Yesterday I was privileged to catch up with the very talented Ashleigh & Pudsey who are currently on tour in Mission ImPUDSEYble, a show for the whole family. Ashleigh was a pleasure to interview and Pudsey is the most adorable dog I’ve ever met.
How did you and Pudsey first come together?
My mum actually bred Pudsey and I wanted to keep him but my parents said no and it came to my eleventh birthday and my parents gave me a box. I opened it up and Pudsey was inside.
How did you come up with his name?
He looked like a bear when he was a puppy, and originally I wanted to go with Yogi but we actually have a border collie called Obi and it sounded too similar. We went for Pudsey and I think it suits him.
How did you first find out he was talented?
I have trained dogs since I was about five, so pretty much my whole life. Pudsey was so unique, he always wanted to learn new things and we started to train him to do agility at first because that was my main hobby. We then moved onto canine freestyle and he was the first dog I had taught that too.
When he is performing he never looks nervous or seems to make any mistakes, it is hard to train a dog?
He does make mistakes but I’m just good at covering them up. Sometimes he gets a little bit too excited and he tries to freestyle and makes it look like part of the routine. I’m just lucky that he is a dog that loves being in the spotlight and loves what he does. It is really funny when a crowd really cheers for him as he performs better.
Has there ever been a time when he has refused to perform?
No because as long as Pudsey gets food he is happy.
Do you have any other dogs as talented as Pudsey?
I have a younger dog called Sullivan and he is currently in training. He does some things that Pudsey can’t do and he is a little bit crazy. He has never been on a stage or anything like that but he is Pudsey’s stand in just in case anything happens but hopefully that will never happen.
You appeared on the sixth series of Britain’s Got Talent, how did that come about?
It was actually my mum and my nan that convinced me to do the show. I wasn’t sure at first but I went on it and just wanted to show everyone how good Pudsey was. I never thought we would get as far as we did.
Simon Cowell was a huge fan, was it good to have him supporting you?
I think obviously Simon is the one you really want to impress. If you ask anyone who goes on the show which judge you really want to impress it is always Simon Cowell. So to have him love what we did was an honour.
Did you ever expect to be crowned the series winners?
No, never in a million years. I think with a show like Britain’s Got Talent you can’t think about getting into the semi finals or finals and you just need to try and enjoy it as much as possible.
How nerve wracking is that moment when Ant & Dec are about to announce the winner and there is a massive pause?
It goes on forever and ever but right from the beginning I though Jonathan & Charlotte were going to win. So when we were stood there as the final two acts I was convinced that they had won it. I was preparing myself to jump on them and congratulate them. When Ant & Dec said Ashleigh & Pudsey I pulled the must ugly face ever and I hid my face in Pudsey and cried.
Was it hard to have to come up with a new routine in such a short space of time between the semi final and the final?
They didn’t give me the music for the semi final routine until about a week and a half before we were due to be performing and in that time just in case we made it through we had to try and come up with a quick routine for the final. It was nerve wracking and it was scary as there were so many moves in both performances which we had never done before. Anything could of gone wrong but I think that is a risk you have to take because if you try and play it safe what is the point really. You will know that you didn’t put everything into it.
What was the response like after you won the final?
I was surprised from the very beginning at the response from the audience and the people watching at home. At the end of the day we wouldn’t be here four years later doing what we are doing without their support, so we are very grateful.
How hard is it to adjust to suddenly being thrust into the spotlight after you win a show like Britain’s Got Talent?
It is scary and the hardest thing is going from being part of the Britain’s Got Talent family to becoming part of the general entertainment world. That first year we were going from one place to another not knowing what to expect and what was going to happen. It is really scary but again it is something that you just have to go for because if you don’t it is going to come to an end.
Part of the prize of winning Britain’s Got Talent is to perform in front of the Royal family on the Royal Variety show but you also go to perform in front of the Queen at Epsom Downs racecourse, how did that come about?
I didn’t realise the Queen was going to be there until a couple of days before. At the end of the day the Queen is just a normal person and I want to put on the best performance I can no matter who is watching.
Then you performed on the Royal Variety Show....
That was a little bit more nerve wracking. If I could go back and do anything again then it would be the Royal Variety as I literally had a week to rehearse our routine. I think the reason I was so nervous was because it was a prize and people expected our routine to be amazing and better than Britain’s Got Talent.
Have you kept in contact with anyone from Britain’s Got Talent?
I work with David Walliams quite a bit which is great fun and he is such a lovely guy. I’ve stayed in contact with some of the contestants as well and Charlotte has become a good friend of mine.
Do you still watch the show?
I do when I can, this year I’ve watched the majority of it but I’ve missed a couple of shows because I’ve been away but I do try and keep up with it as much as possible.
You headlined the panto in Woking following your win, how did that come about?
Panto for me was different than anything else that we had done and I was kind of thrown into it. I had done drama and dance at school and I had to get used to very quickly being on stage without Pudsey being there the whole time.
Pudsey appeared in Mr Stink with David Walliams was that fun to do?
It was the first role that Pudsey had done on his own. It was different from anything that I had done and I had to teach Pudsey to go off with other people and do film work with me being behind the scenes. It was hard work and but was fun and I felt very privileged to be part of it.
You also got the chance to be a judge on That Dog Can Dance, was it fun to be a judge and not have the pressure of being a contestant?
I loved it and I was on the judging panel with Sharon Osbourne who was such a great laugh and she is so funny. It was a great show to do and was actually filmed in the same studios as Britain’s Got Talent and to go back and be a judge was a little surreal.
Was hard to be critical of the performances?
Yes it was but I felt like out of all three of the judges I was the one who could connect most to the people on the stage because a couple of months previous I was that person. I think I was quite a nice judge and not too harsh.
Is that something you would like to do again in the future?
Yeah I’d love to do it. I would love to be a judge on Britain’s Got Talent, I would just love it.
Pudsey starred in his own film, how did that come about?
That was something that was talked about for about a year before it actually happened. A lot of time jobs come and go that you don’t actually do and that is the way the industry is. I never thought the film would actually happen and then very quickly it went into production. It was only like five weeks filming but was a hectic five weeks but great fun.
Will you be doing panto again this year?
It is Northampton this year and it is going to be Jack and the Beanstalk but I’m not sure what part I will be playing yet. It is my home town and in the past every time I’ve done panto it has got further away from home each year.
You starred in the Wizard of Oz with Pudsey as well, was that fun to do?
My dream role was always to play Dorothy and I got to do it. It was only a short run but it was something I had always wanted to do and was a real highlight.
Pudsey has his own book.....
Yes his autobidography! That was just something that happened really quickly. I don’t call it an autobiography anymore I always say autobidography.
You have been involved with the charities Peta and Vets for Pets, can you tell me a bit more about that?
With Peta we were involved in the campaign to try and get animals out of circuses, which has happened now and is a brilliant cause. Vets for Pets were actually my vets anyway so working alongside them was just something very natural.
You have also taken part in Cruffs, was that before Britain’s Got Talent?
Agility was what I used to do before I did canine freestyle. When I get some downtime I still go back to that as much as I possibly can. My younger dog was competing at the World Agility Open last week representing England.
You are currently in the middle of a national tour called Mission ImPUDSEYble, is the name based on the routine you did on Britain’s Got Talent?
It is. Darren the producer and Helen came to me last summer and said they had an idea they wanted to do with me. What I have loved about this project is not only is it a stage show but I’ve had a lot of say in what we do. As a cast we work great together and that is a massive thing for me because if you and your cast aren’t working well it really does come across.
What can people expect to see when they come to see the show?
A bit of everything really. It is an interactive spy adventure and the audience play a big part in it and we really want them to participate in it as much as possible. We go around the world trying to save the day and there are acrobats and there is singing and obviously a dancing dog. There really is something for everyone.
The show has had some really great reviews, would you like to do it again in the future to new audiences?
Yeah, definitely. We did the Easter tour, we are going to be a May tour and then we have a six week summer holiday tour. We have had so many great reviews and I think the difficult thing about the show was that nobody knew what it was about as it was a new show and it was just trying to get it out there. Adults and parents have all said they have loved it just as much as the kids have.
Who is co starring with you on the tour?
Stevi Richie, he is definitely a character, a very unique person but great fun to work with.
Is there anything else you can me about that you have coming up soon?
We are actually going to be going back on Britain’s Got Talent for the final and be performing which is going to be very exciting.
Are you looking forward to catching up with all the team?
I am looking forward to it and I love Fountain Studios and all the BGT family so it will be nice to go back.
What are your long term plans?
I’m not sure what I want to do in the future, I’d like to possibly try and go back into presenting but I’m not sure where life will take me yet.
Would you ever consider appearing on another reality show like Strictly Come dancing?
Strictly would be the ultimate one and Pudsey could have a little cameo role. So I would like to do Strictly or I’m A Celebrity Get Me out of Here as I love that show too.
What do you think you would be doing now, if you hadn’t appeared on Britain’s Got Talent?
I have no idea, I had no idea what I wanted to do at all and this is kind of a blessing for me. I have always believed that everything happens for a reason and I am just very lucky that I am here now.
There was a bit of controversy after Jules and Matisse, another dog act, won Britain’s Got Talent last year when it was revealed she had used a substitute dog, what did you make of that controversy?
It is so difficult because at the end of the day she did train both of those dogs and you don’t know what happened behind the scenes whether it was Jules idea or the producers suggested it. I don’t think it was very fair to her that her win was spoilt a little bit by all the drama that happened straight after the final. She is a very good dog trainer and we are two very different acts. Jules tells a bit more of a story whilst Pudsey and I dance.
Pudsey appeared on the last series of Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway, on the who shot Simon Cowell comedy sketch and was revealed as the one who did it, was that fun to do?
Yeah he didn’t even tell me about that! That was great fun and it was three days worth of intense filming and one day we had literally everyone involved there. It was a little bit hectic but great fun.
The dates for the May and June leg of the tour are as follows
Fri 27th - Sat 28th MALVERN - Festival Theatre 01684 892277
Sun 29th - Mon 30th DARTFORD - The Orchard 01322 220000
Tues 31st LOWESTOFT - Marina Theatre 01502 533200
Wed 1st LOWESTOFT - Marina Theatre 01502 533200
Thurs 2nd - Fri 3rd WATFORD - Colosseum 01923 571102
Sat 4th - Sun 5th SOUTHEND - Cliffs Pavilion 01702 351135
Fuller tour details can also be found here.