When the phone stopped ringing and work dried up, TV presenter Michael Underwood knew he had to make some life changes.

So he swapped the studio for the classroom and is now inspiring the next generation as a primary school teacher.

Schools are finally due back in the classroom next week, but while the past year has been hard on everyone, Michael has found his old skills have come in handy with remote learning.

“I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s almost like being on camera,” he says.

“I feel particularly sorry for working parents who have been finding this time very stressful. It’s also been incredibly challenging teaching during lockdown. It’s amazing what teachers are doing when it comes to remote learning.

"If you don’t realise what teachers have been doing, then you might be thinking: Oh this is easy for them - they don’t have to go into school, they’re just sat at home just churning out some lessons they’ve already done before. But it’s actually been a lot of work.

Michael Underwood and Angelica Bell
Michael Underwood and Angelica Bell

“The amount of energy you put into engaging children online to keep them occupied because it’s so different. The screen is this huge barrier - so it has meant learning new skills.”

Michael, 45, is well known for starring on Dancing On Ice in 2008 - when he was forced to pull out after a broken ankle, as well as presenting on CBBC, CITV and on shows including Surprise Surprise and Good Morning Britain.

He has been married to TV presenter Angellica Bell, who co-presents The Martin Lewis Money Show, for more than 10 years.

But he trained as a teacher before landing his first job in TV after some frank advice from his mum.

He is supporting The Mirror's Help a Child to Learn Campaign
He is supporting The Mirror's Help a Child to Learn Campaign

“I never grew up wanting to be a television presenter,” he says. “Acting’s what I loved but my family could never afford to send me to drama school. My mum was a nursery nurse, my sister was a nursery nurse, so working with children was in the family.

“It was my mum who actually said: ‘Why don’t you think of doing drama as a teaching degree, specialise in that and you’ve got something to fall back on if the acting doesn’t work out.’”.

And so Michael did a four-year BEd teaching degree.

His big break into television happened by complete chance while he was trying to save up some money to pay for a teaching access course after university.

“I was at a local radio station, just answering phones and saw an advert in the internal BBC newspaper which just said: ‘Would you like to be a children’s TV presenter? Send a video tape to this address.’ A friend of mine at the station tore it out and said: ‘You should go for this.’

He starred on Dancing On Ice
He starred on Dancing On Ice

“I got a call to go to London, auditioned and ended up on this Gaby Roslin show on a Saturday night and won a three-week contract. Before you know it, I was into that.”

Michael openly admits that it got to a point where there just wasn’t enough work coming in.

He explained: “The phone stopped ringing. It’s just not a nice place to be in. I needed to make a decision. I thought you know what I’ve got my teaching degree, I’ve got 20 years in broadcasting behind me, maybe I can take that skill set and put it to good use.

"Help build children’s confidence, help them with their oracy, their presenting skills. That’s when I thought: ‘Yeah, let’s grab the bull by the horns and maybe take a step out into a different career’.”

Michael has now been teaching for three years at Surbiton High Boy’s Prep School, teaching Year 4, who are 8 and 9-year-olds.

Stephen Mulhern, Michael Underwood and Holly Willoughby
Stephen Mulhern, Michael Underwood and Holly Willoughby

His school has been actively involved in donating laptops and tablets to schools in the area that may have been struggling.

Knowing first-hand the challenges faced by both teachers and families during lockdown, father of two Michael has been backing the Mirror’s Help a Child to Learn Campaign,

Readers have raised more than £200,000 for school supplies for needy kids after an initial £1million donation from the National Education Union, which kick-started the appeal.

Michael believes that all children have a right to basic teaching materials and it’s vital that children do not fall behind in their education.

“The Mirror’s campaign is so important right now,” he said.

“Everyone’s always talking about iPads and always talking about tablets but actually we forget that it’s also the basic equipment that is sometimes lacking, like the coloured pens, notebooks, paper, all of these things that you perhaps take for granted.

“Those basic materials are key. If you don’t even have those then you don’t stand a chance.”

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