Bowen With A Smile On My Face: A Chat With The Crumble Lady From Britain’s Got Talent!

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”They’ve given me Beyonce’s choreographer! I can’t believe it!’’

They say a week is a long time in politics, and the two weeks that have passed since the Election have certainly seemed pretty draggy. We needed the Irish to get behind the equal marriage rights referendum the other day, to restore some faith in humanity and by heck, they only gone and done it! Now we’re on a roll, looking around for good, life affirming things to vote for..

By comparison, a week in Light Entertainment can go very quickly indeed. Especially when, one day, despite years of treading the boards, your name is known to a relatively small number of people and the next, you have been seen by some 13 million folk on prime time TV, gone viral on YouTube, guested on breakfast telly and been ‘exposed’ by the newspapers.

But that is exactly what the previous seven days have been like for the person currently fizzing and frothing enthusiastically in my ear. ‘’I’m loving it Mark. It’s fantastic! I can’t believe it, they’ve given me Beyonce’s choreographer!’’

That person being one Ms Lorraine Bowen, AKA The Lorraine Bowen Experience, AKA LoBo, The Funny Crumble Lady from Britain’s Got Talent. Lorraine’s trademark exuberance is immediately evident, but she is also a little flustered today, having just taken an unscheduled, enforced break from rehearsals. ”Well, it’s all a bit frantic, there was a bomb scare in Wembley that disrupted it all. I mean, they’ve lost a whole day because of it! They’ve had to move us..”

What was all that about? ” They found an unexploded Second World War bomb! And they’ve had to evacuate everyone. You will hear about it on the news. It was crazy, it suddenly all went a bit Dad’s Army (laughs)”

The reference to everyone’s favourite hapless Home Guards seems rather apt, considering the present company. There’s something comfortingly old fashioned and a bit Land Army Girl about Lorraine Bowen. She exudes qualities that seem to be in danger of going out of style. She has an uncynical and open vulnerability about her, and a natural, unforced kookiness. A highly spirited lass is she, and I’m trying to think of which two people she might be like, ‘if they met’. I’m thinking maybe, ‘Like Joyce Grenfell meets Frank Sidebottom’. As if by telepathy, Lorraine helps me out.

”I can’t wait for the semi, it’s going to be like Pee Wee Herman meets Beyoncé!”

If you don’t watch Britain’s Got Talent and are not familiar with the gangly, Casio playing, Sunday afternoon pudding-serenading songstress who made a big splash on the current, 9th series and you wish to know more, then you’d be wise to check out her audition on YouTube, (link provided below) as well over a million others have already done. Then it will all become clear. Warning: You may also get a new ear worm, as the song is very catchy. I challenge you not to join in on the ‘bike’ bit..

For those of you already familiar with this slightly mad-auntiefied force-of-nature, and all other interested parties, then as Capt Mainwaring would have said, Very good Wilson, carry on..

Lorraine has been playing keyboards and performing her quirky brand of self-penned comic ditties in various bands, and also solo, as The Lorraine Bowen experience for quite a while now. But, unlike the latent Second World War device currently causing a kerfuffle in Wembley, this seasoned troubadour finally did explode, all over our screens, on telly’s biggest talent search two Saturdays back.

I first saw her perform many moons ago in a pub and she looks and sounds much the same as she did then. You might say that she has grown comfortably into her individual look in the intervening years. Same style of one piece dress, similar hairstyle and, of course the specs. The only real difference are the bingo wings. And before you think, how rude of you to point out such a thing, you should know that, said middle-aged attributes were in fact, proudly paraded and referred to by Lorraine herself, in her audition. For the record, I didn’t think they looked that wingy, myself.

I am wondering what she thought about the Daily Mail’s rather lame ‘expose’ of her. That being that she had, shock horror, played keyboards on tour with Billy Bragg years ago, and had had a number of albums released. I found it quite ridiculous when a grainy picture of her on stage with Mr Bragg was published, like some seedy secret, skeleton-in-the-closet, past. I mean, it’s hardly up there with ‘caught arranging a drug deal’ or ‘fraudulently claiming disability benefit’ is it? She seems unperturbed and gracious about it.

‘’Oh it’s just the British press isn’t it? It’s what they do. They like to balance you out. Have to put you down a bit. They can look where they like, they won’t find anything scandalous. (laughing) Anyone can look at everything I’ve ever done. I’ve just paid somebody 40 quid to do my Wiki page. It’s all on there now. (laughs)’’

If phone-hacking was still a thing, you can’t help thinking the most controversial message some tacky journo would be likely to tap into, would be something like, her telling a mate that the pattern on her new dress material looks a bit like lots of tits n bums, if you screw your eyes up..

”And I’ve never taken drugs, and no raunchy sex tape either. So they can look but they won’t find anything!”

This is one person who definitely needs no drugs. Though I reckon if you could chop up her DNA and snort it, it would sell well in the clubs, as they’d all be on a permanently, slightly loopy high, in a state, where everything is ‘Fantastic!’.

I can’t see how The Mail’s flat little non-revelation would harm her chances on the show, which has always been open to a mix of brand new, and already working artistes. Indeed, on the same BGT show that Lorraine appeared on, there was also an impressionist, who, the judges established within seconds, was a full time touring pro. No big deal. They only had to ask. So, presumably the producers knew all about her modest, in terms of financial success, but long-lived, career to date?

”Oh yes, I’ve auditioned a couple of times before, but didn’t get to the TV stage, so they know me, they are fine with it. Everyone’s been great. They get right behind you”.

Was there any pressure to come up with a pathos-ridden back story?

”Oh no, none at all really. I don’t think they’ve done that many back stories this year. They asked if I had any kids. I mean, come on, who cares? We have same sex marriage now, who cares about kids. But no, no kids, no..”

”Alesha did retract her buzzer on the night, but that wasn’t shown”.

On the TV audition, David Walliams was the only judge not to reject her, and it was his golden buzzer intervention that meant she went straight through to the semi-finals. Much to Simon Cowell’s chagrin and the audience’s delight. I’ve heard a few people suggesting that her and Walliams must have a history, and probably already know each other from their Edinburgh fringe days.

”Ohh really, is that what you’ve heard people saying? Absolutely not. I know his work, obviously, I think he’s brilliant, a comedy god. I love what he’s done, all the TV stuff and swimming and charity and all that. No, I’d never met him before and I haven’t seen him since. I’d love to go to the pub with him. The one disappointing thing is that I was booked to go on Nick Grimshaw (Radio 1 Breakfast Show) with David next Wednesday, but that’s been cancelled, because I’m going to be on Monday night’s show now. I was really looking forward to that.”

For me, as a regular BGT viewer, it was quite a surprise to see her appear on the show, and in those first few seconds, when she was getting buzzed off, I admit, I was thinking, oh no, why did you do this? But a matter of moments later, her unpretentiously joyous rendition won over the crowd and many at home too, and it all came right in the end. But it must have been a bit nerve-wracking getting all those red Xs?

”I didn’t know. I couldn’t really hear anything, because the Casio was so loud and I was concentrating on doing a specific version of the song. Trying to make sure I got all the right bits in. So I wasn’t really aware what was going on. Alesha did retract her buzzer on the night, but that wasn’t shown”.

I can well imagine her being lost in her own little bubble up there, oblivious of her rapidly diminishing chances of success, but was she aware of the audience warming to her as her performance progressed?

”Oh yeah, I felt that. When it got to the ‘bike bit’ I thought, great, they are with me. I loved it.”

Are you worried that your existing live following will sneer and think you’ve sold out?

”Nooo! Not at all. (laughs) My gay boys are still cheering for me!”.

I presumed that she was referring to part of her usual live audience demographic rather than some secret progeny that she’s been shielding from the producers..

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”I almost packed it all in, last year. I thought I’ll just stop, and go and live abroad”

”Look I’m 53, I’ve been doing shows for years, and recently, the last few years, the money has gone right down. Everyone is getting less these days. Going round, doing my own show, organising everything, and getting about thirty quid. I’m really happy to get the big audience to see me, even if it’s just once. It’s been a great 6 months, (since the actual audition) I’m loving it. I don’t want it to end, but if it does all finish on Monday, I’ll be happy. If I got knocked over and killed by a bus on Tuesday, I’d be happy. Not about the getting killed bit, obviously..”

She says all this without a trace of phoniness or insincerity and is so very obviously chuffed to bits at her brush with the big time. After all the years, acceptance by a wider, mainstream audience seems to mean a lot.

” Oh crikey, yes. It’s Kudos. In a word. I’ve worked for years and years, slogging around and I’ve never been asked on any of those shows about ‘Funny Women’ or anything. I suppose it’s because I’ve always been hard to categorize. So to be seen by millions, I’m not being big-headed here, I’m just saying, I really loved being on that big stage. It’s kudos. I loved it.”

Then for the first time since we started chatting, her mood shifts slightly and the characteristic energetic zeal leaves her with a sigh..

”I almost packed it all in last year. You know, I thought, I’m 53, it’s hard, travelling around and, maybe I’ll just stop and go and live abroad. But then, a few things happened. This series of BGT seems to have changed, gotten better, they have a new set. And maybe I’ve changed a bit too. I don’t take myself as seriously as I did when I was younger. It all seemed right, this year, a few things aligned and I thought, the time is right, what the hell? Yeah, do it.”

So are you happy with the process, have they given you the space to do what you want? Her usual gusto returns with a delighted squeal..

”Ohh yes! They have been great, all the production side have been really supportive. If they like an idea, they let you get on with it. Everyone has been fantastic. And Brian Friedman, the choreographer has had some GREAT ideas!”.

In previous series, it’s seemed like they’ve put a few quite weak and dubious acts through to the semis, deliberately to get people laughing at them, not with them..

”Padding. Yes, I think they had quite a bit of padding in the past, but I think this year it’s better. I don’t think there’s much padding now”

What are you going to be doing in the semi-final?

”Oh I can’t. I can’t say. I’ll get into trouble. But I’m LOVING IT! It’s going to be like Pee Wee Herman meets Beyonce! They’ve GIVEN ME BEYONCE’S CHOREOGRAPHER! It’s mad, it’s going to be crazy! There’s going to be..stop it Mark, I can’t say!”

Just a tiny clue..

”They’ve given me such a free rein, me and a friend had some ideas, they’ve gone with it. They really go with you”.

Go on..

”Ooh I’ll get into trouble. Ok, Aliens! (laughs) It’s crazy. And Hoovers! Oops Aggh.That’s it! I can’t say any more! I’m gonna be in trouble. Gonna be like Pee Wee..(laughs)”

What do you want to get out of it, ideally? What would you like to do with the exposure in the long run?

”Well, it could all be over after Monday”

There’s that little sigh again. She seems at pains to think past the next performance, to dare to dream or to harbour any grand ambitions. There’s clearly no false modesty at play. I remind her that she has a wealth of experience to exploit and that you don’t have to win these things to get a break from them.

”You’re right Mark. I do want to do other stuff, obviously. I’d love to do more TV, bigger shows, I wouldn’t even mind if it was just my music in an advert that they wanted. I’m just glad this happened. But you know, if nothing else, it would just be nice to be able to do a live show where I didn’t have to organise the entire thing, put up the posters and even sort out the seating arrangements”

And with that she says she must go and get some food and then return to rehearsals. She says, one last time. ‘I’m loving it!” And she really is.

I didn’t get the chance to mention that in past series, some auditionees who made it through to the semis, seemed to lose their raw charm and allowed their second performance to become over produced and overblown with too many bells and whistles. I was going to ask if that was a concern she had, but somehow I don’t think she sees that as an issue..

So that was my Lorraine Bowen Experience, refreshingly unguarded, infectiously enthusiastic, and dottier than Dot Cotton doing a dot-to-dot puzzle, whilst sending some Morse Code with all the dashes taken out, so it’s all dots.

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Maybe Monday night will be the last time you ever see Lobo on telly. And maybe it won’t be. By this time next year (unfortunate accidents involving buses, notwithstanding) she may well have been in a Bingo advert flashing her wings , or have represented the country at Eurovision 16, or been in the jungle eating kangaroo testicles. And maybe she will get her wish, and do a live show where she doesn’t have to toil off-stage, Land Army Girl-fashion, organising the chairs and posters, and where she can simply walk on and do her thing to a cheering crowd. She’d settle for that. But I hope she gets more..

Oh, and if she was to become a bona-fide celeb, the press would have to dig a little deeper for their dirt. Cue a grainy front page picture of a tall, bespectacled lady leaving a supermarket, with the headline ‘Gotchya – Lorraine buys her crumble in!

Whatever the next week holds, let’s wish this true British eccentric the best of British on the night. Not sure what method of transport she used today, but I like to think of her going off on her bike, off on her bike, off on her bike..

Britain’s Got Talent: 7:30pm, Monday, 25 May 2015.

If you missed Lorraine’s audition on Britain’s Got Talent, here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51JSTXhfx3c

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