Talent show sob stories Read these and weep
Think today’s reality TV contestants have had hard lives Look what happened to these New Faces finalists from 1986 after they tasted fame, says one former judge
On Sunday night, X Factor will crown this year’s winner amid drama and tears. The jubilant victor will be looking forward to the start of what they assume will be fame and fortune. The losers will be waking up to the prospect of life out of the spotlight for the first time in months.
Either way, I suspect that by Monday evening watching TV will be the last thing on their minds. But that would be a mistake. Because I can only urge all of them to tune into an hour-long documentary on BBC2.
Called I Had The X Factor… 25 Years Ago, it charts the dramatic ups and downs of six performers who were all on the grand final of New Faces – the big ITV talent show of its day – in 1986. For the X Factor contestants, watching this programme could be the most valuable experience of their young lives.
I Had The X Factor… 25 Years Ago, charts the dramatic ups and downs of six performers who were all on the grand final of New Faces – the big ITV talent show of its day – in 1986
None of the New Faces finalists are now household names. But they have stories that take us through disastrous love lives, lost fortunes, an unlikely reappearance on Britain’s Got Talent, to a prison sentence and homelessness. I have to declare an interest.
I was a judge on New Faces and was called ‘Nasty Nina’ for giving honest opinions, la Simon Cowell. The shows were hosted by the late Marti Caine, who’d been the ultimate winner when the series started in the Seventies. Victoria Wood, Lenny Henry, Les Dennis and Jim Davidson had also been discovered on the show, watched by some 15 million people.
Celebrity judges were drafted in for the 1986 final – Jim Davidson, actress/ singer Millicent Martin and theatrical impresario Bill Kenwright. I was detailed to bring the all-important phone vote results onstage at the end. I remember a drunken Jim Davidson taking a swing at me unprovoked, at the party afterwards, slurring, ‘What the **** do you know about the business’ In those days, there were no hearttugging back stories, no tales of dying grannies or sick puppies.
New Faces: Nina, right, with fellow judges Tim Rice and Lynsey de Paul
A performer walked on stage, and that was what you judged – their performance. So watching this documentary was a revelation. The stories of the six make riveting viewing. (The overall winner, Duggie Small, a 5ft 2in Scottish comic who dressed as Superman, was sadly too ill to take part in filming.) After the final, Vinny Cadman, one half of comedy double act Walker and Cadman, was in big demand on the club circuit but in 1989 work dried up.
He has three ex-wives, eight children and did a stint in prison brought on by alcoholism – which led to homelessness and a year in which he made his home in a rubbish skip. Yet he’s still obsessed with fame, explaining, ‘Winning the lottery couldn’t top it, shaking hands with God couldn’t top it.’ He still believes he can make it, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Some might recognise Billy Pearce, another comedian whose New Faces success led to his own BBC series You Gotta Be Jokin’.
He was earning over half a million a year, but invested in a club in Portugal and lost everything. ‘I might as well have set fire to the money,’ he says. Humble, gentle soul singerJames Stone, from Liverpool, never saw a penny of the thousands he earned. He had a very difficult upbringing with abusive adoptive parents, and New Faces brought him a manager who became like a mother tohim but who never gave him his earnings.
It’s fascinating how far their blind pursuit of stardom has wrecked their lives to varying degrees. And how most of them now measure success by the love in their life…
‘Where did the money go’ he asks now, not angry, merely puzzled. ‘Hundreds of thousands.’ He’s still chasing the dream – three years ago he made it through to the semi-final of Britain’s Got Talent. Another whose life was changed by the show was Julie A Scott, the soprano. She was 29 at the time and wanted to be a star. ‘But if I hadn’t had that little taste of stardom, that dream might have died.’
Now a cruise singer, she has never married and never had children. ‘You put it off and the years fly by. Now I’m too old.’ She adds wistfully, ‘I think I’d have made a good mum.’ Now she lavishes her affection on her dog, and admits the love of her life has been her career. Gary Lovini, the violinist, who won the studio vote on the final when he was just 17, explains the seduction of fame. ‘When you’re famous, it’s all about you. Everyone wants to meet you, to be with you.’
Now a cruise ship entertainer, he’s enjoyed a happy life and a degree of success. He drives a Porsche and has a rock-solid marriage. ‘I feel very lucky,’ he says. ‘My showbusiness friends have been married two or three times.’ Wayne Denton, who croons like Neil Diamond, still works but has had a tangled love life. New Faces for him meant that demand in clubs shot up. ‘I was working seven nights a week, driving many hours on the road. Showbusiness helped me find the girls.’
His marriage broke up. We see him in the Ukraine, marrying a very pretty, young girl he met through a dating agency, but he says, ‘I envy people who find love early and stay together.’ It’s fascinating how far their blind pursuit of stardom has wrecked their lives to varying degrees. And how most of them now measure success by the love in their life, rather than the stars in their eyes, or money in the bank. There’s a lesson from the past to be learned.
I Had The X Factor… 25 Years Ago, Monday, BBC2, 9pm.