TV FESTIVAL SPECIAL: Guru slams Britain’s Got Talent for manipulating contestants

Professor David Wilson (left) and Evan Davis (right) at the debate
Professor David Wilson (left) and Evan Davis (right) at the debate

By Rory Reynolds

the MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival

A TOP reality TV guru has slammed Britain’s Got Talent for “manipulating” vulnerable hopefuls like Susan Boyle and Hollie Steel.

Professor David Wilson – a former senior consultant for Big Brother – blasted Britain’s Got Talent, saying that vulnerable contestants Boyle and ten-year-old Hollie should never have been allowed on the show.

Speaking at the Edinburgh International Television Festival today (Sunday), Wilson said the primetime talent programme had deliberately encouraged Boyle because of her oddball appearance and heaped on pressure before the final.

He said: “I don’t think that Susan Boyle was even able to give proper consent.

“And the producers were not prepared to deal with the global attention she received.”

Speaking at a live debate chaired by BBC presenter Evan Davis, Wilson also hit out at producers for allowing nervous Hollie – who broke down in tears live on TV after a mistake – to perform on the show.

Hollie was allowed to begin her performance again after judge Simon Cowell stepped in to allow her a second chance.

“Highly manipulative”

Wilson likened allowing young children and people with learning difficulties to appear on the talent show as “like conning people into buying sub-prime mortgages.”

He said: “It wasn’t right – I think this was highly manipulative.

“It was part of the narrative – can this girl cope with facing the audience in this way?

“We know children aren’t psychologically prepared to do this kind of thing.

“It wasn’t right to expose her to that.”

“Fully prepared”

Wilson – who is investigating the effects of reality TV on children and vulnerable adults – launched the attack after Ant and Dec claimed Boyle’s breakdown and admittance to The Priory wasn’t the programme’s fault.

Sara Geater, CEO of talkbackTHAMES, who produce Britain’s Got Talent, defended the show, saying that they hadn’t misled anyone.

She said: “It wasn’t setting her up – she has a long history of performing on stage and was fully prepared – we don’t mislead anybody.

“We had assigned the same researchers to stick with her the whole time so she had support.

“It would have been much worse if she hadn’t been allowed to sing a second time.”

Another guest involved in the debate, John McVay, Chief Executive of screen association, PACT, added that it is actually illegal to allow children to perform live on television after 7pm.

Geater admitted that allowing the child perform was illegal, but added that “there is a huge anomaly in the law” on allowing children to perform at night on live TV.

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  1. Quote…..“We had assigned the same researchers to stick with her the whole time so she had support.”

    I guess they were asleep at the wheel.

  2. David Wilson needs to mind his own business. The world has gained an incredible talent through Miss Susan Boyle, who, by the way, is handling fame just fine now. No one in the history of this planet has gone from anonimity to global superstardom in FIVE DAYS. Mr. Wilson wouldn’t be able to handle paparazzi camped in the street outside his door for months, making headlines of his every move. NO ONE WOULD. Your comments about Susan not being able to give proper consent only accentuates your lack of knowledge about Susan Boyle. She has been honing her singing skills since she was 12 and did a demo CD 10 years ago, and had all but given up until BGT came along. Her family sanctioned her desire to pursue her career despite the difficulties, and Susan herself, who h ad waited 23 years for this opportunity, said absolutely yes, she wanted to continue despite the difficulties. Holly Steele and her parents also gave their permission for their daughter to continue despite “nerves.” Please STOP your BGT bashing. It’s old news now, and the people in question are on their way to stellar careers!

  3. BGT was not the problem with Susan Boyle. It was the vicious tabloids. BGT did not anticipate the need for a bodyguard to protect her from the constant stalking & harassment by the press, because nobody ever had this kind of instant global impact before. I thank BGT for bringing her to us.

  4. Professor Wilson, well intentioned though he may be, comes across as belittling in the guise of concern for Susan Boyle. Instead of criticizing BGT ~ which Susan entered and stayed in on her own volition, and which gave her the chance to become the professional singer she now is ~ why doesn’t the professor call the turncoat tabloid press to accountability?

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