John Leslie was one of the nation’s most popular TV presenters – but his career imploded when he found himself at the centre of a media storm.
During his rise to stardom he had a succession of glamorous celebrity girlfriends, became the first Scottish host of children’s favourite Blue Peter and co-hosted This Morning alongside Fern Britton.
John was was the darling of the TV schedules at the height of his fame in 2002, but ended up becoming a borderline pariah almost overnight and was sacked from his job.
In her 2002 autobiography, Ulrika Jonsson claimed she had been raped by a well-known TV personality when she was a 19-year-old secretary in 1988 but did not provide the name of her alleged attacker.
Journalist Matthew Wright incorrectly named John as the alleged rapist live on air – and would later offer Leslie an apology.
Leslie confirmed he would not sue Wright, saying: “I think he just made a really big mistake and unfortunately I was the one paying the price.”
Tonight’s new Channel 5 documentary, The Rise & Fall of John Leslie, explores how he triumphed in court but faced a sterner challenge winning over the court of public opinion.
Get the news you want straight to your inbox. Sign up for a Mirror newsletter here .
Leslie was co-hosting an episode of This Morning when the controversy unfolded and only found out about Wright’s slip-up after the show ended.
“That was it. I was put in a room, there were hundreds of press outside, it all went mental,” Leslie said during a court hearing in October 2020, where he was found not guilty of sexual assault against a woman who claimed he groped her in 2008.
“It was Armageddon. That was a crazy day, and the end of my career, because of what Matthew Wright had said by mistake.”
Leslie explained he had dated Ulrika for “several months” when they were rising stars and they’d had a “great time” before splitting “amicably”.
The TV host said he had considered suing Wright over his gaffe but was talked out of it by his agent who said taking legal action against a TV company might hamper his chances of resuming his career.
He lost his £240,000-a-year contract job on This Morning, with ITV bosses replacing him with current host Phillip Schofield.
Leslie said it started a “witch hunt” which led to him being wrongly portrayed as a “crazed sexual monster” and other women came forward with false allegations against him. He was never convicted of any crime.
Another woman came forward and accused Leslie of indecent assault but the case was dropped by the prosecution in 2003 and the presiding judge said he could return to his job “without a stain on his character”.
The former Blue Peter presenter said he went from a “carefree” star with a “great life” to a “depressed and suicidal” recluse.
“I lost my life,” he told the court as he choked back tears. “I became reclusive, depressed and suicidal. I lost everything.”
Leslie said he began to rebuild his life but grew “paranoid” everything he did would end up in the public eye.
At the time, John, who previously dated Hollywood star Catherine Zeta Jones, had been dating former glamour model Abi Titmus.
Abi stood by John while he was on trial and he said she had been a tower of strength throughout his ordeal, but admitted their relationship had been under “tremendous pressure”.
“It was very hard for me to fill my days. I had no money left, my life was crumbling. Abi, throughout this, was there for me 24/7,” John said on Richard and Judy’s show. “I don’t think I would have come out of it as well as I have without her.”
When asked if they would remain friends after the split, Leslie replied: “We will be friends for life.”
However, Abi later admitted if she had the chance to go back in time she would never have spoken to John in the first place.
if she had the chance to go back in time, she would have made a very different decision that night in Fulham.
“I did not talk to John because he was famous. But I talked to John because I fancied him and he seemed very nice to start with,” she told The Sun.
“It was a Sliding Doors moment, where someone’s life can go one way or another. If I had not gone with John I would have avoided all the madness that followed.
“And for the sake of my parents, who have suffered so much, if I could do it all again I would act differently. I would walk out of that bar and never look back.”
Leslie appeared in a Sky One documentary, My Year of Hell, which included tell-all video diary footage shot while he was under investigation.
After a stint as a property developer, John started volunteering as a local radio DJ in Edinburgh and was living alone in a bungalow o the edge of the city.
In November 2012, John Leslie began to present Friday’s Drivetime show on 98.8 Castle FM and was among the presenters who walked out in disagreement with the management.
They were locked out of the building when they returned and by the end of the year the radio station had become automated with no presenters.
He began presenting his own Saturday radio show across Scottish Bauer Radio Am network in March 2014 and in six years later he was spotted out with his hairdresser girlfriend.
In June 2017, Leslie was accused of putting his hand down the back of a woman’s trousers while they were both dancing, an accusation he vehemently denied.
Leslie described dancing with the woman and said he wished her well when the song finished.
“I did not put my hands down her trousers. It’s something I would never do. It’s something I would never have done. I’m upset at the allegation,” he said.
Leslie was found not guilty of sexually assaulting the woman in June 2018.
In October 2020, Leslie was found not guilty of sexual assault at London’s Southwark Crown Court.
A charity fundraiser claimed he groped her breasts at a celebrity Christmas party at a bar in London’s West End in 2008. Leslie always denied the allegation.
He told the jury he did not recognise the victim, could not remember meeting her and did not recall being at the party.
The jury took just 23 minutes to reach its not guilty verdict and the judge said he would leave “without a stain on your character”.
* The Rise & Fall of John Leslie airs tonight on Channel 5 at 9pm