His career was left “hanging in the balance” last week after he reportedly quit his upcoming appearance in ITV reality show, The Real Games, via text message. However, insiders say that on the contrary, Mark Wright and wife Michelle Keegan are hoping their move will turn them into TV’s new power-couple.
Reports claimed the former TOWIE star, 35, has been “blacklisted” by the network after leaving producers in the lurch at the eleventh hour – and it’s thought ITV were sending a “clear message” to the star when they then announced Mark will be replaced by Michelle’s ex-fiancé, Max George, 33.
A show insider said, “It’s caused a real stir. For some it’s become a joke behind the scenes at ITV. If they can’t have Michelle Keegan’s husband – they’ll have her former fiancé!”
Despite his controversial replacement on the Olympic-themed show – presented by Holly Willoughby and Freddie Flintoff and which will see celebs go head-to-head in a range of sporting challenges – sources say Mark is determined to distance himself from the drama of the reality show world, which has followed him since his 2010 launch into the spotlight as the original TOWIE Lothario.
And insiders tell Closer that his decision to pull out of the show was sparked by his desire for him and 35-year-old Michelle to spend more time together, and also his hopes that they can carve out a joint presenting career together.
A source says, “Working together has been something Michelle and Mark have been talking about for a long time and after agreeing to do The Real Games, Mark realised it could be a big mistake given he’d be cementing his image as a ‘reality star’ rather than detaching himself from that world. That’s something he wants to keep in the past so he can carve out his new career path with Michelle as a power couple.
“He and Michelle have also spent long chunks of time apart during their marriage, so he also turned it down to spend as much time as possible with her.
“He knew it wasn’t the most ideal situation, but he insisted it was better to let them know at the start than pulling out weeks down the line.
“He and Michelle had a lot of tense talks about it and she encouraged him to follow his heart, which he did. Mark really prides himself on being professional, so he’s gutted his sacrifice has backfired. He’s hoping his reputation can come back from this and it won’t affect any future projects. Mark’s made a sacrifice to spend more time with Michelle and to work on their new career, but that decision has backfired if ITV really has blacklisted him.”
Check out: a look back at Mark Wright and Michelle Keegan's relationship
Mark Wright and Michelle Keegan meet
Mark and Michelle first met on holiday in Dubai at the end of 2012, and reportedly fell in love immediately. It was only a matter of days before they met up back in the UK for their first date.
Since leaving TOWIE in 2011 – which charted his rocky on/off relationship with former fiancée, Lauren Goodger – Mark has gone onto forge a successful presenting career, hosting a string of radio and prime time TV shows including Take Me Out’s spin-off programme, Surprise Surprise, The Bachelor and This Morning and continuing to dip his toe in the reality show world with stints on Strictly and I’m A Celeb!.
In 2017, he landed a high-profile role in America with entertainment news show, Extra, which he quit in 2020 to spend more time at home with Michelle amid reports the long distance put strain on their relationship.
Meanwhile, former Corrie star Michelle has become one of the UK’s biggest actresses since leaving the ITV soap in 2013 – starring in multiple critically acclaimed shows, including Ordinary Lies, Our Girl and Brassic. In stark contrast to her serious dramatic roles, it was recently announced that she will make her debut as a TV judge on BBC Three’s RuPaul’s Drag Race.
And while Michelle’s latest gig may come as a surprise to her fans, insiders say her shift in career direction has been sparked by her and Mark’s latest career ambitions.
The source says, “Michelle is also trying to break away from the roles she’s been typecast as and wants to show off more of her personality – something she rarely gets to do apart from in the odd interview.
“She hopes that fans will get to see a different side to her on the show and she’ll gain popularity for who she really is rather than the characters she plays, which will in turn help her develop a hosting career alongside Mark so they can gain a loyal fanbase together.”
The couple – who wed in 2015 – have been keeping fans updated with the renovations of their £3.5m Essex mansion, which will include a swimming pool, gym, bar and an annexe.
The insider adds, “They are moving into their new home and, after years of long distance, they want to make the most of being together as much as possible – and that means home and work.”
While Michelle has enjoyed sharing their home renovation journey on social media, she’s previously opened up about her mission to keep her relationship private. Hinting at multiple reports of marriage troubles in the past, she added, “Over the years we’ve opened ourselves up to a lot of criticism, so it’s nice to have something just for us.”
While she’s still intent on keeping their relationship private, pals say she’s excited about being able to work alongside Mark and share their chemistry with their fans, which they rarely get to see.
The source adds, “Michelle still loves acting and that’s her main passion, but she loves the idea of presenting too – and even better being able to work with Mark and enjoy being on-screen with him.
“They’ve spent the first few years of their marriage with long chunks of time apart, so they’ve decided to start putting their marriage first and exploring opportunities to work together and merge the things they both love.
“They’re in talks about presenting a dating show, which Michelle loves the idea of, as well as pitching ideas for their own programmes to the likes of Netflix, so while nothing is set in stone yet, they’re really excited about the future and this next chapter in their marriage.”
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Expert: ‘The TV industry is very competitive and unforgiving’
TV insider and presenter Nick Ede tells Closer that Mark has taken a risk by pulling out of The Real Games. He says, “The TV world is very competitive, cut-throat and unforgiving. If you’re reliable and talented, you will be liked and recommended among the TV bosses, but if you’re difficult and flaky you just won’t get rebooked and you’ll have a bad reputation. You can afford to turn things down or make mistakes when you are TV gold, but Mark just isn’t that yet, so it was a real gamble for him. I imagine ITV wasn’t happy with him, and that will impact any future opportunities.
“Mark has been open about wanting to move away from his reality TV background and carve himself out a career as a host. But that sort of thing doesn’t just happen overnight. A show like The Real Games would have been perfect for him – he could have showcased his personality, reminded the public why they fell in love with him and raise his profile. Being a contestant on one of these shows is no bad thing! Look at stars like Denise Van Outen, who is an amazing TV presenter, but has also starred on The Circle and Celebrity Gogglebox. And those shows did things great for her career. Same with the likes of AJ Odudu and Ulrika Jonsson – she starred on Celebs Go Dating recently, and her popularity grew.
“Michelle’s established herself as a really credible actress, but I’m not sure she’s TV host material. And if she and Mark want to become the next hosting duo, Mark will need to ensure he is reliable and polite, in order to improve his reputation.”