He’s a familiar face on the Britain’s Got Talent set after fronting the spin-off programme, so Stephen Mulhern was thrilled to be asked to cover a magic-only version of the show, after hosts Ant and Dec were struck down with Covid.
Stephen – who’s been a keen magician since he was 13 – explains he had a phone call from show producers at Britain’s Got Talent: The Ultimate Magician asking if he could step in at the last minute. He said he didn’t hesitate to say yes.
“Ant and Dec were both thrilled for me, but Dec joked, ‘Don’t be too good!’”
BGT judges Amanda Holden, David Walliams and Alesha Dixon return to the judging panel for the special one-off show and legendary magician Penn Jillette is keeping Simon Cowell’s seat warm, as he was busy with filming commitments in the US.
Stephen says the “want and love” for magicians on BGT is “phenomenal” and explains the acts, which include former BGT winner Richard Jones and 2022 finalist, The Witches, blew everyone away.
Here, Stephen, 45, talks about the performance that made Amanda cry and also addresses some game show rumours…
Hi, Stephen! How did you find out you were going to host instead of Ant and Dec?
I was on my way to film In For A Penny and got a phone call saying Ant and Dec couldn’t do it. I was like, “What?!” All the stars had aligned!
Did you speak to Ant and Dec straight after?
I phoned them to see how they were. They were really, really nice. They said they were happy to hand over the reins and I said, “That means an awful lot.” Dec said, “We know you’ll be good, but don’t be too good.” It’s always been a nice, supportive relationship. We’ve always got on – we’ve all known each other for nearly 25 years. In the same week, they couldn’t make the NTAs, so I picked that award up and I’ve still got it and have no plans to give it back [laughs].
Was it nice to see the judges?
Yes, I hadn’t seen them for ages because there’s no Britain’s Got More Talent any more. It was quite bizarre to be back at the desk as it’s been a while. It was nice to see Penn on the panel.
Was it difficult managing their banter?
Because it was all magic-based, it was quite nice seeing them not out of their comfort zone, because of course they’re all great judges in their own field, but it was just nice to see them appreciate different styles of magic. It was good to see their opinions and their critique because there were certain things they loved and others they weren’t so sure. Overall, there was a sense of, “Anything is possible tonight.” The competition is fierce.
Amanda said you went a bit “Debbie McGee” on the night…
Yes, some of them asked me to be their eyes and ears for the audience at home, so I was like, “Yeah, if you want me to.” I checked padlocks and whether boxes were tricky. Because of the knowledge I’ve got with magic, they were happy for me to be of help.
Did any of the acts go wrong?
There was an underwater act and I had slight anxiety because she was under there for a long time. Thankfully, she managed to do it.
Aside from Penn, have you seen any of the judges perform a trick?
[Laughs] If any of the judges could do magic, it would be Amanda. I bet you she could pull one off or two, without fail. She’s the one who always wants to get involved. Amanda got picked on during the night by The Witches and Richard Jones. He made someone appear for her on stage who she hadn’t seen for a long period of time. I’ve got to be honest, the whole thing was really emotive. She was in tears, shaking.
Have you seen The Witches out of costume?
I haven’t. But she looked at me and it’s freaky. After this Christmas show, I don’t know what next level The Witches can go to. She took them by storm.
What did it feel like to be surrounded by so many magicians?
I was like a kid in a sweet shop – I’d grown up watching some of them.
What’s your favourite magic trick to do?
The one which seems to storm it in our stage show is the levitation illusion.
There’s a rumour of a possible Deal Or No Deal return and that you could be the host…
This isn’t confirmed. Are they talking about it? The answer is yes. Would I love to host it. Yes, without fail. It’s one of the best game shows ever created. If it did come back, I’d be over the moon if they picked me.
ITV is also bringing back Big Brother…
It’s a classic and it just works. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.
Would you ever be a contestant?
I try to keep myself to myself, really. I don’t think I could do any reality shows, especially I’m A Celebrity… It would be hell, especially with those two [Ant and Dec]. It would be even worse!
What are your plans for Christmas this year?
I always go to my family’s house. I have two brothers and one sister, five nephews and one niece. We spend all day together and it’s the best day of the year for me – it’s the only day you can really spend time with the family. I’m not talking about presents, that’s neither here nor there, just all being together and having a laugh and playing games – there’s nothing better.
Who does the cooking?
My mum and dad, it’s like NASA – they never get angry, they stay calm. I don’t know how parents do it at Christmas. I can cook but not Christmas dinner.
What happens at New Year?
I go with my parents and sister to Brighton. They’ve got a place there, so we chill.
Do you have any New Year’s resolutions?
I want to get fit. I need to set a goal to get trim. I’ve bought a skipping rope. I’ve been told it’s the best thing for fitness other than rowing and swimming.
Britain’s Got Talent: The Ultimate Magician will air on Sunday 18 December at 8pm on ITV1
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