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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
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:

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Gwyneth Paltrow ski crash court case due to start in US after man accused her of seriously injuring him in ‘hit-and-run’




Gwyneth Paltrow ski crash court case due to start in US after man accused her of seriously injuring him in 'hit-and-run'

Gwyneth Paltrow is expected in court in the US over claims she seriously injured a man in a “hit-and-run” skiing crash in 2016.

She is accused of skiing “out of control” and hitting retired optometrist Terry Sanderson at Deer Valley Resort in Utah.

He claimed that Paltrow crashed into him, “knocking him down hard, knocking him out, and causing a brain injury, four broken ribs and other serious injuries”.

Mr Sanderson first sued Paltrow in 2019, seeking $3.1m (£2.5m) in damages.

He is now seeking $300,000 (£245,000) after that claim was dropped.

The original 2019 claim stated that after hitting him, “Paltrow got up, turned and skied away, leaving Sanderson stunned, lying in the snow, seriously injured”.

It also said a Deer Valley ski instructor who had been training Paltrow saw Mr Sanderson had been injured but made no attempt to help him.

The instructor did not send for help and later accused Mr Sanderson of having caused the crash in a “false report to protect his client”, the claim said.

Read more from Sky News:
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The actress countersued for a symbolic $1, saying it was Mr Sanderson who had caused the crash and delivered a full “body blow”.

Paltrow’s claim said she was shaken by the collision and stopped skiing with her family for the day.

It added that Mr Sanderson apologised to her and said he was fine.

Paltrow is due to attend court today and is expected to testify, according to reports from local media.

The trial is scheduled to last for eight days.

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Sarah Snook: Succession star reveals pregnancy at final season premiere




Sarah Snook: Succession star reveals pregnancy at final season premiere

Succession star Sarah Snook has revealed she is pregnant with her first child during the red-carpet premiere of the final season of the show.

The 35-year-old Australian actress told reporters she felt “great” about her impending motherhood.

As one quarter of the show’s feuding Roy brood, she plays Shiv, who along with brothers Connor, Kendall and Roman, face a constant battle to impress their demanding father Logan Roy.

Attending the event in New York on Monday in a black fitted jumpsuit and long silver cardigan, she told US outlet Extra that she had brought along “someone I have not met, but am intimate with”.

Asked if she had learned anything about being a parent from Succession, she said: “What not to do.”

“I don’t think the Roy family are a paragon of family values, I don’t think we can really be looking to them for guidance.”

Snook later told Entertainment Tonight that the news was “exciting” adding: “I feel great.”

She married Australian comedian Dave Lawson in 2021.

Written by British screenwriter Jesse Armstrong, the upcoming fourth season of Succession is highly anticipated, not least because it has been confirmed it will be its final series.

(R-L): Jeremy Strong, Snook and Kieran Culkin. Pic: Sky Atlantic
(R-L): Jeremy Strong, Snook and Kieran Culkin. Pic: Sky Atlantic

Fans have followed the dysfunctional Roy family through three series as they fight for control over a media empire. It stars several household names, including Snook, Brian Cox, Jeremy Strong, Kieran Culkin and Matthew Macfadyen.

Read more:
Gwyneth Paltrow to appear in court accused of injuring man

Bruce Willis celebrates his 68th birthday following dementia diagnosis

Cox, who stars as Logan Roy, said despite its success, ending the show now was the right thing to do.

He said: “I think it’s great… It’s good television, [it] doesn’t try to be infinite as it sometimes does. It repeats itself. Shows go on far too long. The genius is Jesse Armstrong and also the genius of his writers as well.

“They know there is an element of finite, and they finish it because each season has to top the next season. So, you have to make the fourth season the best season so far.”

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The final trailer for the fourth season of Succession was released earlier this month.

The show will pick up after the Roy siblings’ failed coup and their father’s proposal to sell Waystar RoyCo.

This season will again feature Swedish actor Alexander Skarsgard, playing tech mogul Lukas Matsson – the man set to take over the media empire.

Season 4 of Succession airs in the UK exclusively on Sky Atlantic from 27 March.

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Bruce Willis sings and blows out candles as he celebrates 68th birthday following dementia diagnosis




Bruce Willis sings and blows out candles as he celebrates 68th birthday following dementia diagnosis

Bruce Willis has celebrated his 68th birthday with a song and a cake, surrounded by his family, after it was announced he had been diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia (FTD) earlier this year.

A video shared by his ex-wife Demi Moore showed the Hollywood star singing happy birthday while surrounded by his daughters, Moore and his wife Emma Heming, before blowing out two candles on an apple pie.

Relatives of the Hollywood star said in March 2022 that he would be “stepping away” from his successful career after being diagnosed with aphasia, a condition affecting his cognitive abilities.

Moore, 60, wrote alongside the Instagram post: “Happy birthday, BW! So glad we could celebrate you today. Love you and love our family.

“Thank you to everyone for the love and warm wishes – we all feel them.”

Heming, 44, also shared an emotional post on Instagram, describing the feelings of “sadness” and “grief” she said she experienced as a caregiver to someone with dementia, adding: “I’m really feeling it today on his birthday.”

Becoming tearful as she ended the short video, she thanked fans for their support, saying: “As much as I do it for myself, I do it for you because I know how much you love my husband.”

Starring in more than 100 films over four decades, Willis has appeared in box office hits including Pulp Fiction, 12 Monkeys and The Sixth Sense, earning him fans worldwide.

Read more:
What is frontotemporal dementia (FTD)?

Bruce Willis’s wife asks paparazzi not to ‘yell’ at him

Hemming also shared a collection of videos and photos of Willis spending time with his family and playing with his children.

She captioned the post: “He is pure love. He is so loved. And I’ll be loving him always. Happy Birthday my sweet.

“My birthday wish for Bruce is that you continue to keep him in your prayers and highest vibrations because his sensitive Pisces soul will feel it.

“Thank you so much for loving and caring for him too.”

Willis has five daughters, sharing his three eldest – Rumer, Scout and Tallulah – with Moore whom he married in 1987, and his younger daughters Mabel and Evelyn with Hemming, who he married in 2009.

Willis and Moore separated in 2000, but remain on good terms.

Rumer marked her father’s birthday by posting the same video of everyone singing happy birthday and wrote: “Happy Birthday Daddio I love you to the moon. You are so cool.”

Scout captioned the video in her post: “Also though, today has been PROFOUNDLY JOYFULLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL !!!!!! HAPPY BW’S BIRTHDAY TO ALL WHO CELEBRATE !!!!”

Tallulah shared a selection of photos of her father from throughout the years on her Instagram, writing: “Happy birthday to my numero uno Bruno !!

“Feeling awash with all the good energies and love headed this Willis way! I love him and he loves me – what a delight!”

FTD is a degenerative brain disorder characterized by deterioration of the frontal and/or temporal lobes, according to the Association of Frontotemporal Deterioration (AFTD).

They list symptoms including uncharacteristic personality changes, apathy, and unexplained struggles with decision-making, speaking or language comprehension are among the most common presenting symptoms.

There are currently no treatments for FTD.

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