Ant McPartlin is moved to tears as Britain’s Got Talent returns – as breathtaking, bizarre and emotional as ever

Still at the top of its game, BGT retains the ability to shock, surprise, delight and entertain, says Frances Taylor

Britain's Got Talent 2018

When Britain’s Got Talent rolls around every year, it’s usually an outlandish variety act or a daft spat between the judges that jostles for headlines. But as this series begins, no such manufactured drama is required.

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Ant McPartlin’s highly-publicised charge for drink-driving has rather overshadowed the return of BGT this year (and Dec will now be presenting the entire live run of semi-finals by himself).

But if you thought the theatrics and headlines being generated from what’s happening off screen couldn’t be topped by anything that happens on screen, you’d be wrong.

The first episode in this twelfth (!) series of Britain’s Got Talent achieves the near-impossible and manages to actually put the acts centre stage. The mix of death-defying, hilarious, bizarre and genuinely talented variety performers are solidly packed into the 90-minute show, delivering everything you could possibly want from a single episode of BGT.

You will audibly gasp with shock, laugh and cry, all in the space of an hour and a half. Simon Cowell has said there will be plenty of viral moments this series, and if episode one is anything to go by, he’s not wrong.

Britain's Got Talent judges 2018: Simon Cowell, David Walliams, Amanda Holden, Alesha Dixon
Britain’s Got Talent judges 2018: Simon Cowell, David Walliams, Amanda Holden, Alesha Dixon (Syco/Thames/ITV)

There’s one act in particular that will tug at the heartstrings. It’s incredibly moving, the judges are left in tears and in a rarer display of emotion, so is Ant. He’s absolutely overwhelmed and says how much of an impact the audition had on him. It’s a powerful moment loaded with sadness.

The BGT theatre auditions were recorded back in January and February (before Ant’s arrest in March) and so the next seven weeks of auditions will serve as a sort of ominous time capsule. Here are Britain’s best-loved comedy duo in happier times: larking around and having fun, doing what only they do so well. It’s a poignant reminder that although Dec can be fantastic on his own, these two have a precise and unique alchemy when together that can’t be topped or replicated.

But there’s barely time to dwell. Elsewhere, one act leaves judge David Walliams exclaiming he’s seen “he most thrilling two minutes we’ve had on Britain’s Got Talent” (it’s hard to believe the show gets insurance for some of this stuff) and another leaves scant little to the imagination in what is one of the most perplexing ‘talents’ to ever grace the BGT stage. The judges have never seen the like on the show.

Britain's Got Talent Auditions
Britain’s Got Talent (ITV)

As a line-up, Simon Cowell, Amanda Holden, Alesha Dixon and David Walliams on paper shouldn’t work, and yet somehow they are absolutely spot on. Despite being into their seventh year as a foursome, they don’t yet look or sound as if they’re going through the motions (unlike some TV judges we could mention. Cough, Louis Walsh). Yes, David is still flirting with Simon and Amanda is still crying just two beats into a sad song, but it still feels fresh.

Unlike The X Factor, which slowly but surely seems to be shrinking year-on-year, it feels like the opposite is happening with Simon Cowell’s other vehicle. Just when you think BGT can’t get any bigger, more breath-taking or amusing, it goes and outdoes itself.

And after 12 years, you’d have thought that on Britain’s Got Talent we’d seen it all. But somehow – somehow – it has still retained that ability to shock, surprise, delight and entertain.

Now, even after so many years, this superb entertainment and variety show remains firmly at the top of its game.

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Britain’s Got Talent airs Saturdays on ITV