From wags to riches: In this exclusive extract from his autobiography, the BGT winner Pudsey tells how he and his owner Ashleigh conquered the world (with the help of ham sandwiches)
00:12 GMT, 6 October 2012
Lassie never had to deal with this sort of pressure.
The huge television studio was packed with people, and just one dog – me.
Luckily I didn’t feel completely alone as Ashleigh had carried me like a comfort blanket to the wings of the stage, where we waited for our cue. We were about to go on in the first round of Britain’s Got Talent 2012, and I’ll admit I was nervous.
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Ashleigh and Pudsey have taken the world by storm since they won Britain's Got Talent
Everyone was waiting for us, yet at that moment all I could focus on was a cardboard box beside the door. It was tatty and filled with coils of cable, but it reminded me of one I’d found myself inside a long time ago, when the thought of dancing on stage in front of millions of viewers was a world away.
Just five years earlier (OK, 35 in dog years), I’d been born, along with my brothers and sisters, in the Northamptonshire home of Penny Butler and her three children – one of whom was Ashleigh, a mere ten years old.
I wasn’t the last to be born in the litter, but my siblings treated me as though I was the runt. I lacked confidence and the only thing that fired my imagination was the time I saw an old movie on television featuring a man on a rain-swept street, singing, dancing and twirling his umbrella.
I was spellbound, but a dog dancing was beyond my wildest dreams. First I had to find a home. A succession of families came to our house and selected my brothers and sisters one by one. Eventually there was only me left, and that’s when the cardboard box came in.
At daybreak on Ashleigh’s 11th birthday, the kitchen door creaked open and there stood Penny clutching a box.
She scooped me up, placed me inside it and I was convinced I was to be sent away. I can’t describe my joy when just a few minutes later daylight seeped in through the top of the box and a familiar face peered in. It was Ashleigh, with tears in her eyes, saying, ‘Oh Mum, he’s all I’ve ever wished for.’ I’d been given to Ashleigh as a birthday present and we were about to embark on an extraordinary journey.
Ashleigh was dotty about dogs and spent as much time with me as possible
Ashleigh was dotty about dogs and spent as much time with me as possible. If she wasn’t at school she was playing with me and I felt a close connection with her from the start.
She had her mum’s kind eyes, a smile that could lift the lowest of spirits and she helped with my care and upbringing, brushing me, keeping my water fresh and helping to wean me from my mother. Sometimes, when Penny reminded her she had homework to do, she would dutifully disappear upstairs, only to reappear a few moments later, and open her books up on the floor beside me.
I would do anything for Ashleigh, although I must admit I was a bit alarmed by the birthday treat her grandma had planned for her 12th birthday.
After a short car ride we arrived at a barn with an obstacle course of seesaws, tunnels, tyre jumps and walkways. ‘Welcome to the Agility Training Centre,’ said Grandma. ‘You’re next.’ I don’t know how, but somehow I got through the course. Because I trusted Ashleigh implicitly, and wanted to please her, I went along with her new hobby.
Soon we were spending every weekend competing in agility shows where I would be rewarded with red plastic chews. Yet my passion remained dancing.
Every time Penny’s radio was on in the kitchen I twirled and swayed to the beat and when Ashleigh tap-danced in her bedroom I tried to join in until one day, Grandma declared, ‘That dog is trying to dance.’
From that moment on, Ashleigh started trying to teach me some basic moves. I learned to jump through her arms when she made them into the shape of a hoop – and she always hid a little treat for me in her hand.
One day, she brought my favourite – a little square of ham sandwich – and I was so excited I would have danced over hot coals to get it. Instead, I climbed onto the low patio wall and Ashleigh held out the offering as if I was a seal in the pool. I jumped, but Ashleigh lifted her hand at the last moment. I focused on keeping my balance and stretched up to get my treat, while Ashleigh clapped her hands in delight and said, ‘You’ve just learned how to stand.’
I practised my new trick relentlessly, and every Saturday as the whole family gathered around Britain’s Got Talent on television, I couldn’t help thinking I could do something even more pawsome if I was on the show! When the final was over, Grandma read out the instructions for anyone who wanted to enter next year. I jumped in front of the sofa, rose onto my hind legs and lifted my paws high in the air in a gesture which I hoped said, ‘I’m in!’
Simon Cowell took the pair under his wing after their impressive performance on his show
Ashleigh selected the theme tune from The Flintstones movie for us to perform to and we rehearsed our routine until it was perfect. Penny and Gran made Ashleigh a stone-age outfit with fake leopard-skin dress, matching boots and headband.
Shortly after the New Year, we were off to Cardiff to audition. After a quick brush our names were called. Ashleigh whispered that she loved me, then placed me on the stage. My nose picked up the aroma of the tiny ham sandwich Ashleigh had tucked in the palm of her hand and we spun into action.
The audience whistled and applauded as I twirled and jumped and before we knew it, it was all over. Everyone rose to their feet and Simon Cowell declared us the act he had been waiting for (although he later added that he would have put me in a prehistoric outfit too!). ‘You’re through to the next round,’ he announced, and we realised there was a nice man trapped inside the body of a hardened impresario.
Simon told us he thought we could conquer the world, and if you've been following my story since then, you'll know we've come pretty close
That night we drove home full of excitement and set about rehearsing a new routine to the theme tune from The Artist. The semi-finals were in London and this time we had a dressing room, make-up (for Ashleigh!), backing dancers and a light show. It was proper showbiz! We dazzled again and got through to the final! is… Ashleigh and Pudsey!’ We’d just won the biggest variety show in the country, been invited to Simon’s dressing room and still I hadn’t calculated how many treats I could buy with the 500,000 prize money.
Simon told us he thought we could conquer the world, and if you’ve been following my story since then, you’ll know we’ve come pretty close! We’ve flown on private jets, made guest appearances on TV shows here and across the pond and met all manner of movers and shakers, all amazed at my ability to dance.
There’s also the small matter of my burgeoning ‘bromance’ with Simon. When my schedule allows we go on walks together – he throws me sticks and I bring them back. But for the most part (an 8ft high security fence around the garden to deter dog-nappers aside) I’m still the same old Pudsey.
Extracted from Pudsey: My Autobidography, to be published by Sphere on 11 October, 9.99. 2012 Ashpen Ltd. To order a copy for 8.99 (incl p&p), tel: 0843 382 0000.