Dec is due to give a message to Ant on tonight’s Saturday Night Takeaway
Saturday Night Takeaway will open with Dec addressing the “elephant in the room”, giving a heartfelt monologue to his pal who is receiving treatment in rehab.
Show bosses will spend today working out how best to show Ant, 42, remains in everyone’s thoughts as he battles a drink drive charge and the breakdown of his marriage.
But Dec, who has been forced to host solo for the first time in their 20-year presenting partnership, wants to tackle the issue head on telling viewers his sidekick is missed by millions who want him get well soon.
A show source said: “Dec is very much the solo host tonight – it’s not going to be him and a sidekick.
“We’ll all going to miss Ant, I don’t know what’s going to happen, but the show must go on.”
Ant and co-host Dec, 42, have worked for ITV since 2001 and are estimated to have amassed a personal fortune of £62million each.
In 2016 they signed a £30million golden handcuffs deal which ends next year.
But the future of one of Britain’s best known TV double acts since Morcambe and Wise has been thrown into doubt after Ant’s public meltdown.
He was first admitted to rehab in June last year to tackle an addiction to prescription painkillers following a botched knee operation.
Ant and Dec agreed ‘we’ve always had one constant that’s kept us sane – each other’
At the time he said he was “overwhelmed” by the support shown by the public.
In January he announced he had separated from Lisa Armstrong, his wife of 11-years, as a result of his drink and drug dependency.
And earlier this month he was arrested and charged with drink-driving after he crashed his car in Richmond, south-west London, in an accident that left a four-year-old girl in hospital. He will appear in court on Wednesday.
The pair had previously made an on-screen pledge neither would ever work solo but the dramatic events of the past six months have forced Dec to renege on that promise.
They have only appeared without one another a handful of times since pairing up as PJ and Duncan in children’s drama Byker Grove in 1989.
Last night Dec gave no clues as to what he would do at the start of tonight’s show, simply saying: “Back in studio preparing your Saturday Night Takeaway. Have a great Good Friday.”
But earlier he said: “Whilst I never thought I’d be in this position, after much discussion and careful consideration we’ve decided that the remaining two shows of this series of Saturday Night Takeaway will go ahead.
“We made a promise to take hundreds of deserving winners to Florida to watch the series finale, and we will honour that.
“Everyone at ITV and the Takeaway team feels we owe it to the audience to complete the series.”
Ant’s representatives confirmed he would be taking time off “for the foreseeable future” to receive further treatment.
It means he is likely to miss the Britain’s Got Talent live shows and I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! which comes from Australia every December.
Tonight’s Saturday Night Takeaway will open and end with a performance from singer Paloma Faith with comic Stephen Merchant the guest announcer.
Stephen Mulhern and Scarlett Moffatt will both appear on the show as assistants, but not joint presenters, and Ant will appear in a pre-recorded segment called Saturday Knight Takeaway.
Neither Ant or Dec attended this month’s Royal Television Society Awards in London, where they were up for two awards.
It was the first time they had missed a high-profile awards bash.
In their 2010 autobiography, Ooh! What A Lovely Pair, the duo insisted “neither one of us would ever be on our own out there”.
Dec said: “We’ve been incredibly fortunate to have enjoyed such a remarkable time. Throughout it all, we’ve always had one constant that’s kept us sane – each other.
“In two decades, we’ve never spent more than two weeks apart. Some people might not understand it but our friendship is a massive, massive part of where we are today.”
• Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway ITV1 7pm.