Opportunity knocks once more

The performers may be amateurs, but their passion is genuinely moving

<strong>Britain's Got Talent

Confessions, confessions. There are times when I'm really glad of preview discs. Alone in the privacy of my own sitting room, I have just watched Craig Wormsley, a softly spoken 17-year-old from Lancashire, perform his exuberant, baton-twirling routine to the sound of Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now" four times on the trot. Yes, four times. I might as well also admit that, the first two times, I blubbed, and the last two I could not resist pausing the DVD at the moment when, realising that the audience was on his side, Craig let a half-smile escape on to his face, like the sun breaking through clouds.

Afterwards, I came up here to my desk and watched the whole thing for a fifth time on YouTube. Craig was just getting to the bit where he hurls his stick so high, you fear it will hit the stage lights and all will be lost, when the phone rang. It was my friend Nicola. I was compelled to tell her about the blubbing. "Oh my God," she said. "You're turning into a nice person. This is bad news."

I'm afraid that I've nothing very clever or insightful to say about Britain's Got Talent, which began on ITV on 9 June - except that what goes around comes around. It is Opportunity Knocks revisited. A few people worry that talent shows are clogging up the schedules to the detriment of comedy and drama, but I doubt it: good comedy and drama will always win in the end, and it's hardly Simon Cowell's fault if not enough of it is being written or commissioned. Besides, each channel can only support one competition at a time, be it the search for the next Dreamcoat-wearing Joseph or, as in this case, an act for the Royal Variety Show. So it's not as if the lunatics are taking over the asylum, even if it sometimes feels that way. (Simon Cowell, I should add, is desperately sane, if a little repressed; I have interviewed him, and my hunch is that his famously armpit- grazing trousers are high-waisted for perfectly sensible reasons of comfort rather than style.)

Still, I was all set to be snotty about BGT, an attitude I successfully maintained through Ant and Dec's predictably charming introduction to the show and its judges: Cowell, the frisky actress Amanda Holden and Piers Morgan. Not for nothing do my pals in the blogosphere call me an elitist.

Thirteen minutes in, however, my critical ruthlessness ran out of the room faster than you could say "Harold Pinter". First, a guy came on with a monkey puppet that "sang", somewhat anarchically, Michael Jackson songs. I laughed so hard, I had to pee. Very shaming. Then came Paul Potts, a mobile-phone salesman with a heartbreakingly sad face, who sang "Nessun Dorma" beautifully. The salty tears began to fall. Finally - gloriously - there was Craig, who practises his twirling in secret because his parents think it's a bit girly. He was resplendent in white Lurex. At this point, I had to fetch a hanky.

I'm rubbish at everything apart from writing, which is probably why dedication, talent and a certain spangly kind of verve make me cry. The show-offs - the stage-school brats and those who only come on so they can argue the toss with Cowell - I can do without. But even if I had a prophetic soul (I gather that this is not the same thing as reading one's horoscope), it would be moved by those who visibly transform when they are doing the one thing that they're good at - be it a relatively small and strange thing like baton-twirling, or a big thing like singing Puccini.

Life is hard but, as Craig told the judges, there is also no balm for it more effective than deep concentration, the moment when you pass from trying into succeeding. The resulting heat also effects change, albeit temporarily, in your audience. It turns them (me and Simon Cowell) into nice people - though whether this is also true even for my old friend Piers Morgan, I would not like to say. I'll track down my critical ruthlessness and get back to you on that one.

Pick of the week

Tiswas Reunited
16 June, 9.15pm, ITV1
Tribute to the 1970s kids' show, with Chris Tarrant and Sally James.

Sex, the City and Me
17 June, 9pm, BBC2
Sarah Parish as a City high-flyer.

Cutting Edge: the Dangerous School for Boys
18 June, 9pm, Channel 4
Boarders learn Gregorian chanting and how to skin rabbits.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 18 June 2007 issue of the New Statesman, New Britain - The country Brown inherits