Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway attracts 8.6 MILLION viewers as Declan ...

He received a standing ovation from fans after he hosted Saturday Night Takeaway for the first time without his embattled side-kick Ant McPartlin.

And Declan Donnelly's solo attempt at presenting the hit ITV show amassed a staggering 8.6 million viewers - 700,000 more than the previous episode, where he appeared on screen with his co-host Ant, according to The Sun.    

The 42-year-old, who tweeted he had barely slept the night before from nerves, was hailed a 'hero' by viewers as he joked he would have to do 'twice the work' following Ant's admission to rehab after his drink-drive charge.

He's a trooper: Declan Donnelly's solo attempt at presenting the hit ITV show amassed a staggering 8.6 million viewers - 700,000 more than the previous episode

He's a trooper: Declan Donnelly's solo attempt at presenting the hit ITV show amassed a staggering 8.6 million viewers - 700,000 more than the previous episode

ITV bosses will no doubt be delighted with the ratings, after they were forced to pull the show last week. 

Dec, who oversaw an almost seamless live 90-minute show with his dropping a box of popcorn being his only mishap, said the news had been 'unavoidable' in recent weeks but did not explicitly mention why Ant, also 42, was missing.

Following the programme, he tweeted: 'Thanks for all your lovely messages tonight, they are VERY much appreciated, I'm glad you enjoyed the show. I didn't sleep an awful lot last night so I'm off to bed! Night y'all. D x' 

Solo debut: The 42-year-old, who tweeted he had barely slept the night before from nerves, was hailed a 'hero' by viewers as he joked he would have to do 'twice the work'

Solo debut: The 42-year-old, who tweeted he had barely slept the night before from nerves, was hailed a 'hero' by viewers as he joked he would have to do 'twice the work'

What a relief! Relieved after his first presenting gig without Ant, the Geordie personality expressed his thanks to his legion of loyal followers for wishing him luck

What a relief! Relieved after his first presenting gig without Ant, the Geordie personality expressed his thanks to his legion of loyal followers for wishing him luck

Ant's estranged wife Lisa Armstrong also threw her support behind Dec, liking a number of supportive tweets.    

'Has the country ever wanted one person to do so well as much as tonight?' the first tweet read, while another wrote 'Well done Dec. You were brilliant as usual!'

Lisa also Kate Thornton's tweet: 'A total masterclass in professionalism tonight from Dec - doing both of you proud @ antanddec. Felt so emotional watching you fly solo.'

Flying solo: ITV bosses will no doubt be delighted with the ratings, after they were forced to pull the show last week

Flying solo: ITV bosses will no doubt be delighted with the ratings, after they were forced to pull the show last week

Dec did not directly address his co-host's absence, while guest announcer Stephen Merchant quipped he was available to join Dec on the stage if 'he needed any help down there'.

Dec joked: 'Don't worry no one has packed up and going home as it's not gone that badly. Wanna go out on a high this evening.'

read more from dailymail.....

Get the latest news delivered to your inbox

Follow us on social media networks

NEXT Strictly Come Dancing: Neil Jones gets into 'FURIOUS showdown' with Seann Walsh