The Britain’s Got Talent judge David Walliams made derogatory and sexually explicit remarks about contestants during the recording of an episode of the ITV show, according to a leaked transcript seen by the Guardian.
Walliams, one of the UK’s best-known television personalities and children’s book authors, was recorded referring to one contestant as a “cunt” and saying of another: “She thinks you want to fuck her, but you don’t.”
The offensive remarks were made during a recorded audition show at the London Palladium in January 2020. Lawyers for Walliams and Thames TV, the production company behind Britain’s Got Talent, argued the comments were part of a private conversation never intended for broadcast.
One of the incidents captured in the transcript involved an older performer who engaged in some lighthearted banter with the judges in which he made a jibe about Walliams.
After an unsuccessful audition, the pensioner walked off stage. When he was out of earshot, the transcript suggests, Walliams described him as “a cunt” three times.
His comments were picked up by microphones used to capture discussions between the judges when they are sitting at their desk in the centre of the auditorium. The recordings are understood to have been made for potential broadcast in Britain’s Got Talent or other spin-off shows, which often feature candid remarks made by the judges between auditions.
The other incident occurred shortly after a female contestant auditioning on the same show had walked off stage. When her performance was over, Walliams remarked: “She’s like the slightly boring girl you meet in the pub that thinks you want to fuck them, but you don’t.”
Walliams reiterated: “She thinks you want to fuck her, but you don’t.”
He then added: “I know, she’s just like: ‘Oh, fuck off!’ I was saying, she thinks you want to fuck her, but you don’t. It’s the last thing on your mind, but she’s like: ‘Yep, I bet you do!’ ‘No I don’t!’ I had a bit of a boner, but now it’s going, it’s now shrivelled up inside my body.”
In a statement, Walliams said: “I would like to apologise to the people I made disrespectful comments about during breaks in filming for Britain’s Got Talent in 2020. These were private conversations and – like most conversations with friends – were never intended to be shared. Nevertheless, I am sorry.”
A Thames spokesperson said that even though the production company regarded Walliams’ comments as private, his language was “inappropriate” and he had been reminded of the show’s “expectations as to future professional conduct”.
Walliams’ comments were the only instances of derogatory remarks about contestants in leaked transcripts from three episodes that were reviewed by the Guardian. There is no suggestion that Simon Cowell or any other judge made offensive remarks about contestants.
A spokesperson for Cowell and Syco Entertainment, the co-producer of Britain’s Got Talent, said: “We were unaware of the alleged conversation until contacted by the Guardian, and whilst it is not suggested Simon heard the alleged remarks, we can confirm he did not. Britain’s Got Talent is a family show and we do not condone the use of any such language.”
Walliams’ remarks about contestants are likely to raise questions about his conduct on the hit show, and contribute to the ongoing debate about the ethics of reality TV and its treatment of members of the public.
An ITV spokesperson said duty of care toward participants in its programmes was “of paramount importance”. “We do not condone the language outlined 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 prompted 3,617 complaints to the media regulator, Ofcom, about perceived misogynistic behaviour from some male participants. In March, another ITV programme, The Jeremy Kyle Show, was the subject of an excoriating Channel 4 documentary that detailed an allegedly toxic culture.
ITV rejected the documentary’s central allegation of a “bad culture” within the production team of The Jeremy Kyle Show, and in a statement before this year’s Love Island series the channel published details of its extended duty of care protocols for contestants. Scrutiny of both ITV shows formed part of the 2019 parliamentary inquiry into reality TV.
Separately, the Guardian has also seen a 2012 casting list from Britain’s Got Talent, used by staff involved in recruiting potential contestants, that labeled some of them “buzz off”, abbreviated to “BO”. The document suggests the show’s production staff selected contestants they expected would fail in the talent contest.
“Thinks he can go all the way to the final!” a casting team staffer apparently wrote of one “buzz off” contestant. “Only put through because he is so unlikeable.” A note beside another contestant said: “Not sure that she is quite bad enough.”
Five former employees who worked for the show’s casting team told the Guardian the terms “BO” and “buzz off” were code for potentially amusing contestants who production staff believed might perform poorly and be rejected by the judges. Two of the former production staff, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the term was still being used in 2016.
Lawyers for Thames did not respond to questions about whether the term was still in use. They acknowledged BGT production staff might sometimes suspect a contestant would be “a buzz off”, but said they did not put them through in the expectation they would be humiliated. They added that production staff were regularly proven wrong in their assessment of how well an act would perform.
They stressed that all contestants were assessed by the judges, based on their performance on the day, and the outcome was never predetermined. The lawyers added that Thames “holds its contestants in the highest regard”, did not “practise or condone any exploitative or unethical practices towards BGT contributors” and had a “thorough and robust” welfare support system in place for contestants.
The Thames spokesperson added: “Contestants are at the very heart of everything on Britain’s Got Talent. We are an inclusive show open to anyone – and we are grateful to every single act who auditions.”
Lawyers for Cowell and Syco said they had no knowledge that casting staff were identifying “buzz off” contestants. The spokesperson for Cowell and Syco added: “The incredible, talented and varied contestants who audition are at the heart of Britain’s Got Talent and we have utmost respect and gratitude for all who enter - and are incredibly proud of the success of the many Got Talent contestants.”
There is no suggestion any of the other judges were aware of or involved in the practice of identifying prospective performers as “buzz off” contestants.