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He’s known as the sparkling mixologist, knocking up cocktails at moment’s notice and putting  nervous singletons at their ease as they embark on a first date in front of the TV cameras.

But few viewers of Channel 4’s First Dates would have been aware when watching Merlin Griffiths in the latest series of the show, that he was undergoing chemotherapy while filming.

Diagnosed with stage 3 bowel cancer last year, Griffiths, who had an operation to remove a tumour in April, told Sky News: “The last time we were we were working in the First Dates restaurant, I was undergoing chemotherapy and the team were fantastically accommodating.

“Tiredness was one of the really big side effects, I was getting a lot of fatigue. So, there was an allowance made so I could step away from the bar at regular points and have a small bite and get some rest in between seeing our beautiful daters.

“Likewise, as soon as we finished, I was straight off into the intravenous part of chemo … And that would really hammer me around. But that was ok because we had a break in running the restaurant at that point and then a few days later it was back in, and you’re ready to go again.”

First Dates is so famous it even had its own celebrity skit on the BBC's Children In Need
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First Dates is so famous it even had its own celebrity skit on the BBC’s Children In Need

Despite the demanding nature of TV schedules, Griffiths insists he’s nothing special in working through his illness, saying: “People manage full family lives, you know, several children, childcare and work and still go for chemo and everything else. You find ways of making it work because what else are you going to do? You’re trying to live.”

The fourth most common cancer in the UK, one in 15 men and one in 18 women will be diagnosed with bowel cancer during their lifetime.

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But, while bowel cancer is the nation’s second biggest cancer killer, it’s very treatable when it is caught early.

Stars like Griffiths and the late Dame Deborah James have played a large part in bringing bowel cancer into the public consciousness.

But keeping the illness under wraps is an instinct Griffiths understands: “Initially I wanted to just keep it completely to myself and my immediate family… just to get my head around it… But then it was a case of, huge bits of my life are going to change and somebody might notice. Friends are going to go, ‘Why aren’t you coming out?’

“So, I just thought, you know what? After a conversation with my family, I might as well do something constructive with all this… I think it’s important to use this for good.”

Now in its nineteenth series, Griffiths has been part of the First Dates since it first aired in 2013.

Using his TV familiarity as a platform, he’s been frank about both his illness its treatments, the reality of which he’s described in social media posts as “long, and often painful and ugly”.

Unstoppably upbeat, he can’t resist joking about some of the less dignified treatments, saying: “My first thoughts on colonoscopy was that if I’d been kidnapped by aliens, at least they’d have the good manners to wipe my memory! But no, in reality it wasn’t actually that bad. And that’s why we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about it.”

He knows it’s not an easy subject to broach: “The tendency is to shy away from a lot of these things, especially because they’re sort of like embarrassing and stuff we don’t genuinely talk about”.

He even admits he initially put off seeking treatment himself: “It’s very easy for us to push stuff to the side, isn’t it? You can rationalise it and you justify it. I rationalised it myself.

“I was late to get checked in all fairness, and I should have made investigations sooner. I’m under 50, so I don’t come into the routine screening. So, the onus is on me as the patient to look after myself.”

His symptoms started with pain in his abdomen and radical changes to his bowel movements.

Other symptoms can include bleeding from your bottom and/or blood in your poo, unexplained weight loss and extreme tiredness for no obvious reason.

The NHS offers bowel cancer screenings to all adults aged 50 and over in Scotland, and that will soon be rolled out across England and Wales too (currently in parts of England and Wales people are not offered screenings until they are 60). Those in Northern Ireland are offered screenings from 60. Screenings are then offered every two years until the age of 75.

But Griffiths says searching symptoms randomly online can be unhelpful, labelling “medical Google” as “an absolute hellhole”. He says websites including the main charity pages including Bowel Cancer UK and the NHS have been invaluable to him on his cancer journey.

And he says he couldn’t have got through it all without the help of his family – his wife and daughter – and of course his First Dates family too.

“They’ve been absolutely awesome. I speak to Fred regularly and I chat with Cici [Coleman] regularly. They’ve both been really good and it’s been lovely to have their support. I chat with people that work behind the scenes on the show on a regular basis as well.”

Plus, he says the French maître d’hôtel Fred Sirieix who leads the team is as nice as he seems on camera.

“Fred’s Hilarious. He’s a live one… What you see is what you get with Fred. And it’s a wonderfully refreshing thing to find in someone. He’s cheery, he’s happy, he’s honest and he’s overwhelmingly positive about just about everything.”

Away from his gruelling treatments, Griffiths has at least had a little luxury travel to enjoy, albeit on a work trip for yet more filming.

Testament to the success of First Dates, its spinoff series – First Dates Hotel – is filmed in the four-star Aquapetra Resort and Spa in Campania southern Italy. The show is currently in its seventh series.

As Channel 4’s longest running dating show, First Dates has been matching singletons for nearly 10 years and has at least five weddings and three babies to its name. So, what’s the secret of its success?

Griffiths says it’s all down human nature – and a bit of forward planning: “Love is eternal, isn’t it? It’s not going anywhere. And people have infinite variety… When you put those two things together – a timeless emotion and a timeless base need – with the wonderful variety of people, it’s a recipe for success, especially when you actively look to make it happen.

“A lot of work goes into to matchmaking our daters as well, and that for me is one of the key things behind it. There’s a genuine desire from everyone who works at the restaurant to make it work, and that’s important.”

First Dates Hotel airs on Tuesday evenings on Channel 4.

Stay on Track is a campaign with Merlin Griffiths and Matt Dawson, in partnership with Norgine and Bowel Cancer UK, which aims to raise awareness of bowel cancer and the importance of screening, testing and early diagnosis. For more information: www.bowelcanceruk.org.uk

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BAFTA Games Awards: Baldur’s Gate 3 is the big winner, scooping five prizes

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BAFTA Games Awards: Baldur's Gate 3 is the big winner, scooping five prizes

Baldur’s Gate 3 was the big winner at this year’s BAFTA Games Awards, taking home five prizes including the prestigious best game.

It also won BAFTAs for music, narrative, and performer in a supporting role for Andrew Wincott, along with the EE players’ choice award, which is voted for by the public.

The Dungeons and Dragons-based game faced strong competition from Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, Alan Wake 2 and indie hit Dave the Diver.

(L-R) Sarah Baylus, Swen Vincke and David Walgrave who won the best game award for Baldur's Gate 3
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(L-R) Sarah Baylus, Swen Vincke and David Walgrave who won the best game award for Baldur’s Gate 3

Alan Wake 2 won two BAFTAs for artistic achievement and audio achievement, while Super Mario Bros. Wonder also scooped two for family and multiplayer.

Awards host Phil Wang told Sky News: “There are some real legends of gaming here. Sam Lake, you know? I played as Sam Lake, I used to play so much Max Payne and now he’s here, sipping a mimosa.”

Phil Wang hosts the BAFTA Games Awards 2024 at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 11 April. Pic: BAFTA
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Phil Wang hosted the ceremony. Pic: BAFTA


Sam Lake’s smash hit, Alan Wake 2, took him 13 years to create and over that time, it changed dramatically.

“There is very little from the original concept of Alan Wake 2 that still exists in what we have made today,” Mr Lake said.

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Games news was mostly just seen “on the business pages”, he said but “bit by bit, gaming has worked its way into culture”.

Alan Wake 2 creator Sam Lake attends the BAFTA Games Awards 2024. Pic: BAFTA
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Alan Wake 2 creator Sam Lake attends the BAFTA Games Awards. Pic: BAFTA

One of the Baldur’s Gate 3 writers Lawrence Schick told Sky News how proud he was to work for the team after winning the narrative award.

He was joined at the event at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall by a huge team, including narrator Amelia Tyler.

“[Baldur’s Gate 3] allows people to explore aspects of themselves in the game that they’ve never been able to explore,” he said.

“There are so many stories of players who have found out new things about themselves, about their sexuality, about their gender identity, about who they love or how they love them, from this game.”

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Hogwarts Legacy, the Harry Potter game played by more than 22 million people, lost in both categories it was nominated for, including the best family game section, and best animation – which was won by Hi-Fi Rush.

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Dave the Diver, the indie game where you play as a diver catching fish and working in a sushi restaurant, picked up one award for game design.

Best British game went to Viewfinder from Scottish-based studio Sad Owl, which also won a BAFTA for new intellectual property.

The creators of Dead Island 2, from Nottingham-based Dambuster Studios, were happy to be nominated for best British game.

“We tend to keep ourselves to ourselves, keep our heads down and get the work done so to get to the end of it all and get this [nomination] is really exciting.”

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Taylor Swift music ‘back on TikTok’ despite app’s public spat with singer’s record label

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Taylor Swift music 'back on TikTok' despite app's public spat with singer's record label

Taylor Swift’s music is reportedly back on TikTok just weeks after the social media app and her record label Universal Music publicly exchanged furious messages.

Universal accused TikTok of bullying ahead of their agreement to license content on the video platform expiring on 31 January – while the social media firm dismissed the “false narrative and rhetoric”.

After the deal expired, TikTok removed the music label’s songs from its platform and muted videos featuring those songs, written by anyone signed on to Universal.

But the Financial Times reports Swift’s return to the Chinese short-video app had been in the works for some time, citing people familiar with the matter.

Swift owns the copyright to her songs thanks to a deal struck in 2019 with Universal Music that gives her control of where her music is available, the report adds, unlike many other artists.

Sky News has approached TikTok and Universal Music for comment.

The move would mark a return to TikTok less than three months on from a public spat between the app and Universal.

Tiktok. Pic: PA
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Tiktok. Pic: PA

In a scathing open letter shared online, titled Why We Must Call Time Out On TikTok, Universal said it had pressed on “three critical issues”.

These included payment for artists and songwriters, protection from the “harmful effects” of AI and online safety.

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The video-hosting site responded to requests by the company, which is the biggest music label group in the world, “first with indifference, and then with intimidation”, the letter stated.

It also accused TikTok of attempting to “bully” Universal into accepting a deal “worth less than the previous deal” by removing music of developing artists while keeping the work of “audience-driving” global stars.

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TikTok hit back by claiming Universal put forward a “false narrative and rhetoric” and placed “greed above the interests of their artists and songwriters”.

The group walked away from the “powerful support of a platform with well over a billion users that serves as a free promotional and discovery vehicle for their talent”, the social media firm added.

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OJ Simpson has died at the age of 76

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OJ Simpson has died at the age of 76

OJ Simpson, the former American football star and Hollywood actor who was cleared of murdering his ex-wife and her friend in a criminal trial, has died aged 76.

He was surrounded by his children and grandchildren when he “succumbed to his battle with cancer” on Wednesday, his family said on X.

Simpson was tried for double murder in 1995, in what was dubbed the “trial of the century”, which gripped the world.

He was found not guilty of killing Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman, but was later found responsible for the deaths in a civil lawsuit.

Simpson was then imprisoned in 2008 for nine years for armed robbery and kidnapping after an incident at a Las Vegas hotel.

Local 10 News in Nevada reported in February this year that Simpson was undergoing treatment for prostate cancer, but the former NFL running back said in a video at the time that “all is well”.

Posting on X, Simpson laughed as he said: “I’m not in any hospice, I don’t know who put that out there.”

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‘Hospice?’ OJ Simpson speaks in February

Caitlyn Jenner, whose ex-wife Kris Jenner was a close friend of the retired footballer and Ms Brown Simpson, said bluntly “good riddance” in response to Simpson’s death.

David Cook, attorney for Mr Goldman’s family, also told TMZ that Simpson “died without penance” as the family is still owed damages. He added that the Goldmans are exploring their options on what assets they can collect from Simpson’s estate.

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Simpson was acquitted after a 1995 criminal trial watched by millions worldwide, where Simpson famously tried on a pair of blood-stained gloves allegedly found at the scene of the crime.

The gloves appeared to be too small, leading defence attorney Johnnie Cochran to say: “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”

Alan Dershowitz, another of Simpson’s lawyers at the time, said the defence was “a nightmare team” and that he did not want the former NFL star to take the stand.

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OJ: ‘It was a nightmare team’

“Ultimately it was the glove” that persuaded Simpson not to speak at the trial, Mr Dershowitz told Sky News.

“When he was able to go in front of the jury and show them that the glove didn’t fit, that led him to conclude, and he made the decision, not to take the stand.

“In the civil case, he took the stand and was immediately found liable.”

OJ Simpson grimaces as he tries on one of the leather gloves prosecutors say he wore the night his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman were murdered.
Pic: AP
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OJ Simpson tries on one of the leather gloves allegedly found at the scene of the 1994 killings. Pic: AP

O.J. Simpson appears in a courtroom for his preliminary hearing in 2007. 
Pic:AP
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OJ Simpson appears in a courtroom for his preliminary hearing in 2007. Pic: AP

Nicknamed “The Juice”, Orenthal James Simpson rose to fame as a sports star in the Buffalo Bills team.

He was enrolled in the NFL’s hall of fame and was the first running back to gain 2,000 yards in a season in 1973.

He also became known as an advertising star, football commentator and Hollywood actor, appearing in a number of TV and film roles including the Naked Gun movie series.

O.J. Simpson, football player for the Buffalo Bills seen in 1969. (AP Photo)
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OJ Simpson became famous as a running back for the Buffalo Bills. Pic: AP

O.J. Simpson poses for a photo in 1968
Pic:AP
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Nicknamed ‘The Juice’, Simpson became a star of TV and film after his NFL career. Pic: AP

Simpson was charged with two counts of first-degree murder after Ms Brown Simpson and Mr Goldman were stabbed to death at her Los Angeles home on 12 June 1994.

After he was accused of the killings, Simpson wrote a letter which insisted he was innocent, said goodbye to friends and made “a last wish” to “leave my children in peace”.

On 17 June that year, his lawyer Robert Shapiro feared Simpson was suicidal, while a white Ford Bronco carrying the former footballer led police on a 60-mile chase through Los Angeles.

OJ Simpson and Nicole Brown Simpson in 1993.
Pic: AP
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OJ Simpson and Nicole Brown Simpson in 1993. They divorced in 1992. Pic: AP

A white Ford Bronco, driven by Al Cowlings and carrying OJ Simpson, being trailed by Los Angeles police on 17 June , 1994. Pic: AP
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A white Ford Bronco carrying OJ Simpson was trailed by Los Angeles police on 17 June 1994. Pic: AP

Simpson was acquitted of double murder on 3 October 1995.

A civil wrongful death lawsuit later found him liable for the two deaths in 1997. He was ordered to pay $33.5m in damages, but he declared bankruptcy shortly after.

Simpson was later arrested in 2007 for armed robbery and kidnapping in a dispute over sports memorabilia at a Las Vegas casino hotel.

O.J. Simpson, center, is taken from the Las Vegas Police Investigative Services Division in Las Vegas, Sunday, Sept. 16, 2007. (AP Photo/John Locher)
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OJ Simpson being taken from the Las Vegas Police Investigative Services Division, 16 September 2007. Pic: AP Photo / John Locher

Sky News’ Steve Bennedik recalls how Simpson’s trial was covered

It was the first few weeks of 1995 when Sky News’ live coverage of the OJ Simpson court case got under way. Each evening we showed the trial and invited questions. In those days, the main form of correspondence was by letter.

But there was also a new electronic method emerging, called email. And the first of these had the simple, but deflating, sentence: “Which one is OJ?”

We asked ourselves: Is our audience ready to follow the story of a very American tragedy unfold on British TV? We decided to stick with it.

In contrast, OJ Simpson was a household name in the US. So much more than an ex-football star. But the shock of this icon being arrested for murder, the bizarre Bronco highway chase, the high-profile celebrity defence team, and ultimately the “did he do it?” question had universal attraction.

Although the case stuttered through until October, the weak Judge Lance Ito was obsequious to lawyers’ demands for delays, but the interest among Sky News viewers surged and remained undimmed.

As the court camera panned to the state of California seal, signalling another adjournment, we and no doubt the viewer sighed.

More behind-the-scenes legal wrangling, but we had an ace up our sleeve – Professor Gary Solis. Gary is a Vietnam veteran, former military judge advocate, with alma maters including George Washington University and the London School of Economics.

At the time, he was in London and ready to give up his evenings. He calmly steered our presenters, Laurie and Vivien, and our often puzzled viewers through the complexities of the Californian legal system and became a firm favourite with the newsroom and the public alike.

The court characters emerged. Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden for the prosecution, and the “Dream Team” defence – Jonnie Cochran, F Lee Bailey, Alan Dershowitz and Robert Kardashian, whose children would go on to outshine his fame.

It was compelling court drama, but it was also the very tragic story of two young people who’d been savagely attacked and murdered, with their families devastated by the loss, and tormented by the lingering back and forth court battle.

The proceedings had lasted months, but the jury reached their verdict in just a few hours and when they returned to the courtroom to deliver it, an early evening audience in the UK was hanging on every moment. And then it was over. OJ was a free man.

The People of the State of California v Orenthal James Simpson faded as a memory, flickering back to life with the news of his death.

He was sentenced to up to 33 years in prison in 2008. After nine years in a Nevada prison, he was released on parole in 2017 and then discharged from parole for good behaviour in 2021.

Since then, Simpson regularly commented on politics and sports on social media. He lived in a gated community in Las Vegas where he played golf.

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