Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly said vulnerable people should not be barred from shows such as Britain's Got Talent despite concerns over the tabloids' treatment of Susan Boyle.

McPartlin said the ITV1 show had done everything it could to take care of Boyle, who collapsed after the final in May and was admitted to a private medical clinic with exhaustion.

"What would you then do, start censoring people because they won't be able to handle the fame and attention as well as you think they should?" McPartlin told the MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival today.

"You can't stop people coming on the show … just because they don't handle it in the way we expect them to. It doesn't mean it's wrong.

"Susan Boyle performed three times on the show. The show didn't camp paparazzi outside her house, the show didn't put it in the newspapers. I personally believe that every care was taken with Susan Boyle and they looked after her very well indeed."

Boyle, who has learning difficulties, became a worldwide internet sensation after appearing on the ITV1 show, hosted by Ant and Dec, in which she finished runner-up.

But her appearance and subsequent admittance to hospital raised questions about the care and treatment of talent show contestants.

Donnelly said: "People don't turn up with it written on T-shirts how sane they are. You can't tell by looking at somebody."

He said Boyle was a "single woman who lives in a small town in Scotland and came along to fulfil a dream. How do you stand there and say you can't go on, we're not sure you'll be able to handle it? You can't do that."

Donnelly also defended the treatment of 10-year-old singer Hollie Steel, who appeared on the show and broke down in tears on live television.

"She wants to be a performer, she chose to come along and her parents chose to support her coming along to the audition," he said.

The pair's exclusive contract with ITV ends this year, and McPartlin said the pair would be prepared to take a pay cut.

"You have to be realistic. If the whole of the industry is suffering it would be naive to assume that we would not suffer too."

But Donnelly joked: "Hey, let's not be too hasty! If things do not go well we will be in [festival bar] the George later looking for [Sky1 controller] Stuart Murphy."

He added: "In comparison to a lot of other jobs and a lot of other careers it's quite a lot of money but also we work for a commercial broadcaster and the shows that we host are very successful. They make a lot of money out of that and we are paid proportionately."

McPartlin said it was "not naive at all" to be credited as an executive producer on their ITV1 show, Saturday Night Takeaway, and yet not be aware of the viewer deception that took place on the show.

It was one of the programmes implicated in the premium rate TV phone-in scandal that landed ITV with a £5.68m fine from media regulator Ofcom. Outgoing ITV executive chairman Michael Grade famously labelled their "executive producer" roles a "vanity credit".

"I don't think it's naive at all, it's how you define exactly what we do as executive producers," said McPartlin. "We made executive decisions on the creative content of the show, and always have done. We will continue to do that."

Asked if the episode was damaging to the Ant and Dec brand, Donnelly said: "I think the whole episode was damaging to the industry. No one was quite sure just how damaging it was going to be.

"It was a horrible time for all of us but I think we learned a lot from it. I think we were able to put in place all of the practices that ensure that it will never happen again."

Britain's Got Talent is made by Simon Cowell, but Donnelly had some harsh words for another Cowell show on ITV1, The X Factor, and the show's decision to switch its audition process from a audition room into a live arena.

"It's a very big audience to audition in front of," said Donnelly. "I personally thought it was better in the audition room. I thought the intimacy of the one-on-one audition, and then to the boot camps and into a big studio was much more of a logical journey."

In a quickfire Q and A with the session's host, ITV News presenter Mark Austin, Donnelly was asked whether British troops should be in or out of Afghanistan. After much hesitation, Donnelly said: "Out."

"One for the tabloids there," said Austin.

• To contact the MediaGuardian news desk email or phone 020 3353 3857. For all other inquiries please call the main Guardian switchboard on 020 3353 2000.

• If you are writing a comment for publication, please mark clearly "for publication".


John Plunkett

The GuardianTramp

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