The 52-year-old told his listeners: “It’s so great to be back at Virgin and I have to say it’s a real treat. I feel blessed and we couldn’t be more grateful.”

Evans left the BBC Radio 2 breakfast show in December after eight years at the helm, with Zoe Ball taking over.

He revealed that Ball had texted him the night before his debut – and thanked her on air for the good luck message.

Evans’ return to Virgin Radio, which he used to own, comes 18 years after he was sacked by the station for “breach of contract”.

Although he had claimed he was unwell, he had been spotted drinking in multiple pubs with his then wife Billie Piper.

On his first breakfast show with Virgin in October 1997, he left bosses panicking after arriving just five minutes before he was due to go on air.

Monday’s debut was a lot smoother – but in a break with tradition, Evans kicked off the programme with a live performance by The Verve’s Richard Ashcroft, who performed the band’s 1997 hit Lucky Man.

Revealing Ashcroft’s presence in the studio, Evans said: “There’s been a lot of talk about what’s the first song I’m going to play, but of course I just press buttons, I don’t play songs.

“Musicians play music, so how about we get a musician to play a song? Feet away from me, this morning. How about Richard Ashcroft everybody?”

Ashcroft played five songs throughout the breakfast show – including a rendition of Bitter Sweet Symphony.

Evans’ first record during the programme was Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now, and he was joined by guests including the actress Fay Ripley, along with comedians Paul Whitehouse, Romesh Ranganathan and Rob Beckett.

Audience reaction seemed generally positive. On Twitter, TV presenter James Corden said the show was making him feel “incredibly homesick”.

Evans also read out some messages from listeners on air, with one saying: “I actually dreamt I listened to your show and it went very well.”

He quipped: “That’s actually the opposite of the dream I have been having.”

A sponsorship deal from Sky means that the show will be broadcast without advert breaks, mimicking the listening experience on the BBC.

It will air on weekdays between 6.30am and 10am.

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