ASHLEY Blake is a man still trying to come to terms with two years that saw him go from being welcomed in millions of living rooms up and down the country to a pariah damned he says, for trying to defend his business and his home.
A traumatic trial, a failed appeal, followed by 10 months in jail first at Winson Green and then Stafford Prison (he was sentenced to two years) during which his long time girlfriend Jess left him, have left their scars.
Blake’s world fell apart early on January 25 2009 when a party held at his restaurant in Sutton Coldfield, The Place 2 B, ended in trouble when a 17-year-old was wounded.
He was charged with possessing an offensive weapon and wounding with intent and affray, charges he denied.
He also pleaded not guilty to a further charge of attempting to pervert the course of justice by throwing the alleged weapon, a patio umbrella pole, into a neighbouring garden.
However in July 2009 the jury found him guilty of unlawful wounding and perverting the course of justice but cleared him of wounding with intent.
Now living off Jobseekers Allowance, he says that only by writing everything down, keeping a daily diary, was he able to somehow get through the experience of prison.
It has now been published as a book, called Shining Bright Lights in Dark Places. He’s busy promoting it and when we catch up, it’s plain that the reality of prison life still haunts him.
“It was bloody awful - there’s no privacy, everyone wants to know what you’re up to. Some people thought that because I’d been on the telly I had to be a millionaire and they could make life easier for me if I did this or that for them. Others were okay while there were some who were just plain nasty.
“You cannot imagine yourself in that situation in a prison cell, you cannot show any weakness or else they will pounce on you. I’m not a tall man or an intimidating one. This one thug once had his forehead pressed against mine and was threatening to bite my nose off - it was terrifying but you’ve got to stay calm, be polite and keep your integrity.
“Learning I was going to be released was fabulous, the best feeling I have ever had in my life.”
And he’s stinging in his attack on the prison system.
“Rehab in prison is a total myth and sending someone like me to jail was a complete waste of public money,” said the 42-year-old.
“Everyone who breaks the law deserves to be punished and I do have regrets but it’s hard to understand why they sent me to jail - surely there could have been a more constructive way of doing things. With me it was a classic case of self defence. I was defending my business and the place I lived on the night in question against people who were angry and upset over something I had nothing to do with.
“As a result I have lost everything, lost my partner Jess who stood by me through the whole thing, a great restaurant and a fabulous career.
“You just need to look at some of the recent cases of self defence in the news under the new government. Things could have been different.”
Despite the obvious rawness of his experiences, Blake remains his usual upbeat self.
“I’m very optimistic to be starting along again. I’m still me, Ashley Blake and I don’t want people to feel sorry for me because I’m not on a park bench.
“However I couldn’t have got through what I’ve experienced without the support of family, friends, strangers, colleagues at the BBC and Jess and this book is dedicated to them.”
Shining Bright Lights in Dark Places (Finders Publishing) costs £17.99
Ashley Blake is signing copies of his book at Waterstones in Solihull this Saturday, October 15 between 11am and 2pm.