Picture the magical scene.
It’s a weekday evening, around quarter to seven.
Someone is in their pants bouncing up and down on the sofa, shouting for cereal and genuinely loving life.
Someone else lies on the floor, eyes closed, praying for the bedtime gods to step in and make it all stop.
Another person runs from room to room in the dimly-lit house, frantically tidying away toys, heating up milk, running the bath.
Millions of parents know and love (or perhaps not) that last stretch of the day before their child’s bedtime.
While mums and dads crawl to the finish line, daring to dream of the moment they get to sit down and watch Netflix with a gin and tonic, their beloved little folk somehow get a second, rather incredible, burst of life.
But just when you think it’s game over, in steps Tom:
“Hello,” says the actor, “I’m Tom.”
For seven whole minutes the room is transfixed by Hollywood star Tom Hardy’s intense but soothing voice. And his choice of pyjamas.
It’s the CBeebies bedtime story.
And it may have just saved bedtime.
How one superhero reader sent mums (and dads) into meltdown
A-lister upon A-lister has taken on bedtime reading duties on CBeebies each night.
From actors and rock stars to sportspeople and scientists, there have been some eye-opening celebrity readers in recent years.
Olympic athlete Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill, singers Josh Homme, Dolly Parton and Elton John, astronaut Tim Peake (who read from space), actors Eddie Redmayne, Emily Watson and Ewan McGregor, and TV chef Nadiya Hussain have all put their own spin on the bedtime story.
But these stars all have one thing in common – young kids might not even know (or care) who they are.
When Chris Evans (the Hollywood heart-throb not the British radio presenter) read his bedtime story, it seemed pretty clear it wasn’t really for the kids at all:
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Parents also enjoyed Floella Benjamin, who presented children’s TV show Play School in the 70s (and is now a baroness with a seat in the House of Lords).
And Homme, I mean, would any toddler really know his band Queens of the Stone Age?
Homme revealed in an NME interview that he had recorded his tale the day before appearing at Reading Festival.
Up next, actor Orlando Bloom, who, let’s face it, will please a lot more adults than tots.
He was announced with this Facebook post:
One user wrote: “How on earth r u getting all these A-listers??? I think it’s brilliant (for the moms ha).”
CBeebies retorted: “They ask us now!”
The ‘Tom Hardy effect’
The bedtime slot already had a pretty stellar roll call before character actor Hardy got involved in 2016. From David Hasselhoff and Sir Patrick Stewart to David Tennant and Rosamund Pike.
Hardy asked to appear because he “really wanted to be in something his children could watch, enjoy and remember”, says producer Claire Taylor.
He proved popular. Nearly 417,000 people engaged with this Facebook plug:
CBeebies bedtime story tonight is being read by Tom Hardy. Overheard the better half saying to the daughter that she thinks he’s quite diahy. Daughter replied “but he’s not as handsome as daddy is he mummy?”
Tomorrow, I am buying my daughter a pony. Possibly also an eye test
— Dan Leaphard (@Def_Leaphard) August 31, 2018
Hardy’s been back four more times – including on Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day.
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His appearance on 14 February was last year’s most watched bedtime story, with a TV audience of nearly 600,000.
This year’s most popular episode, with more than 400,000 TV viewers, was Doctor Who actress Sharon D Clarke who read a book on singer Ella Fitzgerald as part of Black History Month.
“It’s wonderful to be able to please two – or more – generations in one viewing,” says Claire.
“The children are soothed by a story that marks the end of their day and the grown-ups are wowed and amazed at seeing their favourite celebrity or hero doing something so unlikely.”
The CBeebies team tries to pick “a strong mix of male and female role models” who’ll be entertaining and engaging.
Claire says they’re grateful for “the Tom Hardy effect” and they love the comments “that come flooding in” each time a new celeb is announced.
How do they choose who reads what?
The programme producers have the final say – but stars are asked if they have family favourites they’re keen to read so they’ll be read “from the heart”.
Three of pet-lover Hardy’s five stories were about dogs and he even brought his pet pooch Woody along for filming.
Stories are usually filmed at CBeebies House in Salford’s MediaCity but sometimes they’re on location. Dolly Parton was filmed in Nashville.
Claire says: “It’s amazing how nervous even the biggest of stars are at first. They’re totally out of their comfort zone so we tell them to imagine they’re reading to one child, perhaps their own.
“I remember pinching myself asking David Hasselhoff to make a ‘brum brum’ noise when playing with a toy tractor; asking Tom Hardy if he would mind cuddling up to a fluffy toy dog and getting Jessica Ennis-Hill to say ‘On your marks, get set, go!’ It can be very surreal.”
Shoots can take up to four hours and all readers get the same fee, which is often donated to charity.
What did the biggest stars read?
Sir Elton John – The Dog Detectives: Lost in London by Fin and Zoa, and illustrated by Monika Suska. The singer wanted to read a “London-based book” Dolly Parton – Dog Loves Books, written and illustrated by Louise Yates, which is the story of a book-loving pooch who opens his own book shop Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill – wore her gold medal to read The Frog Olympics by Brian Moses Orlando Bloom – We Are Together, written and illustrated by Britta Teckentrup. The actor wanted to read a story about inclusivity as a nod to his involvement with the charity Unicef Chris Evans – Even Superheroes Have Bad Days, by Shelly Becker and Eda Kaban, which has tips on helping little ones cope when they’re feeling overwhelmed
Many thousands of mums and dads have asked for more megastar readers – although some called for a broader range of celebrities to appeal to all parents.
Referring to Hardy, one Facebook user posted: “If this was a well-known attractive female on CBeebies with the same idea that she was appealing to all the dads out there, the BBC would get slated.”
It’s also a matter of continuing debate as to whether TV before bed is good for children – though the latest research suggests it has little effect.
But just in case, here are a few expert tips – you should watch TV with your child so they can talk to you about what they’re seeing, and don’t let them watch telly right before bedtime.
Could Prince William or his brother Harry be next?
This year to date there have been just under six million iPlayer requests for episodes of Bedtime Stories, and the CBeebies team say they have a huge list of ideas for new readers.
“Kylie Minogue has been on our wish list for a very long time…,” says Claire. “Along with Thandie Newton, Stormzy, Adele. We like to aim very high, so… royalty!”
Over the festive period there are “some fantastically strong female celebrities” signed up, she adds.
What happens after the closing credits is anyone’s guess.
Everyone lives happily ever after, right?