Disgraced TV presenter John Leslie (pictured) will take to the stage next month to play a cad in a new production of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Also starring Rula Lenska and Sylvester McCoy, the production opens on 16 September 2004 (previews from 12 September) at Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre before continuing, until 23 October, to four further venues, including a week apiece in London and in Leslie’s native Edinburgh.

Leslie became famous by hosting TV series including This Morning, Wheel of Fortune, Survivor and children’s show Blue Peter. In October 2002, he fell from grace after being named by fellow TV presenter Matthew Wright in connection with Ulrika Jonsson’s rape allegation. Although Leslie has always denied the claim and later cleared his name in court, he was fired from ITV’s This Morning and has since been unable to rebuild his television career. He was paid a reported £500,000 to tell his story to the Daily Express and is now working on a book about his “year of hell”.

In Pride and Prejudice, Leslie will play fortune-hunter Mr Wickham. The comedy stars newcomer Emma Campbell-Jones as heroine Elizabeth Bennett, who falls in and out of love with the conceited Mr Darcy, played by Nolan Hemmings.

The cast also includes Rula Lenska (as Mrs Bennet), Doctor Who’s Sylvester McCoy (Mr Bennet), Nicholas Dawkes (Denny), Tryphena Dawn (Charlotte), Pippa Duffy (Kitty), Lisa Harding (Jane), Andy Henderson (Mr Bingley), Katarina Olsson (Miss Bingley), Ben Roddy (Rev Collins) and Anna Steel (Lydia).

Pride and Prejudice is adapted and directed by Sue Pomeroy, artistic director of Good Company, which has previously staged literary classics such as Wuthering Heights, Hard Times, Emma and Jane Eyre. This new production features period music which will be played and sung live on stage by the company.

In a statement, Pomeroy explained that Leslie had been found and cast through a normal audition process and was not being paid any “star rate”. She said: “Having demonstrated his ability and suitability for the role (including a high level of skill on the piano), we see no reason to deny him the opportunity of moving forward with his career. He is a working actor getting on with the job.”

For his part, Leslie said that he’d “been waiting for a door to open” in his life for two years. He added: “This is a fantastic opportunity for me. I am absolutely delighted to be offered the part. The cast have already been very supportive. I’m really looking forward to playing this role.”

Following Guildford, Pride and Prejudice continues to Edinburgh, Windsor and Westcliff, before finishing, from 18 to 23 October 2004, at south London’s Greenwich Theatre.

- by Terri Paddock