Eastbourne ventriloquist, Steve Hewlett, agonisingly missed out on the finals of Britain’s Got Talent after making the semi-final top three.
Watched by a multi-million Saturday evening audience, the 37-year-old found himself pipped at the post by singer Jordan O’Keefe in the public vote, after the judges were deadlocked.
With shadow dance troupe Attraction going straight through from the viewers’ votes, it was left to Steve and Jordan to grab the second berth from the judge’s votes.
Both David Walliams and Amanda Holden voted for Steve. But when Simon Cowell and Alesha Dixon plumped for Jordan, it was left to the public vote when the teenager from Northern Ireland who got the nod.
On hearing he’d narrowly missed out on a place in next Saturday’s final, Steve, who lives in Willingdon with his wife Nina and their 19-month-old daughter, told Ant & Dec: “It has been the best experience of my life. It has been hard work. I love Great Britain, thank you for having me.”
Having gone through the national auditions earlier this year, Steve reached the top three in tonight’s semi-final in a heat where he also found himself up against Aliki Chrysochou, CEO Dancers, Duelling Pianos, Glambasadors, Maarty Broekman, and The Voices of Incognito.
The live shows this week have been drawing audiences close to 11 million and the results show around 8.7 million viewers. Those figures are bound to have grown tonight with a prime-time Saturday evening slot.
Earlier, Steve had impressed judges with his comedy act featuring his traditional partner Arthur Lager, who practised his chat-up lines on judges Alesha Dixon and Amanda Holden, before easing into his finale by producing a jaw-dropping Simon Cowell puppet which had the theatre audience cheering and on their feet.
“I find that very distracting,” said Cowell, as he tried to keep a straight face looking at Steve and his puppet nemesis while delivering his verdict.
The showbiz enterpreneur added: “I’ve got to be honest I went into this not looking forward to the act because I’m not a fan of ventriloquists, but I take back those thoughts. You did much better than I thought. Congratulations.”
Comedian David Walliams told the audience that he had bet Simon Cowell that the Eastbourne entertainer would reach the final. “After tonight, Simon’s going to have to give me that pound,” he said. Sadly, it was Simon who had the last laugh.
Alesha Dixon also praised Steve for his performance. “I absolutely love you and Arthur Lager. You are a great partnership. It was lovely to see Simon make an appearance. You are naturally funny, the material was great. I loved you when I first met you in the auditions, but you did even better tonight.”
Fellow judge Amanda Holden praised Steve for the work he had put into his semi-final performance from the audition. She said: “What I really enjoyed about the act Steve is the way you have honed your craft for years and years, and this is a huge break for you. It is a difficult genre. You’re in a show full of dancers and singers people with music and fireworks and everything else, but I think what you have achieved, on your own, with Arthur Lager and Simon was amazing. So well done.”
Even presenter Ant McPartlin offered praise to the East Sussex performer by saying: “You’ve done yourself a lot of favours with your perfomance tonight.”
Steve told Ant and Dec that appearing at the Royal Variety Performance later this year would have been the highlight of his career. “It would be the biggest dream. For 26 years I’ve been watching it and wanted to be on the show.”
The 37-year-old first found a love for the talent when he was just 12-years-old aftre watching an episode of New Faces – one of the original talent shows which ran from 1973 to 1978.
Steve became professional when he was 22 and now performs in holiday parks, cruise ships and theatres. He toured with Ken Dodd for five years.
Earlier, in the build-up to his performance the ITV cameras caught up with Steve and his family at home in Willingdon, and strolling along Eastbourne Pier. He said: “This is a whole new game.”