How John Leslie went from squeaky clean Blue Peter presenter to being dogged by scandals including false Ulrika Jonsson rape claim and threesome sex tape with Abi Titmuss
John Leslie was today cleared of sexual assault, but the news will come too late for a man who went from a squeaky clean Blue Peter presenter to being repeatedly dogged by scandals.
Before the trial, Leslie had already been investigated an astonishing number of times over separate sexual assault allegations made to police since 2002, when he was falsely accused of raping Ulrika Jonsson.
Other women have publicly accused him of similar seedy behaviour, while he has been the subject of salacious revelations about his sex life (including his starring role in a threesome sex tape with Abi Titmuss) and his use of cocaine.
A string of former Blue Peter presenters rallied around Leslie at his trial, with Anthea Turner, Diane Louise Jordan and Yvette Fielding taking to the stand to call him a ‘gentleman’ and deny he was ever inappropriate towards women.
Leslie has never been found guilty of any offence, but his own barrister today claimed he had become a ‘notorious’ and a ‘nobody’ because of the repeated claims against him.
The former star, who once earned £350,000 a year, was last known to be living in an Edinburgh bungalow and doing DJ jobs to earn extra money.
Leslie was found not guilty by a jury over claims he grabbed a woman’s breasts at a Christmas party in central London on December 5, 2008
In 1989, the BBC called Leslie in for audition and he landed the coveted job of Blue Peter presenter, on a salary of £16,800. Leslie calculated that the job would lead to other, more lucrative, opportunities — as it did when he moved on five years later (left, with Mark Curry, Caron Keating and Yvette Fielding in 1989; right, with Diane Louise Jordan and Fielding in 1991)
The previous two decades have been a downward spiral for a man who enjoyed a spectacular rise from being a newsagent’s son to one of the best-known TV personalities in Britain.
In 2002, Leslie was mistakenly named by the TV presenter Matthew Wright as Ulrika Jonsson’s rapist that she wrote about anonymously in her 2002 autobiography.
Wright subsequently said he could not remember saying Leslie’s name during the show.
In a Sky One show, Wright offered John 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.’
Jonsson made no public comment on Leslie’s naming and did not cooperate with police over the matter. Police investigated Leslie but never charged him with the alleged offence.
Other women have made claims of indecent assault against Leslie, and he was arrested in December 2002 on one count of rape and two concerning indecent assault, before being released on bail after an interview.
Timeline: Damning claims that torpedoed Leslie’s career
2002 – Journalist Mark Wright falsely accuses Leslie of raping Ulrika Jonsson;
2002 (December) – He is arrested on one count of rape and two concerning indecent assault, before being released on bail after an interview;
June 2003 – Charged with assaulting a woman twice between May 25 and 28 1997. These charges were dropped on July 31.
2004 – Photographs emerge of him taking cocaine, and a stolen sex tape of a threesome involving Leslie and his then girlfriend Abi Titmuss, a nurse who went on to become a glamour model, was leaked on the internet.
In June 2003, he was charged with assaulting a woman twice between May 25 and 28 1997.
The charges were dropped at Southwark Crown Court on July 31 2003 after new information emerged about the alleged victim.
Leslie later appeared on the court steps where he said, while visibly shaking: ‘I am an innocent man. I have maintained my innocence throughout and today it’s been justified.’
The Scot began his working life as a piano teacher who did DJ gigs at a disco in his spare time.
He did well, getting slots at bigger and bigger clubs before being invited to submit a show-reel for a job presenting a music show on a satellite channel.
Then, in 1989, the BBC called him in for audition and he landed the coveted job of Blue Peter presenter, on a salary of £16,800.
Leslie correctly calculated that the job would lead to other, more lucrative, opportunities — as it duly did when he moved on five years later.
‘I did a short-lived big-budget, Gladiators-style show called Scavengers in 1994 and earned £15,000 an episode,’ he told the Telegraph in a rare interview. ‘That was when I realised I was earning decent money.’
He then started presenting Wheel of Fortune, initially filming three shows a week at £2,000 a show. His income was further boosted to £350,000 a year when, in 2001, he began presenting This Morning with Fern Britton.
While he was at Blue Peter, he dated the actress Catherine Zeta-Jones for 18 months, admitting in later years that she was the only woman he ever truly loved.
‘I should have been far more responsible, sensitive and aware,’ he has said. ‘Someone said if I’d been a rock star it would have been accepted, whereas because I was a Blue Peter presenter, people were out to get me.
‘I didn’t know how to handle my private life. The party was 24/7 and I trusted too many people, and soon enough the wheels were going to come off.’
A sex tape of Leslie in a threesome with his girlfriend Abi Titmus (pictured) and another woman was leaked onto the internet
Leslie and Ulrika Jonsson pictured presenting Big Breakfast back in 1993
In 2003, Leslie famously left the court having been told that he did so ‘without a stain on his character’.
But the damage had been done. Photographs had emerged of him taking cocaine, and a stolen sex tape of a threesome involving Leslie and his then girlfriend Abi Titmuss, a nurse who went on to become a glamour model, was leaked on the internet.
With a £500,000 legal bill to pay, and with ITV having ended his contract, Leslie was forced to look elsewhere for funds.
No doubt imagining that his career would one day be revived, he turned his hand to property developing. After all, he had already overseen the construction of his multimillion-pound dream home.
But while it has been reported that he made a fortune by renovating several flats and a nursing home in London, it seems he was hit hard by the 2008 financial crash.
After renting out his bachelor pad for a number of years, in 2010 Leslie had no choice but to part with it.
‘I pleaded with the bank to let me keep the Richmond house but was forced to sell it for £3.5 million when the crash hit and the bank wanted its money back,’ he said.
‘I paid them back every penny, but there was nothing left. I thought I was going to get out with some money but I sold at the worst time.’
John Leslie (on the right) with his fellow Blue Peter presenters Jonathan Coleman and Annabel Giles
Televison presenter John Leslie pictured with Yvette Fielding and Holly Johnson
By then he was living back in Edinburgh, where he bought a bungalow close to his septuagenarian parents, Leslie and Lexia Stott (their son took ‘Leslie’ as his stage surname).
He would go on to buy other properties nearby, though the investments don’t appear to have been entirely trouble-free. One six-bedroom house was bought for £1.25 million in 2006.
It was put back on the market for £2.5million in 2009, but eventually sold in 2013 for £1.8 million — a decent sum, although the lavish renovations that Leslie undertook would doubtless have eaten into the profit.
He also bought two neighbouring bungalows, including the one he was most recently living in. The other was sold to a couple from London for £485,000.
Leslie was last known to be working DJ slots at local Edinburgh clubs.
He previously spoke of wanting to be a ‘flagbearer’ to campaign for anonymity for people accused of sex crimes.
Leslie told the Daily Record that names of accused should be withheld as ‘your life is destroyed before you’re charged’.
Leslie strongly denied the sexual assault claims that he was cleared of at his latest trial.
His barrister, Gudrun Young, today told the court his most recent accuser was able to orchestrate a ‘clever lie’ because her client was ‘a bit of an embarrassment’.
‘Since his fall from grace in 2002 he became notorious, infamous not for his TV work but for allegations of a sexual, scurrilous, scandalous nature,’ she said.
‘Trial by media is the worst and most unfair way of being judged. They can ruin you without a single shred of evidence.
‘People with all sort of motives can say anything about you. It’s difficult to defend yourself against that isn’t it?’
A string of former colleagues came out to defend Leslie at his trial.
Fern Britton, who he co-hosted This Morning with in the 90s, said she was ‘confident’ the allegation was not true.
Leslie had been accused grabbing a woman’s breasts out of nowhere at the celebrity party in London’s West End 12 years ago.
In a written statement, Britton said: ‘I asked immediately if it was him. He said no. I have no reason to disbelieve him and have supported him from then on. The allegations hit John very hard.’
She added: ‘I am confident the allegation made does not fit with the man that I know in the slightest.’
Andrea Turner, 60, a TV presenter turned clean-up queen, appeared in person to give evidence in front of jurors. She presented Blue Peter from 1992 until 1994, all with Leslie.
Leslie showing off a Thunderbirds puppet on Blue Peter, where he was a popular presenter
Leslie with Blue Peter co-hosts Caron Keating and Yvette Fielding in the Blue Peter Garden at Television Centre in 1989
Dressed in tartan trousers and a white blouse, she said: ‘I didn’t have a lot of confidence at the time (when I started Blue Peter). I was very green. He, with open arms, welcomed me aboard.
‘John is somebody historically who always had a smile on his face, and was the most welcoming person.
‘I like to say that he’s the type of person who was brought up to share his toys. When you’re a television presenter you get two types of people. You get the person who wants to drop you in it, letting you die in front of the camera.
‘Or you get the person that is a real pal, and that is John. If you didn’t remember the question he would pick you up. We were very much a team and John is a team player.’
She added he was ‘absolutely adored by every woman I knew that worked with him’.
Ms Turner said there were ‘two Johns’, one before the Ulrika allegations, and one afterwards. She told the court: ‘Before John was just where the party was, he was the person who would give you a bear hug.
‘The worst thing he would ever do is hold you up and hug you and as he was so tall your feet would come off the ground.
‘That was John, a very confident John. Afterwards I think it’s really sad, those who are friends of John, saw this amazing person just crumple.’
She added: ‘He became very much the person who wanted to be with people he knew. He was constantly worried, where he was, who he was with and on edge. It was not the person that we all knew.’
Songs of Praise presenter Diane-Louise Jordan, 60, was the first black Blue Peter presenter in 1990. Wearing an orange, white and black plaid shirt dress she said: ‘I was feeling a lot under the spotlight, very vulnerable.
‘It was in that environment I got to know John and he’s a gentleman. He was extremely kind to me. He’s a larger than life character, always overbrimming with life in him.
‘He’s just a fun gorgeous person to be around. He has that exceptional quality of deep empathy and deep kindness. I can’t describe how supportive and loving he was.’
She added: ‘I’m not really a showbizzy type person. I actually really dislike the limelight. I have lots of colleagues I know and respect. Very few of them actually come into my personal life.
‘John is a part of my personal life. He knows my husband well. We have a skiing holiday every year. John is a part of that very intimate group.
‘The reason I’m here today, I actually requested to be here today because I feel so strongly about this.
‘Even if it was my husband, or one of my brothers, if I thought they were guilty, I wouldn’t stand here supporting him.’
Yvette Fielding, presenter of Most Haunted and other ghost-hunting shows, said she had recommended Leslie for the Blue Peter job after seeing him audition.
She was the youngest presenter at the time when she joined at 18 in 1987. Appearing via video link, she said: ‘There was this one particular time when we were filming Blue Peter in one of the locations when we would go abroad, we went to Zimbabwe and were gone for six weeks.
‘We shared a hut in the middle of the African bush for 10 days. John was incredibly gentlemanly. He would turn away every time I had to change.
‘If it was the middle of the night, and I had to go to the ladies restroom, I was scared to death of peeing in the bush and he would shine a torch.
‘He averted his eyes when I had to go to the lavatory. In all the years I’ve known John he’s been a lovely lovely person.
‘I considered him to be a brother to me. We would spend many many times going to nightclubs and going to parties and never ever in the times I’ve known John seen him behave in a disrespectful way to any woman or man.’
She added: ‘I’ve seen women going up to him and squeezing his bum in bars, and he’s been the one to pat them away.
‘He’d just laugh and move on and in fact being popular on television, he was a young handsome man, he was inundated with lots of ladies and I’ve seen them throw themselves at him.
‘He’s been a gentleman, he’s always been lovely. He’d say, hello, nice to meet you thank you very much.’