Tanya Stevenson, John McCririck’s sidekick on Channel 4 Racing in the betting ring for 15 years, enjoyed every minute of her time working alongside someone she described as her “hero”.
The pair were an unlikely double act, but Stevenson revealed she shared lots of interests with McCririck, who has died at the age of 79.
“It’s terrible, very sad news indeed,” she said.
“I loved him dearly – I worked with one of my heroes and I was so lucky.
“I worked with him for 15 years and the majority of that time was on air alongside him. If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t have been able to do that. He was the one who encouraged me the whole time with his support.
“We hit it off from the start. We both loved our sport, we both loved the betting industry. Unfortunately I’m Arsenal and he was Newcastle. We both loved NFL, we both loved cricket. He was even sweet enough to take me to cricket a couple of times. He was an absolute hero.
“It was an absolute privilege to say I worked alongside him. We had so many funny times.”
Stevenson revealed the general public did not know the “real” McCririck.
“I don’t think people appreciated or saw the real side of him, the things he did for charity,” she told PA.
“He based his persona on trying to be a devil’s advocate and villain to incite discussions and debate, and then they all picked him out for picking the wrong side.
“People would say, ‘how on earth do you work with him’ and I would say, ‘how on earth did he work with me’. I was so lucky.
“Bless him. He will be missed.”
Alice Plunkett was another female colleague who had the utmost respect for McCririck.
“I worked with John for 20 years. I felt extremely privileged, for when I joined Channel 4 Racing they had such an iconic team. They revolutionised racing. At that point it had been very straitlaced with the BBC,” she said.
“John was just frustratingly brilliant. Everybody always wanted me to say I didn’t like him, but I loved him very dearly.
“He called me the ‘saucy minx’. I was a young upstart and he always said to me to be as rude as I liked on screen as that’s what people want.
“Everything he did on screen he did with a real twinkle and with kindness behind it.
“He was just a genuine supporter of young people, women – weirdly. What people saw and what he actually was were a long away apart. He was great to Tanya, he was great to me and I’ll always be so grateful as to how he looked after me when I started out and knew nothing.
“He was a great journalist. He never, ever came to work unprepared. He was such a worker. All that flap and nonsense was one thing, but he turned up every day with so much background work.
“He knew exactly what was going on. In the end he probably became a caricature of himself. The (Celebrity) Big Brother stuff didn’t do him any favours, but at heart was a brilliant journalist.
“He was a consummate professional and passionate about racing. He was ahead of his time.
“I had the utmost respect for him and the Booby (his wife, Jenny), who made him so single-minded.”