Simon Cowell talks about the new series of Britain's Got Talent which returns on Saturday, April 9th at 7pm.
How do you feel about getting your show to its tenth anniversary?
I’ve got to be honest with you it takes me back. I can remember shooting our first series and not being 100 per cent certain on what it was going to be like. Then I will never forget that Paul Potts audition and Connie Talbot, who sung Somewhere Over The Rainbow. I really vividly remember both those auditions thinking, ‘God, this is really going to be a great show’. Paul, in a weird way, defines the whole show and what it’s all about. It’s different from other competitions because I’m not sure other competitions would have got him to enter
So Paul’s audition is when you realised you were onto a winner?
When I saw the show back and I saw Paul’s audition in the context of the show and the way the whole story played out, at that point I wasn’t a producer on the show anymore, I was just someone watching it. I was standing up clapping and thinking it was fantastic. It was exactly the show I wanted to make when I came up with the idea in the first place. It had to be good, it had to be a bit crazy. It’s great.
Amanda has been on the show since the beginning, why do you think she’s lasted when other judges have come and gone?
Even if we were to say, ‘You’re not on the show’, she would still turn up. So I think we are stuck with her until the show ends. Right until that point she will still be sitting in that chair.
Do you think the public perception of her has changed while she’s been on this show?
I do actually. I think people have got to know her personality. I mean, I didn’t know much about her until I worked with her. She has an incredible sense of humour, always fun, always up, loves being on the show. She’s like something out of a Carry On movie, everything is a double entendre, like those postcards you can buy from Blackpool, that’s Amanda. I do love her.
What about Ant & Dec?
When I think of the show I always think of Ant & Dec. When the show first started I didn’t know what they were doing in the wings, because I couldn’t see them, until I watched the footage back. They are very funny, they like the show and it’s their humour. The boys and myself have a very similar sense of humour, so we do crack each other up a lot, it’s like a joke only we get.
Do you have any secrets about them?
There is a side to them that people don’t see where they are very naughty. I work late, they are used to working early, so sometimes we don’t finish until one in the morning and I am watching them in the wings. They are literally banging their heads against a wall going, ‘Get us out of here Simon’. So I deliberately slow things down and ask loads of very slow questions to wind them up. But what they are is very loyal – and the hardest working people I have ever seen in my life. I have never seen them off it, whenever an act is there they are on the ball every single time. That’s part of their success and their charm.
How has your relationship with them and Amanda changed over the decade?
It sounds like a cliché but you do actually become friends. I see them outside of the show, we work on other projects together and there’s a real shorthand. When you work with Ant & Dec they are so good it’s quick. We get each other and we look out for each other. They define the show. Amanda is exactly the same off camera as she is on, there is no difference other than she doesn’t cry in real life! I’ve never seen Amanda cry off camera! She saves it for the camera.
How do you think you’ve changed since the first series?
I see clips from the earlier shows sometimes and I’m like, ‘Maybe I was a little bit hard on those people!’ But if you are going to be a judge on a show then you have to judge, there’s no point saying to someone you like it if it’s terrible. It’s a very different thing when you judge a variety show to a music show because I am outside of my comfort zone. I was thinking about it before and I didn’t know if I could do it or not. But then actually, I think I know when something is good and entertaining or when something is boring. So I find it quite easy now. But have I changed? I’ve maybe got a bit softer now that I have Eric and my dogs!
There have been big changes in your personal life that no one could have predicted happening in series one...
I never thought I would be a family man, I mean seriously, I wouldn’t have guessed that. But then, you know, things happen in your life and you embrace it. It’s good. What it’s done, and certainly after ten years, is make me appreciate more the support we have had for the show. It’s been great. I can remember the first ever review for the show, it came in about midnight and I remember reading it thinking, ‘Bloody hell, I thought it was good’, it was the most damning thing I had ever read in my life. So we didn’t know if it was going to be a hit or not. But it took on its own steam and the rest is history.
Has it changed your opinion of Britain?
It’s made me like the country more! It’s very important when you work in London to remember there is a place outside of London. When I go around the country, whether it be to Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle or Leeds, Wales or Scotland - it doesn’t matter. You always get a good welcome. Everyone in the crowd is up for it, for great fun, and that’s what the show is all about!
What impact do you think it’s had on TV in general?
Last year the show officially became the biggest show in the world. It was in the Guinness Book of World records. So when you see these shows in Mongolia, America or places I have never even heard of and everyone’s coming on and singing, juggling or whatever, that’s when I feel most proud. An idea that starts in your head and then spreads all over the globe, it’s incredible to see that.
Even with the format all over the world, the British show is still considered the best…!
You’re absolutely right. Again, this year we have a tonne of people entering from around the world. In fact, they have even entered other shows and won other Got Talent shows. But they all say the same thing, that there’s something about the British show that they want to be on and want to win. They have worked hard, the producers on this show, and we have a track record with people like Paul, Susan Boyle and Diversity, that you can actually go on and have a career off the back of the show.
Do you think this show has boosted ‘Brand Britain’ around the world?
I think the fact that Got Talent is aired in so many countries; I think it shows us in a fun way, that the British can laugh at ourselves and have eccentric talent all rolled into one. I think it’s good for us and it’s good for the country.
Have you had any feedback from the Royals about it?
I don’t hang out with the Royals! The fact is though, they have allowed us to put an act on the Royal Variety, because they could have said no after three or five years, but they like it. It’s a big deal for the contestants. Again, with the overseas contestants they all say they would love the chance to perform in front of the Royal family because that’s a unique prize.
What did you think of the storm that followed last year’s final?
I’m used to it, to be honest with you. Listen, it’s not a hurricane! There were three dogs and not two dogs, you have to put it into some kind of context. At the same time, I am responsible and the viewers have to trust us. It’s got to be fair but when you make live shows there’s always a risk that something could go wrong. But I am never afraid to deal with it afterwards. I’ll always deal with it head on and there was no intent to deceive anyone.
When Alesha pressed her Golden Buzzer you seemed annoyed that she had got there before you, what was that about?
I wasn’t thinking too much about it and then as soon as she pressed it I just thought, ‘Oh God, I would have liked that choir’. That’s the kind of competition element there is between the judges, we all want to buzz for the best one. I would have buzzed if she hadn’t because they were fantastic.
Amanda soaked you during auditions, were you annoyed?
You know what? There are certain things with her that really do annoy her. I thought it was quite funny, comparing an act to spending an evening with Amanda. But I found her Achilles heel because she really was annoyed about it. Then as I was commenting on the act further she thought it was just me talking about my night out with her, so she threw more water over me. I’m used to it! I kind of wanted her to throw even more on me because I wanted to annoy her some more. It was making me laugh and I was trying to ignore the fact I was soaking wet. But I have found her Achilles heel now and it will be used more.
Contestants who have already won other Got Talent shows have auditioned this year, do you think viewers might not believe that’s fair as they have an unfair advantage over other acts?
They might think that and they may not vote. I don’t think it does any harm injecting some people who have already won the competition in other countries because I think it makes everyone else work that bit harder. At the end of the day we don’t control it, the public do, it’s their choice. Whatever we do, there will be criticism. If we don’t have acts from other countries, why don’t you? If you do, then why are you? If it’s good for the competition then we should encourage it. One act, who swallows a sword, is literally the scariest thing I have ever seen on a live stage and for that reason I’m glad he’s there. He deserves it.
Do you think the calibre of magicians is better this year?
I am seeing a lot of people do the same thing, a lot of it is small, and I like the big magic acts. But it’s definitely popular again. I’m starting to believe that people do have magic powers because there were certain things you just can’t work out how it happened unless it was magic.
If you had magic powers what would you do?
I’d make someone disappear for a while, you know who. Just to have that ability to go, ‘Do you know what? Just disappear for five minutes’ and do it, or maybe ten minutes.
Have the comedians been any better this year?
I don’t like comics, more importantly David hates them. He says he likes them but I watch him when there is someone who is funny and he’s got quite narrow eyes anyway but they almost shut because if someone else is making the audience laugh he sulks. He pretends he likes them but he actually hates them.
How have you been getting on with David this year?
When I wind him up he gets really annoyed with me. A ventriloquist came on and he really made the audience laugh, I looked over at David and he was sulking for a long time. He knows that I know he does that.