Look out Ant & Dec! Hes spent five years consoling the deluded also-rans on Britains Got More Talent but now Stephen Mulhern says hes ready for…
Look out Ant & Dec! He’s spent five years consoling the deluded also-rans on Britain’s Got More Talent but now Stephen Mulhern says he’s ready for the top job…
11:42 PM on 27th May 2011
Stephen Mulhern must have the most emotionally taxing job in showbusiness. Every week he’s there, commiserating with losers, celebrating with winners – and consoling the frankly deluded. Stephen presents Britain’s Got More Talent, the spin-off that follows the main BGT show on Saturdays.
This series Michael McIntyre and David ‘The Hoff’ Hasselhoff are sitting in the chairs vacated by judges Piers Morgan and Simon Cowell, although Simon will return this week for the live finals. How do the newcomers feel about his return ‘They’re nervous,’ says Stephen. ‘They think, “Teacher’s coming back”. They have a feeling Simon will be judging them.’
Stephen is a BGMT veteran. For five years since the first series of the ITV show, he’s been behind the scenes at the auditions, watching thousands of acts from the weird to the heart-soaringly wonderful. He was there when Susan Boyle arrived with a single sandwich to sustain her through the tenhour wait before her voice transfixed the nation. He was among the first to hear Paul Potts singing the aria that sent goosebumps down a million spines. Potts remains his all-time favourite act.
Jumping for joy: After five years with Britain”s Got More Talent, Stephen thinks he”s ready to move on to bigger things
He’s also seen an awful lot of dross: ‘People say to me, “Surely the ones that are rubbish know they are” They don’t! They totally believe in themselves. And their families fuel it. If either of my brothers or sister said they were going to wear a leotard and play the spoons I’d be, “Don’t be so stupid!” ‘But there was this boy of 15; he said he could sing. He gave me a few bars of Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me. It was awful! I said to his mum, “So you think he’s good” And she looked at me as if it was blindingly obvious that he had a gift and said, “Well you’ve just heard him, haven’t you”.’
Stephen never has to say a word: viewers can construe enough from the grimaces he gives the camera. When we meet, Britney Spears look-alike Lorna Bliss has just given an X-rated performance, clad in nothing but a thong and a few sequins. ‘Before the show she was in the loo sticking bits of diamant onto her skin,’ he says. Bliss, whose voice was as tuneless as a bullfrog’s, failed to impress the judges. Did Stephen think she was good ‘Well, she did look like Britney,’ he says judiciously.
He has singled out his favourites to win – singers Ronan Parke, 12, and Michael Collings, 19 – but doesn’t see his role as a critical one. He wouldn’t want to sit on the panel; he couldn’t bear to be censorious. He leaves that to the judges, comedian McIntyre, 35, actor and singer The Hoff, 58, and actress Amanda Holden, 40. The Hoff and McIntyre seem to have opposite views on everything. Is the bickering an act ‘No, the disagreements are real,’ says Stephen. Do they get on ‘I think David gets drained by Michael’s manic energy. He’s constantly trying out gags. The Hoff gets exhausted. He goes off for a nap every afternoon.’
Hasselhoff seems to be assuming the role of the show’s resident ego. ‘The first time an act was booed and the audience shouted, “Off, off, off!”, David thought they were yelling, “Hoff, Hoff, Hoff!” He doesn’t take himself too seriously, though. He always keeps a handful of autographed photos to give out. He spins them into the audience like Jackie Chan. I’ve got a 10×8 one. It’s on my grand piano at home.’
A closed book: “I keep my private life very private” Stephen split from girlfriend Emma Barton six months ago
He”s got talent: Stephen was an accomplished musician reaching grade seven in piano and violin
Are either of the male judges as vain as Simon famously is ‘Well, Michael spends the longest in make-up. The order is: Michael, Amanda then The Hoff, but I suspect it’s because Michael doesn’t stop telling jokes, which prolongs his time in the chair. And the Hoff has a portable fold-up mirror and industrial- strength hair-dryer. When we were in Birmingham he blew all the lights with it – three times.’
I wonder how Stephen feels about Tulisa Contostavlos of R&B band N-Dubz replacing Dannii Minogue on The X Factor. ‘It’s a shame about Dannii. She’s a great judge,’ he says. ‘I think Tulisa will be incredibly honest. She won’t take any nonsense. I wouldn’t want to cross her.’ It is the closest he comes to spikiness.
Affability and good humour characterise him. Stephen, 34, who won his entre into TV as a magician, is a natural entertainer. He was raised in Stratford, east London, the third of Chris and Molly Mulhern’s four children. He inherited a skill for chit-chat from his dad, who was a fly-pitcher; an illicit trader who set up his stall on pavements in contravention of planning laws, and beguiled punters with his comic banter. ‘Dad was an early Del Boy,’ he explains. ‘He and Mum made toy Persian cats and sold 20 at a tenner each every day. Us kids were on look-out duty for the police.’
Decisive: Stephen wouldnt want to sit on the panel and leaves that to the judges, comedian McIntyre, 35, actress Amanda Holden, 40 and actor and singer The Hoff, 58
Stephen was also an accomplished musician – he reached grade seven in piano and violin – and, tutored by his father, became a gifted conjuror. When he was 17, the family decamped to Somerset. Here he won a talent contest at Butlins Holiday Camp, became a Red Coat there and at 18, the youngest member of the magicians’ society The Magic Circle. There’s a fitting symmetry in the fact he got his big break at 20 in a TV talent show where the prize was to appear in the Royal Variety Performance, as it is on BGT.
His first TV job, on the Disney Channel, followed. Then came Children’s ITV, where he secured the Saturday morning slot with Holly Willoughby, with whom he remains friends. From here, he made the leap into BGMT. Stephen is single and lives alone in the seafront flat he has owned for eight years in Brighton. An 18-month romance with former EastEnders actress Emma Barton ‘came to a natural end’ six months ago. There has been speculation that he’s gay. Is he ‘I keep my private life very private,’ he responds.
His heroes are old-fashioned entertainers like Bruce Forsyth – and his aim is to present a prime-time Saturday night family show, just like Brucie. But it must have crossed his mind that he could segue into Ant and Dec’s role, should they ever leave their BGT presenting slot. ‘Yes! It’s just getting the chance,’ he agrees. ‘Of course I’d love to – perhaps with Holly. She could be Ant and I would be Dec. I’d see us as a Morecambe and Wise-style act. She’d be Ernie, the foil,’ he theorises, before clapping a hand over his mouth. ‘What have I just said’
Stephen is a nice bloke. As we walk along the street, heads turn in half-recognition. ‘People tend to think they know me from somewhere like school. Or they say, “You’re on telly with Ant and Dec, aren’t you”,’ as if the three are in some way interchangeable; which one day – if Stephen continues on his current upward trajectory – they might be.
Britain’s Got More Talent is on ITV2, tonight at 9pm. BGT live finals begin on Monday at 7.30pm on ITV1 and will run until Saturday.