It’s one week since I was on stage at the BGT studios and I heard Dec announce that the winner of Britain’s Got Talent 2020 is… [ridiculously long pause while I thought I might actually faint] … JON COURTENAY!!!
According to the broadcast I then fell to my knees as gold pyros exploded all around me. I’ll rely on what I saw on the screen as I have very little recollection of it happening at the time. The wonderful Jade and Christian were on the other side of Ant and Dec representing Sign Along With Us as runners-up and Steve Royle had just left the stage having come third. It was the culmination of a nine month ‘journey’ through some of the strangest experiences that the world has ever encountered, and that would have been true even if I had never applied for the competition.
I’ve written in earlier blogs about the auditions and semi finals, I just wanted to write a little bit about my experiences since then. If you’re looking for scandal or gossip then I must disappoint you, I think you’d be hard pressed to find any previous winner talk about the experience of winning in a negative context, certainly not in the immediate aftermath. I’ve said all along how incredibly friendly and accommodating the entire team is who work on the show, from my first introduction to them all at the London Palladium in January to the emotional goodbyes backstage after the finals had been broadcast on October 10th, my experience of this television juggernaut has been overwhelmingly positive. I honestly didn’t expect it to be. The cynical me was prepared to be manipulated and coerced to bend to the will of these seasoned producers and directors. This was Simon Cowell’s show (and Charlie, the Chief Executive) and I told myself right from the start that the focus was on it being a ‘TV show’ rather than a traditional ‘talent show’ along the lines of Opportunity Knocks or New Faces from back in the 70’s and 80’s. Back then, a successful appearance on one of those shows could guarantee you a long and fruitful career in show business with offers of summer seasons, panel shows or even your own TV show with your name in the title. Celebrities who started their careers through those channels include household names (to those of a certain age) such as Les Dawson, Tom O’ Connor, Roy Chubby Brown, Lenny Henry, Jim Davidson and the inimitable Victoria Wood who’s name I’ve been hearing a lot recently. Today the summer seasons are gone and the pier shows have shut shop and having watched BGT for the last thirteen years I’d seen the acts that were train wrecks being put in front of the celebrity judges just because they would make good television. Having been a successful cruise ship performer for many years, I would bristle with indignation whenever Simon would use the phrase ‘cruise ship act’ as a detrimental term. I’d used all these reasons as excuses not to put myself forward for the competition in previous years but the truth is the show has evolved over the years. Certainly since Simon’s son Eric was born he has mellowed considerably and the show has focussed more on genuine talent rather than trainwreck-TV in recent years, so I had no excuses left.
I’ve always written songs for my one-man show and I enjoy writing last minute compositions to include events that have transpired just before a performance. An audience always appreciates it when they realise you’ve gone to the effort of writing something topical and I seem to have tapped into that for my BGT performances. I didn’t have a long-term plan, despite my friend pointing out to me last week that I wore red, white and blue for each of my three performances. I can’t take credit for thinking that far ahead! My audition song was about auditioning and about being a Dad so it seemed to continue the story for the semi-finals to sing about when I was a boy and about my own parents then I had to write about what the world had experienced during this pandemic for my finals song. As a comedian, it’s always going to be effective if you can tap into a shared consciousness and write about something that your audience can relate to and this was something that the entire world had shared. But it was and is a sensitive topic. So many people have suffered immeasurably during these times so it had to be a very carefully composed piece. I decided to try and focus on the future and looking forward, hopefully without being too sentimental or looking at the past months through rose coloured glasses. I figured that anything that gave people a reason to smile, hope, laugh or look forward to the future could not be a bad thing and it’s how I wanted to feel myself so as with both my other songs, I just wrote from the heart.
Now it’s still a very surreal situation. As a family we were down to our last few pennies and that isn’t an exaggeration. Along with all my friends and colleagues in this business, none of us have had the opportunity to do what we love since March, the jobs that we have trained for our entire lives, the jobs that we never expected to get rich from but just knew that we were passionate about and took so much joy from doing. As a family, we’ve had to make sacrifices over the years. I’ve spent so much time away from my young children, missed celebrations, Halloween parties, Christenings, but very rarely Birthdays and never a Christmas. That was always about family. I’ve never really earned enough to put money aside for a pension just assuming that I love my job so much I would never want to retire… or be able to afford to! So winning the prize money from BGT means a little security for us. Some money for my boys when they’re older, no more crippling credit card debt and maybe we can breathe a little easier at Christmas this year. We’ve also been getting the requests from charities and people in need and I am desperate to help as many people as possible. Obviously there’s going to have to be some control over what I can get involved in and there are bound to be some disappointed people but without wanting to sound to trite, I am so excited to be able to make a difference with my recent exposure. It’s the best feeling making other people feel better, it’s been the reason for my whole career and I am genuinely excited and quite emotional to think that I have the opportunity now to take that to another level.
Then there’s the Royal Variety Show. I had my first production meeting last week with the creative team and played them what I had in mind and they seem quite excited. I’ve got no idea when it will sink in that I am going to be part of this iconic show that I watched every year with my Mum and Dad since I could sit up and focus on the TV screen! I’ve been told the names of some of the other performers in the show and that’s done nothing to quell my nerves or anticipation! To think I’m going to be standing on the same stage and taking a bow with these people is blowing my freaking mind! But, that’s going to happen and after that hopefully I’ll have more opportunities to bring smiles and laughter to audiences all over the world and yes, maybe a few tears. That seems to be a common reaction to my last three television performances but I hope they’ve been good tears. This year has seen enough of the other kind.
On a final note, another big thank you to YOU. I will never be able to say this enough but your support during these last months has meant everything. I am so excited to bring my stage show to theatres around the country next year and to meet some of the people who have written the most extraordinary messages to me since this all began. Some have moved me to tears, some have made me laugh out loud and some have made me hit the ‘block’ button! So maybe I don’t want to meet ‘everyone’, but I doubt the block-ees will be buying tickets for my show anyway!
Tickets are on sale now for my first theatre date at The Lowry in Salford on 22nd Jan 2021 (https://thelowry.com/whats-on/jon-courtenay/) and the full list of tour dates will be released soon. You can subscribe on my website to get updates as soon as they’re available. (https://www.joncourtenay.com/uk-tour/)