It is not often that I wake up chuckling into the pillow through a throat made sore by a night of intense, stomach crunching laughter. It is also not often that I burn the toast because my mind is happily distracted by turning over the events of the previous evening. But, then, I had never been to see the auditions for ITV’s ‘Britain’s Got Talent’.
Last night, The Artist and I and a friend sat riveted and contorted through what was probably the funniest, most entertaining – and often excruciating – three hours I have had in, erm, a few decades. We ventured to the Hackney Empire under the invitation of Piers Morgan, an old friend who is now, bizzarely, a bona fide TV star on both sides of the Atlantic.
I must be one of the few people in the land not to have seen one minute of BGT. I was abroad throughout its UK arrival last summer, so I came to it cold last night. And what a delightful, emotionally oscillating shock.
Unfortunately, the poor acoustics meant we could hardly hear Morgan or Amanda Holden’s comments (maybe was a blessing), but Cowell was just a few feet away and he delivered some gems.
We sat through talking and counting (and crapping) parrots, hopeless magicians, tragic clowns (Cowell: “I am allergic to clowns”), overweight teenage Irish dancers in plastic tiaras and frizz wigs, and a fat mum in a vest dancing like Britney Spears who pitched for the sympathy vote with, “I’m doing this for my kids… one of them is disabled”.
Then there was the toe curling embarrassment of “Gunther the Geordie Porn Star” in leopard print briefs practising his pelvic action; Julie, a 41-year-old Southampton Council worker, singing Madonna’s Holiday in overly tight glittered Lycra (Cowell: “You’re like a drunk on a hen night”); and a Norwegian cleaner living in the UK “for time being” (he’s been he eight YEARS) who mimed the effects of being in a storm with a red umbrella.
There were very few genuine acts of talent on what proved to be one of the most fruitless auditions in six weeks of trawling the UK. And Hackney provided the most hostile and cynical of audiences seen by the BGT crew to date. Much has been made in the news recently of the dangers of walking Hackney’s streets at night. Well, I can assure you that its foul-mouthed youth are not to be recommended as companions in the theatre either.
A trainee lawyer dancing like Michael Jackson stole the show and easily made it through to the next round, but I won’t give away the comic brilliance of his act.
I chatted to Cowell and Morgan backstage afterwards. Both looked a touch exhausted and exasperated with the draining demands of the BGT auditions juggernaut. Cowell said that he was running out of things to say to these people, but I beg to differ. The line of the night was all his and it was this one which had me chuckling again in today’s reverie.
It came when a man of 84 called William humbly took to the stage to play Edelweiss on the harmonica. He quietly, but proudly, said he had been playing for 60 years. He then proceeded to silence the baying Empire mob with the dullest, most pedestrian performance in history. There was a very real stench of sympathy and awkwardness. 60 years, for that?
With profound and deadening understatement Cowell looked at him unsmilingly and said: “I think you could do with a little bit more practice.”