David Walliams recorded disparaging comments about BGT contestants

Britain’s Got Talent judge David Walliams made derogatory and sexually explicit comments about contestants during the filming of an episode of the ITV series, according to a leaked transcript seen by the Guardian.

Walliams, one of Britain’s best-known TV personalities and children’s book author, was recorded referring to one contestant as a “coast” and saying of another: “She thinks you want to fuck her, but you don’t.”

The offensive comments were made during a taped audition show at the London Palladium in January 2020. Lawyers for Walliams and Thames TV, the production company behind Britain’s Got Talent, claimed the comments were part of a private conversation that was never intended to be broadcast.

One of the incidents captured in the transcript involved an older performer engaging in some light-hearted banter with the judges in which he bobbed about Walliams.

BGT judges Simon Cowell and David Walliams outside the London Palladium in January 2020
BGT judges Simon Cowell and David Walliams outside the London Palladium in January 2020. Photo: Stuart C Wilson/Getty Images

After an unsuccessful audition, the pensioner left the stage. When he was out of earshot, the transcript suggests, Walliams described him as “a cunt” three times.

His remarks were picked up by microphones used to capture discussions between the judges as they sit at their desks in the center of the auditorium. The recordings are believed to have been made for potential broadcast on Britain’s Got Talent or other spin-off shows, often featuring candid comments from the judges between auditions.

The second incident occurred shortly after a female contestant auditioning for the same show had walked off the stage. When her performance was over, Walliams commented: “She’s like that slightly boring girl you meet in the pub who thinks you want to screw them, but you don’t.”

Walliams repeated: “She thinks you want to fuck her, but you don’t.”

He then added: “I know, she’s just like, ‘Oh, shit!’ I said she thinks you want to fuck her, but you don’t. That’s the last thing on your mind, but she’s like, “Yeah, I bet you do!” “No I don’t!” I was in a bit of pain, but now it works, it has now shrunk into my body.”

In a statement, Walliams said: “I would like to apologize to the people I made disrespectful comments about during breaks in filming for Britain’s Got Talent 2020. These were private conversations and – like most conversations with friends – were never intended to be shared. Nevertheless I’m sorry.”

A Thames spokesperson said that while the production company considered Walliam’s comments private, his language was “inappropriate” and he had been reminded of the show’s “expectations of future professional conduct”.

Walliam’s comments were the only instances of disparaging comments about contestants in leaked transcripts from three episodes reviewed by the Guardian. There is no evidence that Simon Cowell or any other judge made offensive comments about contestants.

A spokesperson for Cowell and Syco Entertainment, the co-producer of Britain’s Got Talent, said: “We were unaware of the alleged call until contacted by the Guardian, and while it is not suggested that Simon heard the alleged comments, we can confirm that he did . no. Britain’s Got Talent is a family show and we do not condone the use of any such language.”

Walliam’s comments about contestants are likely to raise questions about his conduct on the hit show and add to the ongoing debate about the ethics of reality TV and its treatment of the public.

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An ITV spokesperson said the duty of care to participants in its programs was “of the utmost importance”. “We do not accept the language described in these allegations, and we have spoken to the producers of Britain’s Got Talent.”

ITV has repeatedly faced questions in recent months about the treatment of contestants on some of its best-loved reality shows. Earlier this summer, Love Island attracted 3,617 complaints to media regulator Ofcom about perceived misogynistic behavior by some male contestants. In March, another ITV programme, The Jeremy Kyle Show, was the subject of a scathing Channel 4 documentary outlining an alleged toxic culture.

ITV rejected the documentary’s central allegation of a “poor culture” within The Jeremy Kyle Show production team, and in a statement ahead of this year’s Love Island series, the channel published details of its extended duty of care protocol for contestants. Scrutiny of both ITV programs was included in the 2019 parliamentary inquiry into reality television.

Separately, The Guardian has also seen a 2012 Britain’s Got Talent casting list, used by staff involved in recruiting potential contestants, who labeled some of them ‘buzz off’, abbreviated to ‘BO’. The document suggests that the show’s production staff selected contestants they expected to fail in the talent competition.

“Think he can go all the way to the finals!” a casting employee apparently wrote about a “buzz off” contestant. “Just through because he’s so unlikely.” A note next to another contestant said: “Not sure she’s really bad enough.”

Five former employees who worked for the show’s casting team told the Guardian that the terms “BO” and “buzz off” were code for potentially entertaining contestants who production staff thought might perform poorly and be rejected by the judges. Two of the former production staff, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the term was still being used in 2016.

Lawyers for Thames did not respond to questions about whether the term was still being used. They admitted that BGT production staff might sometimes suspect a contestant would be “a buzz off”, but said they didn’t put them through expecting to be humiliated. They added that production staff regularly proved wrong in their judgment of how well an act would perform.

They stressed that all contestants were judged by the judges, based on their performance on the day, and that the result was never predetermined. The lawyers added that Thames “holds its contestants in the highest regard”, did not “practice or condone any exploitative or unethical practices towards BGT contributors” and had a “thorough and robust” welfare system in place for contestants.

A Thames spokesman added: “Competitors are at the very heart of everything on Britain’s Got Talent. We’re an inclusive show that’s open to everyone – and we’re grateful for every single act that auditions.”

Lawyers for Cowell and Syco said they had no knowledge of the casting staff identifying “buzz off” contestants. The spokesman for Cowell and Syco added: “The incredible, talented and diverse contestants who audition are the heart of Britain’s Got Talent and we have the utmost respect and gratitude for everyone who takes part – and are incredibly proud of the success of the many Got Talent contestants.”

There is no indication that any of the other judges were aware of or were involved in the method of identifying aspiring performers as “buzz off” contestants.

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