Alesha's new job Didn't she do well! Sir Bruce Forsyth holds court on Alesha, Cowell… and why he’s at the top of his game at 83
Nice to see you! Bruce Forsyth will be performing at the National Television Awards this week
As he prepares for this week's National Television Awards (expect a very
special performance), Sir Bruce Forsyth says his
Strictly co-star's hit the jackpot with Britain's Got Talent – and he
has no plans to retire…
Sir Bruce Forsyth is doing a rather good impression of someone doing an impression of Bruce Forsyth.
'I heard Michael Caine say that when people “do” him, they do the version of Michael Caine they remember from 30 or 40 years ago,' he explains. 'It's the same with me. They go, “Didn't he do well. Good game, good game…”'
Blimey. His voice has shot up into the rafters – it's uncannily accurate, though. Was the high voice part of the act, or was it really how he spoke
'It was real,' he confesses. 'I'm
quite shocked myself when I listen to what I sounded like 30 years ago.
The pitch is completely different now – everything is much deeper.'
So it's official. Brucie has mellowed. Would he be offended at the
suggestion that the Brucie of old sounded as camp as a row of tents Not
in the slightest.
a bit camp, wasn't it' he chuckles. 'On the camp scale I wasn't up
there with Russell Grant, but people did think I was gay when I first
started. Even my walk looked a bit gay, but then a lot of comics had a
gay walk at that time – people like Bob Hope, Jack Benny. I proved
afterwards that I wasn't gay… probably too much in some regards.'
He segues neatly into some delicious observations about how he can
always tell who'll be a good dancer from the way they walk – a handy
skill to have on Strictly, one assumes. And which showbiz rival does he
think might be dynamite on the dancefloor Step forward Simon Cowell,
who has, in Bruce's opinion, a 'very good movement about him. He has a
certain gracefulness of attitude. I think he'd be a very good dancer.'
Do you think he'd do Strictly, though 'I'm sure if he's interested, we'd be interested.'
What tip-top form our longest-serving
showbiz legend is in. The quick quips just keep coming. My favourite
anecdote is when he recalls the moment that even 70 years in
showbusiness could not prepare him for – when Nancy Dell'Olio stepped
out of her coffin in her last dance for Strictly.
Nancy, she does make me laugh. All that stuff about being the most
famous Italian since Sophia Loren. But what does she do She just does
being Nancy. Her attitude to life is quite something.'
about his attitude to Nancy 'I think if I were alone with her, I'd be a
bit scared,' he laughs. It's clear Brucie has no worries about
personnel changes in the Strictly line-up though. Just before we speak,
it is confirmed that Alesha Dixon is deserting Strictly to join the
Britain's Got Talent panel.
Surprisingly, given the rivalry between the shows, he thinks it's a good move for Alesha. 'We're going to miss her tremendously, but I think she will be great on that show. She'll get more exposure and be heard more. She'll have a chance to show off her great sense of humour. I think she will do marvellously.'
Doesn't he feel let down at her defection 'Not in the slightest. It may be called showbusiness, but I'm not sure people always realise that it has always been more “business” than “show”.' Yet Bruce hasn't always agreed with the line-up decisions made by his Strictly bosses.
'Three series ago we didn't have the best group of celebrities and I think it showed,' he says. 'But the line-up in the last two series has been fantastic. It's great to have celebrities that the public recognise and want to get behind.'
Oh, what a Knight! Sir Bruce Forsyth, 83, at the piano at his home
Hardly surprisingly, he's all for including more older celebs in the show, and older women too. Putting the likes of Lulu, Anita Dobson and 'the marvellous Pamela Stephenson' on Strictly has helped the BBC 'sort out' the problem of the lack of older women on our screens.
The relaxed, wisecracking Bruce Forsyth I'm talking to today is a very different Brucie to the one I first interviewed just after he'd filmed the 2003 episode of Have I Got News For You, which relaunched his career on the small screen. That Bruce wasn't exactly hostile, but he wasn't laugh-a-minute either, and was touchy when we veered into any suggestion of a showbiz 'comeback'.
As far as he was concerned, it became patently obvious, his career had never gone away.
'Ah, but you have to remember you were dealing with a very different man then,' he says. I didn't have a TV career at the time. ITV had finished with me and it was a very uncertain time. I'd agreed to do Have I Got News For You – against all the advice, really. People told me I would fall flat on my face. There was a lot riding on it.'
In the event, his appearance on the quick-fire news quiz was a triumph and it was his former TV bosses who were left looking frankly daft as Brucie embarked on a whole new showbiz chapter, at the helm of Strictly when it began in 2004.
Presumably having that 'gig' in the diary – and for the foreseeable future – has helped him feel more relaxed than he did back then
Wishing her well: Bruce Forsyth leans in for a kiss from Alesha Dixon on Strictly Come Dancing
'It's funny because when you start in
this business as I did, in variety, you always wanted to know you had a
few weeks booked. The nature of the job is that you can work for a week,
then have six off, and you spend a lot of time not knowing where the
next work is coming from – no good at all if you have a family. You
always crave the security of having something in that diary.
'I'd like to think I've reached a point now that, if it all ended tomorrow, it wouldn't bother me. But I won't test the empty diary thing just yet, if you don't mind.'
Indeed, the Forsyth diary is looking surprisingly full, considering this is a man who is semi-retired. When we turn to the fact that he's still slogging away at nearly 84, he points out he hasn't worked more than six months of the year for the past 25 years.
Every year, when Strictly finishes,
he decamps to his wife Wilnelia's native Puerto Rico for four months to
recharge the batteries. They have a house on the coast in Dorado and a
flat in the capital, San Juan. Bruce spends his time playing golf,
reading books and meeting friends for dinner. 'And I even help Wilnelia
with the washing-up,' he laughs.
year, however, he will be returning to the UK to appear at the National
Television Awards, which is live on ITV1 on Wednesday night and where,
word has it, he'll be opening the show with 'something very special'.
will also be crowning this year's winner of the Special Recognition
Award, which he won in 2011, and will be hoping to collect a trophy
himself with Strictly.
National TV Awards are very special to me and the bonus this year is
that I'll be performing and presenting, as well as Strictly having been
nominated for an award.'
Happy family: Bruce with his Puerto Rican beauty queen wife, Wilnelia
And in May, he's agreed to do a one-man show at the Royal Albert Hall, which will mark a return to his roots. He'll be singing, dancing, playing the piano and involving the audience as he does so.
There'll even be a duet with his 20-year-old granddaughter, Sophie Purdie, the daughter of Brucie's daughter Julie, herself a singer in 70s pop group Guys 'N' Dolls. The pair will perform the song Smile, which they sang together on Brucie's recent album These Are My Favourites, his first music release in 30 years.
'If you'd told me 20 years ago, when I was 64, that I'd be doing a show at the Albert Hall when I was 84, I wouldn't have believed you,' he admits. 'I can't believe it myself now.' And he is relieved beyond words that he'll be topping the bill this time as Sir Bruce.
The battle to secure a national honour for Brucie seems to have been going on for almost as long as he has. In October, he finally travelled to Buckingham Palace to accept his knighthood.
So how does he find being addressed
as Sir Bruce 'In a funny way, it's friendlier than being called Mr
Forsyth, which sounds a bit formal, doesn't it I think I like it.'
have wondered if Sir Bruce will retire properly now he has his
knighthood. Does he ever worry that, by not stepping aside, he is
stopping young hopefuls from having their moment in the spotlight 'No I
don't. It's a TV world now – there are so many channels that I don't
feel I'm taking anyone else's job. In my day, we were all variety
performers and there were only so many stages.'
Chris Hollins won Strictly Come Dancing in 2009, but Brucie says it was not a stellar line-up that year
He's also relaxed about the competition. 'The truth is anyone could do my job. It's just a presenting job. Some people could probably do it better than me. Some wouldn't do it as well. But I don't lie awake at night wondering who will replace me.'
For the record, he still has no plans to quit. 'Maybe that will change. But when it's time to go, I think I'll know.'
The buzz of walking out on stage is what keeps Brucie going, yet he professes not to be 'the sort of performer who constantly needs to be on'.
He loves 'pottering around' when he's not working, whether it be on the golf course or in the aisles of his local Budgens (yes, really). 'I'm a much more relaxed person than most people think,' he says.
What does Bruce make of the showbiz world he finds himself in today There are times when he doesn't find it at all funny. 'Sometimes I do feel like a puritan, complaining about comedians going too far.' And he misses the big TV specials, 'where big stars worked together. Listen to this for a Christmas Special which we did in the 60s. You had Tommy Cooper, Frankie Howerd, Cilla Black and myself, all of us at the top of our game, appearing in the same TV show.'
Does he think they'll make a comeback 'I don't know. The old TV variety shows used to run 40 weeks of the year, drawing in the biggest stars from all over the world. I don't know if we have enough stars to meet those demands now.'
What makes a star 'That's indefinable but I will say that you have to have an ego – that's what gives you the courage to carry on.'
Last year he was reminded of his own human frailty – and need to have that ego satisfied – when he was featured in the BBC family tree series Who Do You Think You Are He discovered his great-grandfather had been a brilliant landscape gardener who, although he wasn't a bigamist, had two families – one in England and one in Atlanta – and died penniless.
The programme concluded with Bruce being shown a small plot of grass where his great-grandfather was buried in an unmarked grave. After seeing this, Bruce vowed to have a headstone erected, but he later discovered a bylaw decreed everyone buried in the same plot of land had to have their name included on the headstone as well. His response 'I paid for the whole thing, but my stipulation was that my great-grandfather's name would be larger than the other names. I wanted him to be the top of the bill.'
Who would have expected less
The National TV Awards are on ITV1 on Wednesday at 7.30pm.
To vote, go to www.nationaltvawards. com/vote-shortlist before midday on Wednesday 25 January. For tickets, call 0844 847 2536.