He’d have been hoping to depart in a blaze of glory from his long-standing BBC Radio 2 breakfast show, but Chris Evans has suffered the ignominy of his ratings falling to a six-year low.

Audience research body Rajar’s quarterly figures indicate that Evans’ flagship morning show pulled in 8.82 million listeners per week in the third quarter of 2018 – which represents the first time since 2012 that his ratings have dropped below nine million. It’s also a loss of around half a million listeners in the space of a year, with the same figures for 2017 recording 9.35 million.

The last time the audience dropped below that amount was between July and September in 2012, when the average was 8.5 million per week.

Chris EvansChris Evans' long-running Radio 2 breakfast show seems to be sputtering out

This decline comes after Evans last month announced his departure from BBC Radio 2 after 13 years, and eight years on the breakfast show, having signed a new deal to return to Virgin Radio. Former Radio 1 breakfast show host Zoe Ball has already been announced as his replacement, effective from January 2019.

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In September, Evans told listeners: “I'm leaving Radio 2 and since I decided this, which has been a conversation I have been having with my nearest and dearest since last year, a few weeks ago I made my mind up for sure. During that conversation it was pointed out that I had been here for 13 years and that’s a long time and I’ve been on the breakfast show for eight years which is also a long time.”

While BBC Radio 2 remains the most listened to radio station in the UK, the Rajar figures show, with over 14.6 million tuning in every week, it has recorded an overall drop of 700,000 listeners year on year. Other changes have been in the offing at Radio 2, with Simon Mayo and Jo Whiley’s Drivetime partnership coming to an end soon.

Lewis Carnie, the head of Radio 2, said: “I’m proud that BBC Radio 2 remains the most listened to radio station in the UK, with 14.64 million listeners each week.”

More: Zoe Ball to replace Chris Evans as Radio 2 breakfast show host