sat 20/07/2024

I Had the X Factor 25 Years Ago, BBC Two | reviews, news & interviews

I Had the X Factor... 25 Years Ago, BBC Two

I Had the X Factor... 25 Years Ago, BBC Two

Whatever happened to the New Faces of 1986?

Comedian Vinny, who spent a year living in a rubbish bin

This was the television equivalent of the slaves in ancient Rome, who used to run alongside their imperial masters whispering in their ear, "Remember, you are mortal." Long before the tantrums, bombast and megalomania of The X Factor, there was New Faces, ITV's Birmingham-based talent show.

Its theme tune was Carl Wayne's "You're a Star!" Alf Lawrie's film revisited the 1986 finalists of New Faces to find out how the last 25 years had treated them, and it proved to be an unassuming gem of observational film-making.

None of the finalists went on to become the next David Bowie, some had crashed and burned, and some had bounced back again. Gary, the perma-grinning 17-year-old violinist, seemed to have done the best of the lot, but as we know, appearances can be deceptive. He had evolved into a perma-grinning fortysomething with gelled hair, a Porsche and the family he'd started with Emma, his "first and only wife", as she was billed. Gary seems to do quite nicely playing the fiddle on cruise ships, though Emma wished there'd been a Simon Cowell-style figure on New Faces who could have given Gary a million-pound record deal.

Liverpudlian soul singer James Stone had got off to a flying start after his New Faces success, but then got trapped in a claustrophobic business relationship with his manager, Christine. She had locked him away from the world in a Welsh bungalow and done an incredible disappearing magic trick with all his earnings.

There were some poignant scenes with Julie, a soprano singer who also earns a crust on the cruise ship circuit. The unseen interviewer, who had a knack of slipping in the perfect question at opportune moments, hit the spot with: "Do men and women have different experiences of showbusiness?" Yes, said Julie. "I think men get the chance to have it all, whereas women always have to sacrifice something." In her case it was children ("The years fly by don't they, and now I'm too old"), and she now ladles disproportionate amounts of affection on her dog.

Comedian Billy Pearce (pictured above) had soared through a perfect rags-to-riches trajectory. Telly fame had brought him a powerful new agent, a BBC TV series and loads of lucrative bookings. He bought large houses and hired staff; "I just kept running around and shouting really," as he put it. Women kept throwing themselves at him. "I went to Benidorm and I ended up with two sisters," he grinned. "That was good fun."

Then he spoiled everything by investing all his money in a Portuguese nightclub, which went belly-up and left him destitute. Happily, though, his mates rallied round and bailed him out, and now he's happily settled with wife Kerry and has paid off his debts.

However, all the best quotes and anecdotes were from or about Vinny (pictured left), who'd been on New Faces as one half of the comedy duo Walker & Cadman. Vinny had been unhealthily obsessed with being famous. "Shaking hands with God could not top winning New Faces," he raved. "Winning the lottery couldn't top it." On the other hand, he remembered how, "My wife said showbusiness will crack you up. You know what? It's done a good job."

Three wives and eight children later, we caught up with Vinny in a windswept caravan park in North Wales, where he was enacting the most miserable possible interpretation of the word "gig". His career had collapsed in 1988, tipping him into bankruptcy and depression. At one stage he spent a year living in a rubbish bin in an alleyway. It seemed reasonable to conclude that Vinny was slightly unhinged. Why had he never considered taking a proper job, wondered our invisible interrogator. Vinny raised his eyebrows. "Because it's boring," he said.

Shaking hands with God could not top winning New Faces. Winning the lottery couldn't top it

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Poor Vinny, he should have at least tried to play the lottery, instead of just talking about it.

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