created so much public nostalgia she thought she may as well do it again for real. She says: “It is so much part of my life, it never goes away.
“When my waxwork hung in Madame Tussauds, I was hanging off a winch in a jumpsuit in the foyer.
“On Strictly, I arrived by helicopter hanging off a wire before I did the cha cha cha to ‘Anneka, you’re always on the run now’.
“On Bake Off, the producers asked me to come in full Lycra jumpsuit mode and start the show trying to find the Bake Off tent.”
The star says the new show has combined Treasure Hunt and Challenge Anneka as people cannot separate the two, adding “watch out for a helicopter, the theme tune”.
Anneka told how other parts of her life are completely different, revealing: “I paint, I write and I do stand-up comedy with not a jumpsuit in sight.”
Over the four-part reboot, the three-day challenges are as epic as ever.
They range from building a home for abandoned dogs, to creating an outdoor centre for vulnerable teens, and constructing an entire “memory village” for dementia sufferers.
As always, there is an army of helpers before a last-minute disaster and a tearjerking final reveal.
Promising more emotional moments, Anneka says: “Who knew that when we renovated a soup kitchen in the early 90s, we would be building a food hub in 2022.”
She adds she is still involved with many projects from the original show.
The mum-of-three says: “I have loved watching them develop and seeing how attitudes to many issues covered have changed over the decades.
“We made a commercial for the British Paralympic Association 30 years ago, when little was known about disabled athletes. Now disabled athletes are mainstream and some of our biggest heroes.” She says one of the most significant challenges for her was the renovation of an orphanage in Romania, near the Ukraine border
Anneka adds its legacy is immense after teacher Monice McDaid, from Solihull, West Mids, contacted the show.
She says: “Aid poured in, we were offered an aeroplane, doctors, builders, the army came to our help.
“The orphanage was unlike anything I’d seen, home to 700 neglected children. We were greeted by a horrific sight, babies tethered two to a cot, without nappies.
“Raw sewage ran along open drains in the corridors. After the challenge we were all shellshocked. Burly builders were weeping.
“And then in a poignant twist of fate, when the war with Ukraine broke out, refugees fled over the border.
“Those original orphans were now able to give up beds to the refugees.
“This was the moment I knew it was right to bring the series back.”
Anneka says was nervous about reviving the show during a recession and winter. She says: “We did four projects and were way off finishing two of them because of torrential rain and a shortage of labour.
“I nearly had a nervous breakdown but we got there in the end.”
One of her sons also joined in as he was too young for the original series.
Anneka says: “He was gobsmacked at the scale of it all. But I’d no sooner said hello than he was set to work.
“I brought up my three children on my own so I was always dependent on the goodwill and kindness of the communities that I found around me.
“The UK is full of volunteers doing extraordinary things and this programme is an homage to them.
“It will remind you of how wonderful it is to be part of something bigger than yourself.”
* Challenge Anneka returns on Saturday on Channel 5 at 8.50pm.