FILM OF THE WEEK: Four Lions
Sunday October 26, Channel 4, 10:05pm
As well as being a shoe-in for 2014’s biggest bogeymen, the rapid rise of Isis across Iraq and Syria has also brought the spectre of the homegrown jihadi back to the front pages. Besides the story of shoe bomber Richard Reid, the latter was a concept that played little part in the national consciousness until the London bombings of July 7, 2005. Amongst the resultant angst and soul-searching, satirist and director Chris Morris changed the focus of a project he was developing on the war on terror from one of international scope to something much closer to home. In doing so, Four Lions was born.
Despite its dark subject matter the film was widely embraced on release, with its extremely close to the bone comedy a standout for many audiences. Make no mistake, Four Lions has enough laugh out loud moments to justify its LOLcano status, even after repeat viewings. But it is as much a tragedy as it is a satire, thanks to a sensitively handled script and an unassumingly brilliant performance from Riz Ahmed.
Granted, the rag-tag group of wannabe jihadis his character Omar leads are a bunch of hopeless goofballs – hence the ensuing LOLs. However, underneath the humour lies much tenderness: Omar’s sweet (if twisted) relationship with his loving wife and son, the conflict he has with the brother that accuses him of subverting the true teachings of Islam and the ultimately caring friendship he shares with the perpetually confused Waj (better known as Fonejacker’s Kayvan Novak). By the final, devastatingly futile act, the lump that forms in your throat is inescapable. That such emotion can be engendered for men tabloid newspapers would encourage us to despise says much for power of Morris’s wonderful film.
SET THE RECORDER FOR:
Saturday October 25, Film4, 9pm
Coming a couple of years before Ricky Gervais gave us The Office, Office Space is an equally delightful look at the crushing mundanity of the modern workplace. The familiarly sly humour injected by writer/director Mike Judge (he of Beavis and Butt-head and King of the Hill fame) might explain why it failed to catch on with a mainstream audience at the box office, but it has since (rightly) become a cult classic. Gary Cole almost steals the show as the boss who personifies smarm, although top honours have to go to Stephen Root as put upon, stapler-loving employee Milton.
Life Is Sweet
Monday October 27, Film4, 11:35pm
Secrets & Lies
Wednesday October 29, Film4 1am
Ahead of the release of release of Mike Leigh’s highly-touted Mr. Turner next week, Film4 offers us the chance to revisit two of his very best. What sets both films apart from conventional narrative cinema is their eschewing of ‘plot’, per se. Instead, Leigh uses them to explore the real drama that ordinary life throws at us all, be it awkward relationships, compromised dreams or the secrets that we carry like boulders upon our backs. By presenting a version of reality embellished only by the talent of the frequently excellent ensemble casts he attracts, Leigh never fails to show us just how fascinating it can be.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Wednesday October 29, Film4, 9pm
Much like David Simon’s The Wire, Beasts of the Southern Wild shines a light on a part of America left behind by the socio-economic progress enjoyed in more affluent areas – in this case ‘The Bathtub’, an island community situated amongst the bayous of Louisiana. Where Benh Zeitlin’s film differs is the filter of magical realism through which he presents it, largely due to the child’s-eye view from which the story is told. As Hushpuppy, the young girl burdened with an overbearingly wild father and the threat of an impending storm, debutante actress Quvenzhané Wallis (who was only six at the time) is a revelation.
Thursday October 30, BBC Three, 10pm
Yes, we may all have sampled the delights that Drive serves up – Ryan Gosling, that jacket, Carey Mulligan, ultra-violence, Bryan Cranston, a searing electro score, Oscar Isaac, fast cars – several times already. But Nicolas Winding Refn’s neo-noir remains quite possibly the coolest film the 21st century has produced. So sit back and allow yourself to be thrilled, horrified and seduced in equal measure all over again.
Follow Nick Norton on Twitter @OnlyForKoolKids
Laura Palmer’s plastic wrapped body had already been discovered by the time we took our seats. We were woefully underprepared for this marathon. Other fans were equipped with sleeping bags and doughnuts; we had just brought ourselves. And we were late.
We were in amongst the ‘Peakies’: the die-hard fans of Twin Peaks. For the past twenty-five years they’ve kept the flame of this cult TV series alight with back-to-back marathons, annual festivals and even David Lynch branded coffee.
Unsurprisingly, the news that Twin Peaks will be revived as a nine-episode series in 2016 has sent tremors through its loyal fanbase. The announcement appears to have split opinion, with some grateful for its return and others doubtful that it will be able to recapture the magic of the first two series.
But what about those who haven’t yet signed up to the cult of Twin Peaks? The question remains over whether David Lynch’s finest piece of avant-garde weirdness will ever gain mass appeal.
Lindsey Bowden, producer of the annual Twin Peaks UK Festival, believes it will. She argues that, “without Twin Peaks you would have no Lost, Six Feet Under, Mad Men, Eerie Indiana, all those classic dramas.”
This drama pushed weirdness into the mainstream. It unsettled the murky waters of an inconspicuous town and in doing so, gave audiences something entirely new. Critics in 1990 hailed it as “the series that will change TV”. Thankfully, they were right. The surrealism of Twin Peaks may no longer be ground breaking, but at least we’re ready to accept it.
Although for the Twin Peaks virgin, there’s a difference between embracing the weird and jumping blindfolded and ill equipped into a convoluted world of damn fine coffee and innumerable murder suspects. Without having to dedicate oneself to a back-to-back Twin Peaks marathon, it’s unclear how audiences will be prepped for a new series.
So David Lynch and Mark Frost face a quandary: how to invite newcomers into the fold whilst satisfying the signed-up members. The latter long for unconstrained Lynch weirdness. On talking of the appeal of the annual Twin Peaks UK Festival, event organiser Lindsey explains that the festival is so popular because, “people want to be engulfed in this world.”
As we entered our tenth hour of the Twin Peaks marathon, suitably called “Into The Night”, I was beginning to understand this hypnotic attraction. Like anything with a cult following, it’s the weirdness – the assault on normality and reason – that sucks you in. As long as Lynch and Frost stay faithful to this spirit the success of a comeback, for the fans at least, is assured. In the spirit of Special Agent Dale Cooper, once you’ve eaten a couple of slices of that cherry pie, it’s pretty difficult to turn down a third.
Continuing from last week, we look at some more schools in anime that would never exist in real life. We are sticking with the supernatural, but this time around we are covering a creature from Japanese folklore, the shinigami or death god, which we have covered before in series like Death Note (No. 8).
Soul Eater began as a manga by Atsushi Okubo, running between 2004 and 2013. The anime version of it ran for 51 episodes between 2008 and 2009, with a spin-off series entitled Soul Eater Not! running as a manga since 2011. A 12-part anime of this spin-off was broadcast earlier this year.
The school setting is the Death Weapon Meister Academy (DWMA) in Death City, Nevada. The principle is the “Shinigami”, also known as “Death”, although his grim reaper like appearance is more comical than the depiction we normally have in the west. The school trains students who have ability to transform into weapons, and also trains those students who use them, known as “meisters”. The goal of the meisters is to train their weapons to kill 99 evil people and one witch. This will turn their weapons into “Death Scythes” that can be used by Death himself.
The main characters in series are the rather mature meister Maka Albarn and her laid-back partner, the titular Soul Eater Evans, who in battle turns into an actual scythe. Maka’s flirtatious and divorced father Spirit is also a weapon, and Maka is obsessed with making Soul stronger than him. Other students at DWMA include the incredibly arrogant Black Star, whose female weapon Tsubaki Nakatsukasa can take on many forms; and the son of principle, Death the Kid, who is so obsessed with symmetry (despite his non-symmetrical hair) that he carries two partners, the Thompson Twins (Liz and Patty) who take on the form of a pair of pistols. Because of this, he has to do twice the work in order to train them both.
The school is full of various supernatural beings, including Sid Barrett, a teacher who died and then came back as zombie, as a result of which he always refers to himself in the past tense; and Franken Stein, a mad scientist in the form of a Frankenstein monster whose body and clothes are covered in stiches, plus he has a gigantic bolt in his head and a habit of dissecting just about anything and anyone.
The central story sees one witch called Medusa forcing her own timid and androgynous child Crona into DWMA for the purposes of collecting the souls of good humans in order to revive an evil god. The story sees the students trying to defeat Medusa’s plan, as well as trying to get Crona to become friendlier with others.
While this is mainly an action series, for me the main appeal for Soul Eater is the humour. This ranges from simple slapstick to more character based humour. Some of the best characters in the show are ones that have been created purely for comedy rather than action. The main one of these is the legendary Excalibur. He is more powerful than any of the other weapons, and can be controlled by anyone. However he does have some problems. Firstly, when not in his guise as a sword, he looks like a sort of albino aardvark in a top hat and ruff. Secondly, Excalibur is extremely egotistical and obnoxious. He calls everyone a fool, sings songs that will get on your nerves, and whenever someone tries to control him he orders the user to obey 1,000 different rules, which include: “Never talk to me when I’m humming to myself”, “Always walk three steps behind me”, and “Celebrate Excalibur’s birthday in grand-style” – the problem with this last one being that Excalibur’s birthday is on every day.
The action is pretty decent. You have a wide range of characters with different weapons so there is a fair amount of variety to play with. Some fans however were critical about the way the series ended, primarily because near the end the plot of the anime differs considerably to that of the original manga. Whether the rest of the manga will be adapted is not yet known.
Soul Eater is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Manga Entertainment. Soul Eater Not! can be streamed on Animax.
Set in the world of promotions, Comedy Central’s new sitcom, Give Out Girls, follows four promo girls who hand out free products on the streets of the UK. The show is the brainchild of series creator, Hatty Ashdown. Ashdown, a stand up comedian and actress, devised the semi-autobiographical comedy from the six years she spent as a promo girl to pay the bills while she pursued her passion for comedy and performance.
Ashdown said that she “frequently took notes,” particularly of different characters and personalities that she came across, during her years in the promo world. The show started to come together three or four years ago, when Ashdown, who had never written a sitcom before, pitched her idea to producer Robert Popper, whose company, Popper Pictures, is a co-producer on the show.
The show really gained momentum when Popper introduced Ashdown to Tony MacMurray. MacMurray, a writer and actor by trade, had written previously for shows like Touch Me, I’m Karen Taylor and Al Murray’s Personality Disorder. The marriage of MacMurray’s sitcom writing experience and Ashdown’s natural comic talent that really gave the show life. Ashdown and MacMurray “hit it off right away” and began taking her rough ideas and crafting them into treatments.
When the show became more fleshed out, Popper took Give Out Girls to Big Talk Productions, the shingle run by the Cornetto Trilogy trio of Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost. The show was the shopped to Sky Living, but earlier this year made the transition to Comedy Central. This ultimately seems like the best decision for the show, whose offbeat, energetic tone fits well with Comedy Central’s current slate.
The show centres around four girls, Gemma (Diana Vickers), Marilyn (Kerry Howard), Poppy, (Cariad Lloyd), and Zoe (Miranda Hennessy). The obvious chemistry between the show’s principal characters was the product of what Ashdown called a “fun but heartbreaking” casting experience. On finding the right people for the parts, Ashdown said, “it sounds cliché but you knew immediately.” She spoke excitedly of the energy between the show’s cast members, including the small male ensemble that serves as a welcome contrast to the largely female cast.
The decision to focus the show on female promotional workers was partly due to Ashdown’s comfort writing in a female voice, as she explains “you write what you know” but she also acknowledged that the show’s female focus was more due to the fact that the world of promotions is a largely female one. Even going so far as to say that the industry was “very sexist” and that women who had been working for years were passed up for promotions in favour of men with far less experience.
Nevertheless, Ashdown ends up with the last laugh. On the subject of getting her show off the ground, she attributes some credit to its female focus. As she puts it, “four years ago there wasn’t so much female comedy on television.” The show itself is not exclusively meant to showcase the struggle of the modern woman, but rather to bring a fresh new perspective to the world of workplace comedy.
The show accomplishes that and then some. Give Out Girls is a funny, smart, and most of all well acted sitcom. The show takes advantage of smart writing from Ashdown and MacMurray who bring Ashdown’s experiences to life organically and hilariously. While the show is not yet slated for a series two, and discussions haven’t occurred, Ashdown remains optimistic, saying calmly, “we’ll see, we’ll see.” In the meantime she is working on a pilot, in the vein of Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, minus the cars and minus the comedians. Well some comedians. The show will focus on all kinds of creative professionals and delve into their pasts; exploring the various day jobs they held while chasing their dreams, something Ashdown is certainly no stranger to. Personally, I can’t wait to see what she does next.
Give Out Girls airs Tuesday nights on Comedy Central.
Period medical drama The Knick begins tonight on Sky Atlantic, and despite receiving little in the way of fanfare, it is one of the best new US imports to hit these shores for years.
Set in 1900, the show weaves its narrative around the personal and professional lives of a small team operating (at times quite literally) within the corridors of New York’s Knickerbocker Hospital.
Leading the way is Dr. John Thackery, a brilliant surgeon carving out a reputation as a pioneer of modern medical procedure. Problem is, he’s also a functioning drug addict, self-medicating on cocaine to get through the often extremely bloody rigours of what was still quite rudimentary surgery, then smoking opium to chase away the demons clawing at the very essence of his soul.
Add in themes of abortion, corruption, contagion, inequality, women’s rights and racism into the mix, and you have one of the headiest cocktails television has ever served.
So here are a five reasons why, metaphorically speaking, you should tilt your head back, open wide and let The Knick’s harsh yet hypnotic embrace flow through right through you:
1. Clive Owen as Dr. John Thackery
While Benedict Cumberbatch may have taken his crown as the nation’s favourite actor, Clive Owen remains a virtuoso of the craft. Playing such a conflicted, flawed character as Thackery – a whirlwind of maniacal, cocaine-fuelled inspiration one minute, a cowed, reality-bitten mess the next – might have caused less skilled performers to over-compensate. Not Owen – the camera could focus solely on his deep, magnetic, expressive eyes and they alone would tell us everything we need to know about this troubled man.
2. The genius of Steven Soderbergh
Even as an Oscar-winner, director Steven Soderbergh never really seemed well placed amongst the Hollywood rat race. Apart from the Ocean’s Eleven franchise, he just wasn’t interested in playing the game, so much so that he announced his retirement from film-making last year. Cinema’s loss is certainly television’s gain, as Soderbergh brings his uniquely filtered vision to the vice and viscera of early twentieth century New York. At times hazy and dreamlike, at others stark and sobering, it is nothing quite like the small screen has ever offered.
3. Bono’s talented daughter, Eve Hewson
Still hate the U2 front man for foisting his band’s latest album on you via iTunes? Well, by way of recompense, behold Eve Hewson, daughter of Paul (aka Bono), in the role of young nurse Lucy Elkins. Her beautifully restrained performance provides a beacon of humanity amid an otherwise sea of callousness – until, that is, she comes under the influence of Thackery. The Knick offers some substantial female characters, but be warned: it pulls no punches with its depiction of their struggle in a world even more chauvinist and misogynistic than it is today.
4. A pulsing electronic score by Cliff Martinez
This might be a period drama, but if you’re expecting a sweeping, classical score to accompany, think again. Instead, the very first thing we hear is the pulsing bass and arpeggiated synths of a modern, electronic score by Cliff Martinez, the composer whose music has soundtracked films including Drive, Only God Forgives and Traffic. At first it seems like Soderbergh is being provocative for the sake of provocation by creating such dissonance between sound and image. But gradually, as the score works its way under your skin, you realise precisely why it works. For this isn’t an idealised, nostalgic version of the past, this is the past as present: dangerously real and unforgivingly urgent for all who inhabited it.
5. It will really, really make you appreciate modern medicine
Although the scenes of surgical operations only account for part of The Knick’s overall impact, they are the ones that will stick longest in the mind of anyone even vaguely squeamish. It is, after all, set in an era where electricity was considered a modern marvel and death during childbirth was not uncommon. Soderbergh’s camera never flinches as Thackery’s scalpel, saw and retractors pierce his patients’ flesh, while the resultant gush of blood is drawn away by hand-powered suction. As Soderbergh told The Daily Telegraph recently: “I want people to feel: ‘Thank God, I don’t live in New York in 1900.’” Mission accomplished, we’d say.
The Knick begins tonight at 9pm on Sky Atlantic
Follow Nick Norton on Twitter @OnlyForKoolKids
There are so many odd schools in anime. Some are supernatural, others have unusual policies, and some are so barmy that it’s hard to know where to start. For this category, I’m not counting sci-fi shows. We don’t know what the future will be like so we can’t say if a school set in the future will be odd. Nor does it include schools in which one particular student is unusual, rather than the whole institute.
As we are soon approaching Halloween, I’m covering the supernatural schools first. Vampire Knight began as a manga by Matsuri Hino back in 2005 and has just recently ended, with the final 19th volume being released in English. An anime adaptation of the first half of the story was released back in 2008, split into two parts named Vampire Knight and Vampire Knight: Guilty. The series is a “shojo” manga aimed at young women and girls, and it has a dedicated following.
The school, named Cross Academy, is an institution split into two halves: the “Day Class” which is full of humans, and the “Night Class” which is full of vampires. However, most of the Day Class are unaware the Night Class are undead. The headmaster, Kaien Cross, is an ex-vampire hunter who has decided that the best way forward is for humans and vampires to work together, and encouraging vampires to consume a form of artificial blood instead of the real thing.
The central figure is Yuki Cross, the adopted daughter of the headmaster. She is a Day Class member of the school’s disciplinary committee, whose main job is to keep order between the students: mainly when the Day Class and the Night Class swap over, as the girls in the Day Class storm over and try to grab the attention of the handsome guys in the Night Class.
Yuki is helped by another committee member, a boy named Zero Kiryu. While they work together well, they both have different views on vampires. Yuki is friendly with them. Her earliest memory is her life being saved by a benevolent vampire after Yuki was attacked by a rogue vampire. Her saviour, Kaname Kuran, is now the president of the Night Class and she is in love with him. Zero on the other hand is a vampire hunter in training and wants to wipe all vampires out after they destroyed all that he cared for. This is compounded by the fact that Zero himself has been turned into a vampire, and is constantly worried about losing control of his mind and body. Eventually he comes to Yuki for support, and she even allows Zero to consume her blood. The story revolves around what soon becomes a love triangle between Yuki, Zero and Kaname, as well as the internal politics of both the vampire community and the vampire hunters.
Many people will be looking at this anime and will automatically be making comparisons to another similar Western story: Twilight, which is based on similar supernatural love triangle. The relationships are mostly similar: Twilight has a human girl, vampire, werewolf love triangle; Vampire Knight is between a human girl, a vampire and a vampire hunter turned into a vampire. Another similarity is when they came out: the Vampire Knight manga came out a few months for the original Twilight novel; and the anime also came out a few months before Twilight’s film adaptation. As far as I know, one difference between the two is that unlike Twilight there don’t appear to be a best-selling S&M stories inspired by Vampire Knight – so if you want to read a romantic vampire story without the guilt of knowing that it ultimately lead to Fifty Shades of Grey, then Vampire Knight’s a great alternative.
Obviously, if you are not a fan of Twilight, then this is a series that you will probably want to avoid. However, as you watch Vampire Knight and read more of the manga, you will soon spot that this series does have some depth to it. This becomes clear as you near the end of the anime (the middle of the manga), in which you learn more about Yuki’s origins and her missing memories. You learn of a big revelation which changes the dynamic of the whole tale.
Vampire Knight is a title aimed at a particular group of people. If you do fit into that group, you will no doubt be very keen on this series.
Both collections of Vampire Knight are released on DVD by Manga Entertainment.
The anime examined today is a rather special one, for me personally at least. This is because the original manga version of this title was the first manga I ever read, so watching the anime version of it brings back memories of how I got into anime in the first place.
Hyper Police is a sci-fi crime caper which also includes what is arguably the anime genre of “moe anthropomorphism” – cute personifications. Hyper Police features the most common of format this takes, which is animals, and the lead character is the most classic of anime character staples: the catgirl – basically a normal female human, but with cat ears, a cat tail, and often other behavioural characteristics. The original manga ran from 1993 and 2004, with the anime being released in the middle of this period, in 1997.
Hyper Police is set in the far future, in the year 22 HC (Holy Century), at a time in which humans are now an endangered species, with the world now mostly populated with all kinds of monsters and other such creatures. In the decaying but still vibrant Shinjuku ward of Tokyo, crime is dealt with both by the normal police and firms of bounty hunters. One of these is “Police Company” and the series follows some of monsters who work for it. One is the 17-year-old catgirl Natsuki Sasahara, who is good at close combat but cannot aim a gun to save her life. Her main ability is to control electricity, but whenever she gets stressed or angry she lets out a gigantic thunderbolt shocking everyone and everything nearby.
Natsuki looks up to senior officer Batanen Fujioka, a werewolf who brings in the most money to the company and who is in love with Natsuki, but is too shy to tell her. His cousin Tommy also works alongside him, who has the habit of falling in love rather too easily. Soon the three are joined by a kitsune, or foxgirl, called Sakura Bokuseiinmonzeninari. A kitsune is a nine-tailed fox, but she has only grown eight-and-one-fifth tails, and believes that if she can consume Natsuki she will get a final tail fully grown, so she joins Police Company to get close to Natsuki.
Soon things become problematic for everyone, with various problems at Police Company, dealing with rivals firms, its own finances, having to confront prejudices between the humans and the monsters, and even having problems with time travellers.
Perhaps the best thing about Hyper Police is the mixture of characters and designs. The series features all sort of beings. Aside from animal-human hybrids, werewolves and so forth, there are creatures ranging from demons to gods, Cyclopes and talking mushrooms. Natsuki is a great character: her feline nature often gets the better of her. She is constantly grooming herself like a cat, playing with balls of string, and catnip to her acts like alcohol.
The series is something of a cult hit in the English-speaking anime community. This is evidenced by the lack of availability of the series. Both the company that released the anime and the publisher that released the manga in English are no longer in the market, so only second hand copies are available. Even then the anime was only released in the USA, never in the UK.
However, the series was a much bigger hit in the Spanish-speaking anime community. Spanish was the first western language the manga was translated into, and you can still get DVD copies of the series in Spanish.
Hyper Police is a fun show, with lively characters that develop and become fully rounded as the series progresses. The manga however reveals the full plot, especially concerning Natsuki’s linage.
Hyper Police was released over six volumes by Image Entertainment on Region 1.
How is Janet at the beginning of the series?
“Janet is single, facing life without a husband, a seemingly balanced home life and at a point in her life where she can choose the direction in which she goes.”
She is sitting her Sergeant’s exam, is she ready?
“As her careful nature would imply she’s fully prepped for the Sergeant’s interview and handles it brilliantly. Unfortunately, almost as soon as that plan of action is put in motion, a crisis with one of her girls and her mother leaves her feeling as if she’s failing at the home front and she considers putting her own ambitions aside and once again staying where she is in her life to attend to others.”
How are things at home for her?
“As a recurring theme for Janet, we watch as she understands the nature of this, at work, with her family and her romantic life, and by the end of the series we see a Janet who is determined to be herself, to have fun, to put herself on the line and to stop worrying about when is the right time/ right plan/ right man and that sometimes you just have to go for it….”
How are things between Janet and Rachel this series?
“Her relationship with Rachel is up ended slightly by Gills unfortunate take and request on a situation, but we are seeing a very much more mature and engaged version of the dynamic between Janet and Rachel this year. They know how to work well together and have fun.”
Janet goes speed dating in this series was that fun to film?
“The speed dating and online situations get Janet into a few scrapes that are wittily handled and were very enjoyable to play. Janet is a 3D character who always appears to be in control but as in life has to keep learning how to bend and shape to the issues around her.”
This is series 4 how does it feel to return to the character of Janet and how much do you enjoy playing her?
“There is a 10 page interview scene which was extremely difficult to learn and was a brilliant acting opportunity. All of the interviews I’ve had to learn and be part of this year, have felt like great opportunities for me as an actress and for the character of Janet. By the end of the series Janet has significantly moved on, with her children, her single status and a realisation about her special skill set at work. All of our writers have honoured the imperative that was so clearly and brilliantly put in motion by Sally Wainwright, and it’s an immense privilege to get the opportunity again to engage in such detailed and rich work.”
Simon Cowell is, amongst other things, a record company executive, a television and film producer…and a global TV star. Renowned for his sharp eye for talent and candid opinions, Simon Cowell has completely transformed popular culture in the 21st century, through his TV and music interests.
Cowell’s company, Syco Entertainment, is a world-renowned music, film, and television production company responsible for some of the most successful global music and television franchises. Syco’s television assets include the two international TV phenomenon formats: Got Talent and The X Factor. This year, Syco Music was named the No.1 A&R label in the UK, for both singles and albums. To date, Cowell has worked with artists who have sold more than 350 million records.
So Simon how does it feel to be back in the UK for this series?
It actually feels really good to be back in the UK. I think in a weird way it’s good I’ve had a break from the show, I’ve watched the show from a distance and now I feel like I’m back in control again. I like it.
What are you most excited about?
There’s always that feeling when you’re on the panel that you’re going to find a new star. I don’t know who they’re going be, where they’re going to come from but it’s that that excites me the most.
What did you miss most about the show while you were away?
You miss British contestants. I’ve always thought on these shows, for whatever reason, the best people have come from Britain. You can take people like Leona Lewis or One Direction or Olly Murs, JLS, Ella Henderson, Cher Lloyd, they’ve all come from the show and gone on to have big careers. So we’re lucky the show does attract people who do want to be big recording artists, rather than wanting to win a singing competition – there is a difference.
What’s going to be different about this year?
I think you’re going to hear a different kind of singer this year. The show is going to look different in terms of the line up. I’ve done the small room auditions already, and then we’re going back to arenas, which is the real test. I’ve already seen 5 or 6 people that have got massive potential. Some of these people, when you put them in front of the big crowds, they fall apart. And on the show this year there are a lot of hurdles to overcome. You’ve got to go from the small room to the arena to the six chair challenge, which I think is a great addition. Then you’ve got to do the judges’ houses visit, then you make it on the live shows. So anyone who gets to the live shows, they’ve earned their spot.
How competitive are you and the other judges feeling this year?
You don’t get competitive until you get your category. At that point, for whatever reason, you almost forget about the artists at that point – it’s so much about you winning. Or so much about someone else not winning – it’s about your competitive nature, which is why you put competitive people on the show because if you don’t want to win, it’s kind of a boring show.
How does it feel to be reunited with Cheryl?
It feels good to be reunited with Cheryl, I’ll be honest with you. She’s been on good form. It’s almost like the last four years disappeared. We just picked it up straight away. She’s been fun and annoying, but good to be with.
Cheryl said she came back after a lot of grovelling. What did you say to persuade her to come back?
We had a lot of conversations before Cheryl agreed to come back. But what was interesting, was that once we got past whatever we had to get past, we then started talking about the show and we reminded ourselves of the past series we made which was a great series. It’s how we wanted to recapture that again, and make a show which is fun, big and most importantly find a star, or maybe more than one star.
Is there a particular type of contestant you’re looking for this year; a specific genre or category?
I’m not interested in a sob-story, I mean seriously, I’m just so over them. I always say the same thing. I want someone who can become a star in this country, but just as importantly, can become a star in other countries. You want somebody who’s different, you don’t want a second rate version of someone who’s already out there, but you want somebody who’s different from anyone else in the charts at the moment.
You’ve brought Louis back to the show for his 11th consecutive series. What do you think he brings to the show that nobody else does?
Louis brings madness to the show. I’ve known Louis for about 15 years, he’s a nutcase, and he has a very different view of the world than I do. But that’s what I find interesting about Louis; he is an optimist, whereas I can be a bit cynical. But he loves music. He loves doing the show; I mean if he had a tail he’d be wagging it. And the one thing you forget about Louis is that he is a really good manager. I mean he’s sold over 100 million records – you don’t do that with luck, you do it because you’re smart.
And what’s it like working with Mel, what kind of judge is she?
I wasn’t sure whether Mel was going to fit in or not, but within 5 minutes I got her. She brings an incredible energy to the show. She isn’t a judge for hire, which a lot of people are nowadays. She loves the show and is really interested in the mentoring aspect of the show, because she did the show in Australia where she did a good job. Plus she’s really fun to be around, although I get why she’s called Scary!
What’s your biggest audition turn off?
I think it’s normally a boyband that’s been put together by a manager, and told what to wear, what to say, they all come running in and everything they say is scripted, and they pretend to laugh at each other’s jokes, I hate that. I’d rather find something much more raw – like we had with One Direction.
The age limit’s been lowered to 14 this year. Do you think that someone this young can cope with the pressure of being on the show?
On Britain’s Got Talent we’ve had no age limits, we’ve had really young people do well on the show. You have to make a judgement call before you put teenagers in front of us, about whether they can cope with it or not. When they come to see us, we can make a pretty good call as to whether we think they’re too young or too inexperienced. On the other hand we’ve had really good 14 / 15 year olds, who are better and more assured than some of the 30 year olds.
Tennis coach Judy is a self-confessed Strictly fan and is best known for being mother and coach to two very high achieving tennis players: 2013 Wimbledon champion Andy Murray and Wimbledon Mixed Doubles champion Jamie Murray. Born in Bridge of Allan, Scotland, Judy qualified as a tennis coach aged 17 and went on to become the eighth best female player in the UK. Judy is passionate about encouraging the next generation of youngsters and has supported both her professional tennisplaying sons throughout their careers.
How are you feeling as the launch draws ever closer?
I am very excited. I’m not nervous yet but I think the nerves will kick in on the night that we do anything live. I’ve loved meeting all the other contestants and everyone else who works behind the scenes. It is fun for me already and it is so different to anything I have ever done before. My life has been saturated with tennis so to experience life behind the scenes on my favourite show is not something I ever thought I’d have the opportunity to do so I think I am going to love every moment.
What made you sign up?
Like millions of others I am a huge fan and I’ve been following the show for five or six years now and I never miss it. I might not always be at home when the show is on but I always make sure I catch up. When I come home and have been away for three weeks I will always come home and watch it in sequence, I never jump because I’ve always enjoyed watching it from the start. I love watching how unbelievably good everyone becomes by the end of the series. I’ve never danced, so the challenge of learning a new skill and being part of something I love watching is a real thrill.
Have you done any special preparation?
I think from my coaching background I understand how people learn. I am coming into this as a complete novice. I will be careful with what I eat, try to go to the gym a bit more and I may even wear high heels around the house to get used to that but whoever the poor soul is that has to dance with me, it is all going to be down to him to teach me what to do!
What are you looking for in a dance partner?
When I watched the show in the past my favourite professional dancers were Ian Waite and Artem Chigvintsev. Neither of them are on the show this year but I really don’t mind at all who I dance with as they are all such unbelievable dancers. I guess the important thing is the height but more so I need someone who has a good sense of humour and who will be patient with me because I am such a rookie!
What feedback would you like to have from the judges?
I don’t think I will mind at all what they say. I have watched the show for such a long time that I know how each of them is going to tackle the way they give their feedback. They are all completely different from each other. But I am aware that they are experts in their field and I am not! You have to take on what they are saying, but I think you have to giggle and laugh it all off if it is bad.
Who will be supporting you this series? Family? Other celebs?
When I am watching Strictly I identify with the people who are slightly older, or those who are starting from scratch. I loved watching Deborah Meaden and Fiona Fullerton in the last series. I also enjoyed watching Abbey going from a rookie start to being absolutely amazing. I hope the 50 something ladies out there will be able to identify with me and will be looking out for me.