A golden year for Britain's Got Talent winner Jon Courtenay as new tour kicks off in Blackpool with a live audience
It’s often in those quiet moments that things suddenly hit you and for Britain’s Got Talent winner Jon Courtenay, after a 2020 of ‘pinch me moments’, the long-awaited rewards are now quite real as he prepares to embark on his first live tour with an actual live audience for the first time for more than a year and a half.
“It’s quite scary, yes,” he laughs, as he contemplates the opening of his What’s it all About tour at Blackpool Opera House theatre on June 10.
The pianist, comedian and song-writer last graced the same stage for his appearance at the Royal Variety Show, hosted in the resort for the third time in its history late last year.
It was, he says a poignant night for the entertainments industry and a real privilege to join a line up with the likes of Jason Manford, Gary Barlow, Spice Girl Melanie C, Sheridan Smith and Michael Ball appearing with the late 100-year-old fund-raiser Captain Sir Tom Moore on a live link.
“My first audition for Britain’s Got Talent was back in January (2020) with a live audience and my last show was around the March time.
“So to have the Royal Variety was great, in such an amazing theatre and be a part of that history and to work with all the other stars that were there, they all made me feel so welcome.
“It’s going to be so emotional being back on that stage because this is going to be my very first, live theatre show on June 10, back on that same stage where I did the Royal Variety and after no live audience for a year and a half, I’m going to try and get myself through it without being in floods of tears.”
A familiar feeling for his legions of news fans for who his words and themes of his performances struck such a huge chord during his time on the long-runnng ITV reality entertainment show that was filmed at the height of the pandemic.
It is especially humbling for Jon, given he was fired through to the semi-finals from his first audition after Ant McPartlin and Declan Donnelly honoured him with their golden buzzer.
He is the first golden buzzer act to win the series – going back to those ‘pinch me’ moments, he says it still feels so strange after making the decision to audition.
“Honestly, after so long deliberating my whole objective was to perform at the London Palladium and not get buzzed off with four red buzzers so the fact the complete opposite happened and it went so well meant that I immediately had to think about the semi-finals and start preparing something new for that.
“Again I was just focusing on that and not thinking I’d have to worry about the final and then that happened so it was an interesting time for me sitting down at the piano with the laptop and paper and having to write an entire song about something.
“It was a pressure but I suddenly found I worked alright under pressure, with a deadline. I knuckled down and got on with it.
“It’s always been about comedy for me – whenever I sat down at the piano it was with the intention of creating something to make people laugh – what is slightly disconcerting since I took part in BGT is the amount of times I’ve been told I made people cry.
“Thirty years of trying to make people laugh and suddenly they’re all blubbering.”
What has resulted is a trajectory Jon himself hadn’t really considered when putting together this new material.
“It’s quite scary – it’s pretty much a whole new show.
“The show I’ve had for the last 25 years has evolved over time but has always followed a familiar format, the same songs, chat about family and relationships and on the back of BGT I’ve got the performances people will expect to hear, but now this rich collection of funny stories that have happened and chance to talk about the experience and a bunch of new songs.
“I dug out some songs I’d written a while ago but never really performed and after sharing them with the team they were like ‘this is amazing , we can write the show around these.’
“And that’s one of the strange things, I’ve never really considered myself as a songwriter until BGT. I wrote litte parodies, verses about topical stuff but When I Was a Boy, the song I performed and rewrote for the semi-final, was the only song I’ve ever had in my regular show and performed.
“But now I have a full show entirely of my own stuff – which is exciting but slightly scary.”
Jon says had he known the way the year would play out, with the outbreak of the global Covid-19 pandemic, it is likely he would have delayed his application to take part in the 2020 series.
As it happened the audition phase of the show had all been filmed and it was only later that the show had to be altered to comply with the lockdown restrictions. Jon says: “It was incredibly tough but a show still had to be made and honestly I cannot praise the production enough, it was simply extraordinary.
“I hadn’t done much telly before so the whole concept was quite alien with everything, all these cameras buzzing round your head - so actually without the live audience I suppose it was one less distraction in that I had to focus solely on the TV audience, the TV cameras and that was the way I tried to look at it.
“But obviously for entertainers there is simply no substitute for that buzz, energy a live audience brings and we have all deeply missed that.”
Whilst not a household name, Jon has worked in showbiz his entire career. He has played the piano since he was five-years-old.
An early interest in magic led to him touring hotels and theatres as a comedy magician. He also took his act to Spain and Cyprus as well as performing on cruise ships.
He adds: “Talking with my friends in the same business, none of us got into this to be rich. You hope you’ll have some success, but but in my 30s it hit me just how passionate I was and even with all the travelling I just loved doing it and the bonus I had enough to feed my family.
“It was the kids who actually bugged me to consider BGT. It’s so strange to think with the lockdown how different things could have been. I mean I’ve been honest about how the overdraft had gone – we were down to our last pennies, so the £250,000 you can imagine was just a monumental relief in itself and one I do not take for granted, given how many in the industry have and are suffering.
“There were so many frustrations I was experiencing the highest and lowest moments of my life all at once – especially with all the health issues too (Jon was told by doctors he had a cancerous growth just before his semi-finals appearance. He had surgery immediately after the final.)
“But actually I’m so grateful for the show and the focus it gave me at that time and a distraction from all the worries. And it all worked out – I’ve got my own tour.
“To be back in this position is so exciting and I’m so happy the opening is in Blackpool, it just feels right after the Royal Variety and just to come back and pay my respects.”
Jon Courtenay, What’s It All About, Blackpool Opera House, June 10.