Bruno Tonioli on being a new Britain's Got Talent judge: "I had a ball"
Speaking to Amy Raphael for Radio Times magazine, Bruno Tonioli chats about his time as a new BGT judge, the "demented" acts in the new series and his Strictly Come Dancing send-off.
This interview was originally published in Radio Times magazine.
Bruno Tonioli, born in Ferrara, Italy, but resident in the UK since the mid-1970s, is a choreographer and dancer who is best known as a flamboyant judge on Strictly Come Dancing and its American counterpart, Dancing with the Stars.
Now he has replaced David Walliams as a judge on the new season of Britain’s Got Talent — but he hasn’t shut the door on Strictly forever…
Ciao, Bruno! What was it like joining Simon Cowell, Alesha Dixon and Amanda Holden on this latest season of Britain’s Got Talent?
I had a ball, partly because I had never seen it before. It’s true! Simon has teased me to death about it. I didn’t even watch Strictly – I don’t watch shows that have a judging panel, because I don’t want to be influenced by another judge. I just want to do my own thing. But I had the best time.
It’s a proper variety show and the range of talent is incredible. Some of the contestants are absolutely demented, I have to say.
Did you have a favourite act?
I can’t give away too much, but there is some stuff that will break your heart. And some very, very funny comedians – I was surprised. Simon and I already think we know who’s going to win, but the competition is stiff. I got far too excited about pressing the Golden Buzzer and had to be restrained. Poor Alesha gradually moved further and further away from me.
Simon and I have known each other forever, but this is the first time we’ve been able to work together. It was such fun. We need some of that in our lives. My job is to help people turn off from the continuous doom and gloom currently surrounding us. There is some outstanding talent in the UK and it should be celebrated, because it’s a huge asset.
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You’re a big presence on screen — are you playing a character?
Obviously when you’re on screen, you can’t sit there looking bored. You have to give the viewers a show. You have to entertain them. So I crank up my delivery and become a larger-than-life persona. I draw on my years of experience working with the likes of Elton John and Steve Coogan. I’ve done my homework.
You once described Strictly contestant Anne Widdecombe as dancing like a “Dalek in drag”. Do you ever regret making comments like that?
If I don’t like what someone is doing, I don’t mince my words. But people have to understand that everything is said within a context. Everyone is so uptight at the moment. They should just chill a bit. I don’t take myself seriously; I can laugh at myself.
Do you collapse in a heap as soon as filming ends?
The energy comes automatically during filming, but then I’m dead, absolutely dead. I lost my voice at the end of the first day on Britain’s Got Talent because I didn’t pace myself. I didn’t know that auditions can run for two or three hours. At least I’m a quick learner.
Do you think you got an appropriate send-off from Strictly after 18 years on the show?
It happened randomly during the lockdown, but I don’t mind at all. Anton [Du Beke] is doing a great job and it feels right that he should carry on. I went back and sang [Don’t Leave Me This Way by The Communards] for them.
I may never be a Strictly judge again, but I may go back. We’ll always be very good friends. I still get messages from Tess Daly and Craig Revel Horwood. I just couldn’t continue doing both Strictly and Dancing with the Stars.
Was the travelling too much?
Absolutely. I was flying from London to Los Angeles and back again every week. I hardly slept. I remember saying to Tess that I didn’t know where I was because I was so tired. I even blanked once on Dancing with the Stars. I had an out-of-body experience and was confused about where I was, but I caught myself very quickly.
Are you professional on set?
Of course! It doesn’t matter how tired you might be, you’ve got to put the show first. I never understand people who are difficult on set when they are supposedly doing something they love. When I was a choreographer, I never put up with any kind of bad behaviour. And I always make sure to remember to be nice to the crew, who work 10 times harder than we do.
Have you spoken to David Walliams since you replaced him on Britain’s Got Talent?
I haven’t seen David, but he was the first person to send me a message saying congratulations. He also sent a fantastic bottle of Italian wine to my dressing room on my first day. I thought that was absolute class.
It’s said you watched Cabaret repeatedly as a kid — is there a film role you’d love to play?
I met Liza Minnelli and it blew my mind… Actually, I’d like to play a Bond villain. Or a mafioso. Or a baddie in a Guy Ritchie movie. Something completely against type. That would be so much fun!