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That led to an addiction to the painkiller tramadol, to despondency, to boozing heavily alone and problems with 'substance abuse'.

His woes became known after information was obtained by a newspaper that suggested he was heavily dependent on drugs.

You can't blame Declan Donnelly, pictured on holiday this week at a hotel at Lake Como, for looking as if he has the whole weight of the world resting on his slightly sunburned shoulders.

It's no exaggeration to say that his professional future, which had seemed so golden, is now on a knife-edge.

Ant's descent into a toxic hell of depression, insomnia and drug dependency has been apparent for at least a year.

Some say that the 41-year-old has been struggling on and off with his demons for nearly a decade. There's his long and unsuccessful battle to conceive a child with his wife, Lisa, 40, and the legacy of his hard upbringing.

Indeed, Ant and Lisa's fertility issues are said to have strained his 11-year marriage, and played a part in the black dog of depression that currently haunts Ant.

Meanwhile, the question that's worrying Dec, their management and ITV paymasters, is whether they'll be able to put their double act back together again — or whether the beer-and-gags friendship between the two men, on which their astonishing £120 million career is founded, is finished.

Their publicity is so controlled and careful — and that is down to Dec, not Ant.'In the early years, they would go out partying with pop stars and all the rest, and then they signed with James Grant management [run by former DJ Peter Powell and pal Russ Lindsay] and all that stopped.'Now, they inhabit a tiny, controlled circle.

Dec will tell you trust is the most important thing and, ultimately, that's the way they live their lives.'The James Grant crowd, which includes the likes of TV presenters Phillip Schofield, Holly Willoughby, Amanda Holden and Tess Daly, are a family.

But there's also a sense of dissatisfaction with the confines of his carefully controlled TV image and a deep-seated urge to party, hard, that has been impossible for him to resist.

Ant's troubles are said to have begun two-and-a-half years ago with a botched operation to repair damaged cartilage in his knee.

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