As Simon Cowell poaches her to rescue Britain's Got Talent, will Alesha end up paying a high price for her ambition
Strictly wise Alesha Dixon has been wooed by ITV and will now be a judge on Britain's Got Talent
The BBC say it was shocked by Alesha Dixon’s decision to abandon Strictly Come Dancing for a judging job on Britain’s Got Talent. If so, they can be the only ones in showbusiness that were.
For the truth is 33-year-old Dixon has been pursuing Simon Cowell with almost embarrassing ardour for many months.
Last spring, Alesha was to be found musing in a magazine interview that the X Factor was ‘more creative’ than Strictly. It was a blatant play for a slot on one of Cowell’s judging panels.
But just in case the message hadn’t got through, she followed it with a tweet a few weeks later that said: ‘Off to Syco now for a meeting! Loving the sun!’
Syco, of course, is Cowell’s company.
The BBC was furious. Executives were shocked that she would openly woo Cowell, who has a golden handcuffs deal with ITV. Rattled BBC bosses insisted she should make a renewed commitment to being a judge on Strictly, which she duly did. But not, it seems, for long.
Behind the scenes, negotiations continued, and I understand that by November Cowell and Alesha had agreed terms for her to join Britain’s Got Talent.
For Alesha, the appeal was obvious: she was to receive more than treble her 100,000 pay as a Strictly judge and she had Cowell’s assurance there would be no problem about her promoting her music career while being a judge on the show.
For in addition to joining ITV, she is hoping to bring out an album in 2012 and remains hopeful about getting a record deal in the U.S. — putting behind her the embarrassment of her last single reaching an abysmal 78 in the charts.
The time between then and Christmas was spent in rather fraught negotiations between Alesha’s agent and Syco executives as they tried to iron out the wrinkles in her contract.
This time, Alesha let nothing slip to her BBC bosses, even though she knew at the Strictly end-of-series party in Blackpool that it would be her last chance to share a glass of champagne with the team who had come to regard her as a friend.
That took considerable self-control, though one acquaintance tells me that she did seem ‘very giddy,’ for reasons which now seem obvious.
As they were: Cowell and Amanda Holden will be back for the new series, but David Hasselhoff and Michael McIntyre will not
The first the BBC knew of her plans to leave was a phone call from her agent Malcolm Blair on Monday, who told them bluntly: ‘I am sorry, but she has decided she doesn’t want to do Strictly.’
Alesha seems to have had no personal contact with any of the top brass on the show. It’s all rather ruthless, but then as a BBC source said: ‘The secrecy makes it seem very hard, but that is just the way the business works these days.’
Within a few minutes, ITV released the news that they had signed her on to the panel of Britain’s Got Talent, alongside Cowell, Amanda Holden and David Walliams.
For its part, the BBC is attempting
to be magnanimous. ‘We really do cherish Alesha,’ a source in the
Stictly production team told me. ‘It is her prerogative to say what she
does and doesn’t want to do.
'She is a part of the Strictly family and the programme really is a family.
Who will replace her Who will sit with Craig Revel Horwood, Len Goodman and Bruno Tonioli
'We want only the best for her, and if she is getting three times as much money elsewhere then you have to try to understand it.
‘The view here is that the BBC did a lot for Alesha and she acknowledges that.
'We helped to build her into a prime-time TV presenter. She was given a lot of help, particularly in the early days.’
Indeed, she was hated by many fans during her first series in 2009 — online messageboards were swamped with thousands demanding the return of Arlene Philips, who had been removed from the panel to make way for her.
To make matters worse, Alesha seemed out of her depth. She was much criticised for her lack of technical knowledge and her poor grammar.
There was also debate about her ‘random tens’ — top scores given for no apparent reason — and her ‘Sid James-style’ laugh, so distinctive that it has been turned into a ringtone. Despite it all, the BBC stuck with her.
For Cowell — thought to have spoken to Alesha on the phone and have secretly met her last summer — the deal is a personal triumph. He takes a childish delight in the fact he may have managed to dent the success of Strictly, which beat The X Factor in the ratings this year.
I'm off: Alesha Dixon is leaving Strictly Come Dancing after three years on the panel
Strictly is the programme his mother Julie watches in preference to The X Factor, and he has said repeatedly it is the one TV format he envies.
‘Strictly Come Dancing p****s me off more than anything else,’ he said three years ago.
‘I would love it. I just wish I owned that show.’ Since that was never going to be an option, he relished the chance to derail it by poaching one of its core judges.
A source close to Cowell says: ‘Simon has had his eye on Alesha for some time. He thinks she will be perfect for Britain’s Got Talent.
‘He likes her confidence, her glamour and her ambition. It was all kept secret because that is the way he likes to work.
‘Simon is determined to make the show very much better this year. He is offering 500,000 prize money rather than 100,000.’ And the fact is that Cowell is under pressure from ITV to make Britain’s Got Talent a bigger success than it was last year, when the show dipped beneath the key figure of ten million viewers.
It is a measure of his desperation that he has decided to return to the judging panel, after comedian Michael McIntyre and Baywatch actor David Hasselhoff failed to lift interest in the show.
Yesterday, Cowell said: ‘I want to change the perception of the show. Even though they are both my shows, I would like to find a better winner on Britain’s Got Talent than on the X Factor.
‘To me, it’s a challenge. You want someone who can be a star all over the world — I want this show to be back in the world’s spotlight.’
Triumph: Dixon and Matthew Cutler in the final of Strictly Come Dancing in 2007
For Alesha, who was raised in modest
circumstances by a single mother in Welwyn Garden City, Herts, this will
be her biggest break yet.
had a fleeting moment of fame with the girl-band Mis-teeq, but that
ended when their record company, Telstar, went into administration. But
unlike the other band members, Alesha wasn’t willing to accept that was
the end of her time in the spotlight.
started again as a solo artist with Polydor, but they let her go
without releasing her album. At this low point she discovered that her
husband of a year, MC Harvey, was cheating on her with her friend Javine
She reinvented herself with a dazzling turn in Strictly in 2007 and after being voted the winner she took on numerous endorsements. In 2009, she landed the job as a Strictly judge.
Home is a four-bedroom new-build near Welwyn, which she shares with her cousin and two dogs, Roxy and Daisy.
Apparently, two of the four bedrooms are given over to housing her enormous wardrobe.
And the switch to Britain’s Got Talent is by no means the end of her ambitions.
She has said she would like to get into politics one day and even told the Mail’s Weekend magazine that she dreams of becoming the next Oprah Winfrey.
What she won’t want, of course, is to be the next Kelly Brook or Cheryl Cole — two women who were sacked by Simon Cowell after less than sparkling appearances.
The BBC may have been happy to give her a couple of series to settle into her role, but Cowell will have her out within weeks if her pretty face does not fit, so it’s a big gamble for her.
Youth vs experience Actress Kara Tointon (left) and professional Karen Hardy (right) are favourites to join the Strictly Come Dancing judging panel
And what about Strictly Who will replace Alesha on the panel
The odds favour professional ballroom dancer Karen Hardy, who danced on the show from 2005 to 2008. William Hill have her as the 4/6 favourite and the messageboards are humming with her praise from devotees.
Others mentioned are Dirty Dancing star Jennifer Grey, a guest judge last series, at 8/1 and Darcey Bussell, another guest judge, at 6/1.
Arlene Phillips is only 33/1 — she has said she doesn’t want to go back, and the chances of the BBC offering her the job again seem very remote.
The BBC says it will not begin the process in earnest until March, when production meetings start, and will only need to have contracts in place by September.
‘Nothing will happen until late spring or early summer,’ said a BBC source. ‘Brucie isn’t back from Puerto Rico until April — everyone is having a bit of a break.’
Not Alesha, though: she will be back in front of the cameras on January 22 when the first televised auditions for Britain’s Got Talent begin, and she will take her seat alongside Cowell.
Will she succeed in her new role Or has she grown too big for her dancing shoes
Perhaps it would be unkind to point out that the last big female star to defect from the BBC for a big payday at ITV was Christine Bleakley, who was lured to co-host the morning show Daybreak.
And we all know how that ‘big break’ ended.