Sam & Mark’s Pop Idol bond, Caroline Flack heartbreak and becoming dads together

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Sam Nixon and Mark Rhodes went from individuals in a singing contest to the ultimate children's TV presenting duo.

The boys narrowly missed out on winning Pop Idol, but their careers have gone from strength to strength ever since.

The self-proclaimed 'Primark Ant and Dec' admit they are now just "two mates having a laugh for a living" – and in nearly two decades together have never had a row.

The presenters have an incredible bond, so much so that they became dads for the first time at nearly exactly the same time.

Now Sam and Mark will be taking on the role of teachers as they front some of the BBC's school programming during lockdown.

But how did a singing hopeful from Barnsley and another from Walsall go on to become one of the nation's best loved double acts?

Before moving into TV, they had a successful music career with a UK number one single
(Image: PA)

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The pair met 17 years ago while competing as separate acts in the second series of Pop Idol.

Sam, 34, finished in third place, while Mark, 39, was runner-up to the winner, Michelle McManus, during the

That could easily have been the end of their fame, but they were joined together by Spice Girls creator Simon Fuller.

"Simon Fuller saw our camaraderie and took us into a room and said, ‘I’ve seen the connection and I want to put you together’," explained Mark.

"We both have the same daft sense of humour, the same morals, love our families, and we have separate interests, which keeps it fresh."

(Image: Rex Features)

The lads had a number one single with their cover of The Beatles' 'With a Little Help from My Friends', but their follow up only peaked at 19.

They quickly moved into TV, using their pop background to host Top of the Pops reloaded alongside Fern Cotton.

After impressing while hosting kids' breakfast show Level Up during the summer of 2006, they hosted Saturday morning show TMi alongside Caroline Flack.

They were both devastated when the Love Island host tragically passed away at the start of last year.

"She was a great presenter, we instantly got on with her and she made me and Mark look funnier than we were with her unbelievably beautiful, infectious laugh," said Sam.

Sam & Mark hosted TMi with Caroline Flack
(Image: BBC)

Sam & Mark have barely been off our screens since they started doing kids TV, presenting a number of shows such as Do Something Different and Junior Bake Off.

They have been compared to Ant & Dec, who they first met during their Pop Idol days, and have given the lads plenty of advice ever since.

“I don’t think Ant and Dec need to worry about us,” said a modest Mark in 2018.

“There’s room for more than one duo in TV definitely and we have no problem with being the Primark version of Ant and Dec.

“I suppose it is because we are a duo and we are mates and we do similar types of family entertainment that we would get compared to Ant and Dec.

“But Ant and Dec are on a different level. They’re like TV royalty. We’ve got so far to go before we should be mentioned in the same­­ breath as them.”

They hosted Junior Bake Off on the BBC
(Image: Love Productions/BBC/Mark Bourdillon)

Mark claimed they were not trying to be "clones of Ant and Dec", admitting they wanted the audience to see their own personalities.

While Sam added: "If you’re going to be compared to another duo it’s better to be compared to the best. We always get compared to Ant and Dec, which we see as a massive compliment."

During 17 years together the pair have never had a single argument.

"We really get on. You can’t make that up. We’re not good enough actors to pull it off. Long may it continue," revealed Mark.

They are even so in sync that they had their first-borns at the same time.

Sam & Mark are one of the country's favourite presenting duos
(Image: Gaby Jerrard PR)

Their baby daughters were staggeringly born just nine days.

Mark’s wife Harriet gave birth to Scarlett on September 25, 2014, and Sam’s wife Anne had baby Meridon just over a week later.

"I can't believe our babies were born nine days apart," Mark told HELLO! in 2014.

"Someone pointed out to us that the babies' initials are also S and M, which is another coincidence."

Mark lives in London but spent most of his life in Wolverhampton while Sam still lives in his native South Yorkshire, and the married pair now both have two kids each.

Sam and Mark have been hosting Crackerjack
(Image: BBC / Rachel Joseph)

Most recently, the boys have been hosting a revived version of legendary children's TV show Crackerjack.

Their first series of the teatime telly treat, which featured comedy sketches and games in front of a live audience, aired at the start of last year.

"We’re honoured to bring back such an iconic show but it’s very scary," said Mark at that time.

"My dad is 80. He couldn’t believe his son was bringing back Crackerjack. He asked if I could get him a pencil. I told him he had to be on the show to win it."

While Sam added: "There’s a lot of ­pressure. We were shocked by the numbe of people talking about it. The span of people is huge. It’s in a lot of hearts."

They did such a good job that a new series started last Friday, featuring Sky Sports News pundit Chris Kamara as the first celebrity guest.

Sam and Mark with some of the former Crackerjack hosts
(Image: BBC / Rachel Joseph)

As well as keeping kids entertained after school, Sam and Mark will be helping with their education in the mornings.

They are two of the presenters taking part in the daily three-hour block of primary school programming that the BBC is putting on during lockdown.

Tim Davie, BBC Director General, said: “Ensuring children across the UK have the opportunity to continue to follow the appropriate core parts of their nation’s school curriculum has been a key priority for the BBC throughout this past year.

“Education is absolutely vital – the BBC is here to play its part and I’m delighted that we have been able to bring this to audiences so swiftly.”

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