Scottish BGT winner Jai McDowall: why I did care work during lockdown

·5-min read
Scottish BGT winner Jai McDowall: why I did care work during lockdown
Scottish BGT winner Jai McDowall: why I did care work during lockdown

Jai McDowall, from Ayrshire, won Britain's Got Talent in 2011 and is currently touring with G4 frontman Jonathan Ansell in a concert celebrating musical theatre. The tour is a return to music for Jai after the pandemic during which he worked as a care worker for several months. He talks to Mark Smith about talent shows, his relationship with Simon Cowell, and why he wanted to do something different during lockdown

What are your first musical memories growing up in Ayrshire?

I was lucky – I grew up in a house that was eclectic in terms of musical taste so it was Queen to Cliff and everything else. One of the first songs I sung was Bachelor Boy. I love Queen – you can’t help but be enthralled by Freddie Mercury.

How did you get into performing?

My dad’s a singer and used to play in bands, latterly in pubs and clubs and weddings. I started going to gigs with him when I was about 14 and learning what the audience wanted - or didn’t want if they were playing dominoes! My music teacher suggested singing lessons after seeing me performing. I then joined a local am-dram society in Ayr.

Is that where you developed your passion for musical theatre?

Yes – the good thing was the societies were made up of a huge diverse range of people: policemen, teachers, farmers, and it was a good place to get into it. Growing up in Tarbolton, musical theatre isn’t your first thought so it was good to meet other people who enjoyed performing. My first show was Chess which was pretty serious but the people I was performing with told me I had a fun personality and I should bring it onto the stage.

Do you still have a lack of confidence sometimes about your performing?

Yes, I was always quite lucky – even when I’m nervous, my voice holds out but in terms of acting ability, I’d never done it before and never had the confidence. I’ve done a lot of stuff now and I know I can do it. All it takes is a wee bit of coaxing and I get it. And once you stop getting nervous, that’s when you stop caring.

The first audition for Britain’s Got Talent was particularly nerve-wreaking wasn’t it?

I grew up in an area where those sort of things didn’t happen to people like me and it was happening! Even the vocal coach on the show said to me a year later ‘you still don’t believe that you’ve won the show do you?’ and I didn’t. It seemed like it happened to someone else. In a way, I’m grateful for that because you see people coming off shows like X Factor and becoming a bit jaded. I’m grateful for what I have. The most talented folk are not arrogant and I took that on board. My dad told me to treat everyone the same and I do.

How do you feel now about Britain’s Got Talent 10 years on?

Ultimately, it was great for me. I probably wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now. I loved the process of the show and had a great experience. There was a bumpy road afterwards and the way the career trajectory went but in a way I learned a lot. I went from being a wee boy from Tarbolton to being on the TV and it was a steep learning curve. It’s a hard-knock business and a lot of people have left the industry.

Did you see a lot of people leaving the entertainment business because of the pandemic?

Yes and I can understand why and during the pandemic I went back to work as a care worker, with the company I worked with before Britain’s Got Talent. I didn’t know when I was going to be back on stage. I was supposed to be doing panto but it got cancelled so I took it as a sign and went back and did care work, with young people who have mental and physical disabilities. It was great actually and gave me a different perspective on what I have. I did it for six months and it gave me a purpose.

What about your relationship with Simon Cowell now? He made negative comments about you and it was mis-reported that you said he was “anti-Scottish”.

Thankfully, I went back to do the BGT Champions and he publicly apologised and we had the chance to talk after the cameras were off and it was nice to shake his hand and say ‘that wasn’t what I said’ and he said ‘forget it’ and apologised and it was fine. So it’s water under the bridge. It niggled at me - Simon thought I’d said things I’d didn’t say and I didn’t like that.

The current show you’re doing features the greatest hits of musicals?

It’s the great songbook - Wizard of Oz, Miss Saigon, Phantom of the Opera, Les Mis but we’ve also got The Greatest Show and new musicals such as Book of Mormon and others. A few folk have said they like the fact that we have up-to-date songs as well as the classics. I also sing Anthem from Chess which was the song from my audition on BGT.

Jai McDowall and Jonathan Ansell are appearing in Les Musicals in Edinburgh on March 23 and Dundee on March 24. For more information, see www.lesmusicals.com

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