It’s been just over three years since I won Britain’s Got Talent and I thought it might be helpful to write a little blog, partly for my own therapy but also to answer that timeless and consistent question: “Did it change your life?”
Honestly, I’m not sure it did. My stock response used to be that Covid changed all our lives long before I won the show. Taking part did offer my family and I a welcome distraction from the pandemic and also from my own health issues which I’ve written about in previous blogs but now it’s three years later and I can honestly say that life in our home remains relatively unchanged from pre-covid days. It could have been a lot worse.
The prize money was a very welcome relief from almost crippling debt, compounded by all the employment restrictions that Covid bought with it. We paid off credit cards, car loans, overdrafts and other bills giving us some very welcome breathing space. A few thousand went on Mum’s stairlift, a big chunk of change was my private operation which got a stubborn tumour in my neck removed 4 weeks quicker than on the NHS. That led to my observation that winning the show quite possibly saved my life, not wanting to be too dramatic about it but who knows what could have happened if I hadn’t had the finances to get the operation done before it worsened?
In answer to the other common inquiry: “What was it like winning the show during lockdown?” I can only offer my stock response that I have no experience of winning the show out off lockdown so I have no comparison. I imagine I would have been on the road quicker performing shows all over the country, maybe more lucrative corporate shows would have been booked but then again how many of those would I have had to cancel in order to make my numerous hospital appointments? By the time I started immunotherapy, there were so many visits for bloods, checkups and the treatments themselves that I was thankful to be limiting most performances to the studio in my home, sometimes on the same days as visiting the hospital. In that regard it’s easy to be philosophical about it and agree that everything happens for a reason.
My treatment finished in April 2021 and so did the pandemic but by then the opportunity of ‘striking while it’s hot’ had passed. I clung to the title of ‘Longest Reigning Champion’ as they cancelled the show that year and my delayed tour was certainly affected by Covid. My tour promoter who had a lot of previous experience working with BGT acts explained that under normal circumstances, 60% of tour ticket sales are sold within one month of them going on sale. Despite winning the show by an almost unprecedented 35% of the votes (beaten only by Pudsey the dog I believe), within a month of the tour being announced, only 6% of tickets had been sold. Through my gnashing of teeth and overwhelming sense of inadequacy, my tour guy explained that it could only be attributed to Covid and it momentarily quelled the anguish. I loved the tour nonetheless. My first experience of people buying a ticket solely to see me, even in venues that sometimes were only half full, was an incredible joy and privilege and one that I can’t wait to repeat next year… hopefully in marginally fuller venues!
There were still quite a few corporate bookings which I was always asked to write bespoke songs for, some of which were a real challenge. When you get the details of a company, their mission statement, their core values and short biographies of some of the senior members of staff and are expected to write a hilarious but heartfelt three minute song to perform live at their dinner or awards ceremony… I often felt that I was (almost) deserving of some of the exorbitant fees. Of course a lot of those shows were still on line and the post-it note is still stick below the lens of my camera reminding me that ‘The Audience Is There!’ Easy to forget when you sometimes couldn’t see or hear anyone. A bit of an issue for a performer who has spent the last thirty years of his career igniting that elusive extrovert, performing spark from the energy and atmosphere of a live audience.
2022 saw the return of BGT and Axel Blake became the new champion. His subsequent tour with so many venues sold out almost made me stop looking at social media but I try not to live my life with regrets and certainly not with any envy. I got to take a whole new show to the Edinburgh Fringe which I was very proud of, (even if my one reviewer decided it wasn’t for him) and I went again in 2023 and loved it. I got to perform in my first professional panto in St Helens and had such a blast as Dandini in Regal Entertainment’s production of Cinderella to wonderful reviews. I’ve been back on a few cruises and loved meeting fans who happened to be there. Having done my first theatre tour, the luxury of arriving in a state of the art venue seating a thousand people with a live band, an acoustic grand piano and a fabulous tech team, performing two shows and then not having to load a van afterwards was bliss! Maybe no one in the audience had bought a ticket to see me but I’ll trade that for not having to try and rustle up an audience on social media. Plus of course there’s the free buffet.
I’ve also had the opportunity to do some really rewarding charity work (can anyone in my generation read that without hearing Smashy & Nicey?) as well as being asked to be a patron of a cancer charity and a dementia charity, (https://www.skcin.org/ and https://lost-chord.org.uk/) I still get to perform shows and host events to help raise money for some incredible worthy causes. It may sound trite but it’s very fulfilling to feel that you might be making a difference, however small.
It’s a common conversation after shows where I’m asked why I’m not on TV more and I don’t have an answer. My management team approached lots of programmers, agents and producers but nothing really came of it. Winning BGT certainly doesn’t get you any free passes. Perhaps because I was never really on the UK comedy circuit so no one thought I would be able to hold my own on a panel show. I suggested they give me the opportunity, even if they thought they were booking me to be the butt of a joke (you’re only here because you won a competition) I felt confident that I’d be able to stand my ground but it never really happened. Saturday Night Takeaway was fun of course, even if my actual screen time was blink-and-you’ll-miss-me!
I was hoping to perform panto again this year but nothing was booked in time. I didn’t want to be more than a couple of hours away from home so that limited my options. I’m sure there’ll be a few Christmas corporate gigs and hopefully in 2024 I’ll get to tread the traditional panto boards again.
In the meantime, I’m just grateful. Grateful that I get to spend time with my family, grateful that I’m not beholden to accepting every single gig that I’m offered to cover paying exorbitant interest rates and of course more than anything, grateful for my health. I’m also grateful to every person who has approached me over the last 1000 days to say hello, to tell me they voted for me, to ask for a selfie or to tell me their stories and how any of my silly little songs have helped them. That’s a lovely warm, fluffy feeling that I hope will never go away.
Thanks for reading another rambling of mine. If you’re frustrated that these blogs are just too short (!) then you are my target audience to pitch my new book to. It’s called Against The Odds and will be available on my website and all the usual booksellers early next year. (Possibly even this year in time for Christmas.)
I hope to see you soon, either on tour or maybe on a cruise, there’s a few in the diary. Thank you to everyone who continues to support me, those of you who follow me on social media (I’m still awful at it) and to my friends and family.