Back in 2017, Amanda Holden carved out her own special spot in queerstory when she was named ‘Honorary Gay’ at the Attitude Awards and delivered a truly iconic speech – we’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again, not enough heartfelt, inspiring and life-affirming speeches contain fisting jokes.
Three years on, Attitude is glad to hear that Amanda still has her hands full, so to speak. On top of juggling her judging role on Britain’s Got Talent and her Heart Breakfast radio gig, Amanda, 49, has found time to record a debut album, Songs from My Heart – and, yes, she’s made a very good fist of it.
Following on from the success of her NHS charity single ‘Over the Rainbow’ in May – which reached Number Two in the UK charts – the 13-song record features exquisite covers of some of Amanda’s favourite songs, from ‘I Dreamed a Dream’, from Les Miserables, to ‘I Know Him So Well’, featuring Sheridan Smith, from the musical Chess.
Over the course of a conversation regularly punctuated by Amanda’s glorious cackle, the presenter, actress and singer opens up about the (sometimes painful) personal meanings behind each of the songs, the Diversity drama on BGT, that speech and, erm, receiving sex toys from Rob Rinder after bonding over a casual colonic…
Hope this isn’t rude to say, but I was shocked by how great you sound on the album – those vocals are 'Golden Buzzer'-worthy.
I love for you that!
You’re best known for being a judge on Britain’s Got Talent. Do you think people are going to be surprised by your ability to sing the s*** out of a note?
I really hope so. I started out in musical theatre and I’ve done the West End and everything else. The first job I got was Liesl von Trapp in a tour of The Sound of Music. I was 21 going on 22, but that was the part I played, and it was just the best thing ever.
My career’s just gone everywhere, which has been fantastic, comedy, drama and everything, so it [singing], sort of, got lost along the way. A lot of people probably wonder what I do on Britain’s Got Talent. I think there’s a new generation who go, 'Well, why is she actually on there?'
By putting myself out there and opening myself up to criticism and judging, I continue to earn my seat on the show to be honest… I’m singing live [on the show] on 3rd October.
Are you nervous?!
Yes! I’m wearing a brown dress, with brown pants and brown boots [laughs].
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What prompted you to make the album? Why haven’t you done it sooner?
[My husband] Chris and I celebrated 10 years of being married a couple of years ago, and I sang ‘Tightrope’ from The Greatest Showman with the girls [daughters Hollie and Lexie]. We made a little video as a tribute for Chris and we gave it to him on the night, and he was overwhelmed by it and said I should put it on my socials. He’s a very private person and I was like, “Okay, darling, yes, course I’ll do that.” Then we got into this sort of bidding war [with record labels], where people were asking me if I wanted to do an album.
Well, that must have felt quite nice.
I was 49 and you think, this is not when somebody starts their music career, it’s normally when you end, isn’t it?!
Can you talk me through some of the stories behind the songs you picked?
I mean, they’re all quite depressing. I sing ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ because it’s one of my all-time favourite songs. I would have never done it before and then SuBo [Susan Boyle] made it feel more accessible, so that is a, sort of, homage to ‘Les Mis’ and Britain’s Got Talent rolled into one. ‘A Thousand Years’, by Christina Perri, is on there because when Lexie, my eldest, was born I felt like I [just] knew her. It was the weirdest feeling when she was put in my arms, I thought, oh, here she is. The lyrics to that song are, ‘I’ve known you, I’ve waited for you’, and I do believe you catch up with people in previous and different lives. That’s how it felt when I met her for the first time… And then ‘With You’ [from Ghost] is a song we released as – the lyrics to that are very sad because we affiliated that with our son, Theo, who was a stillborn baby. It’s all about grief and loss and when you lose someone, what it takes out of you.
I listened to ‘With You’ a lot today – it’s a beautiful rendition. Did you find recording the song cathartic in any way?
I could barely record that. I could never get to the end successfully without crying. It’s a really hard one to sing. It’s hard to sing anyway and I had to get myself out of the zone. I’ve sung everything with so much feeling that I, kind of, mean everything. It’s been ever such good therapy.
Any plans to return to the stage when theatres properly reopen?
There is talk of a tour, which I’m talking to people about at the moment, to tour the album, but anything to take me away from my family is a big commitment and something I really have to consider. It has to be worth it on every kind of level… The only thing for me is The Greatest Showman. If it ever came to the West End… by the time it probably comes out, I’ll be a very old, bearded lady!
You mentioned before that you’re going to be performing on BGT. Will Simon be Zoom-ing in to deliver his verdict?
Oh my god, I hope not! That was one of the ticks [to agreeing to perform], that there’s no Simon. It just makes it less nerve-wracking. I took my album round his house and he listened to it with me. He was unnervingly nice about it and complimentary, it put me off my strokes. I was ready with my notepad, “Jot this down, Ms Holden,” and he made me blush, he was very kind and lovely about it. But, yeah, I’m, kind of, glad he’s not there. I know he will see it from wherever he is – it’s terrifying.
You’ve already spoken at length about this, but ITV have done a great job of defending, or rather, standing by Diversity in the wake of the Ofcom complaints following their Black Lives Matter-inspired performance.
Standing by is the best way to describe it. I knew as soon as I’d seen it that it was going to, what I can I say, jolt people. It was a reflection on the entire year, lockdown, celebrating the NHS and, yes, it was reminding us of the tragedy in America. I think if it gets people talking and it gets families talking, that is the future. Children are our future and this conversation needs to continue until it becomes something that we don’t need to talk about anymore. It felt amazing to be a part of, and I felt enormous gratitude when ITV stood by and took out adverts and basically said, we can all learn from this.
A few years ago, you won Attitude’s ‘Honorary Gay’ award and delivered an iconic speech. Why do you think you’re so beloved by the gays?
I don’t know, but honestly, it [the award] is the biggest honour. I’m still disappointed I haven’t been asked to come and host it [though], I’m like, come on! Do you know what, I don’t put awards anywhere. We’ve got a couple of Baftas, but the one that is in my office – and [my publicist] Nathan will vouch for me on it – is my big ‘a’. Chris is like, 'You should have your Baftas out', and I’m like, 'No, I don’t want to show off'. But the ‘a’ is up because it means everything to me.
People still talk about your speech.
I know they do! That night, Sam Smith bee-lined for me and gave me the biggest cuddle. He went, “Can I just say, that speech!” and gave me a massive cuddle. I love Sam. They come on Heart Breakfast all the time and they’re just the nicest human being.
What has been your most awkward showbiz moment?
Well, I was on stage when Judy Finnigan’s tits fell out her dress [at the National Television Awards in 2000]. I was there with my ex-husband and we were just about to present them with the award, and as they came on stage, we were the ones standing behind them. I could see on the monitor that her bra was showing, and her breasts were hanging out. I just froze. I know John Leslie, or someone, got up and put everything back in. I have to say, I thought she did it on purpose at one point because it’s the kind of stunt I might have pulled!
Well, you know, if your performance goes wrong on BGT, at least you have a Plan B.
Well, I’ve practically done that! I used to hold the record for Ofcom complaints [laughs].
What is the most memorable thing you’ve ever received from a fan?
Crikey… I get sent a lot of stuff. Well, if you include him as a fan, you could say that Rob Rinder sent me a magic box from Ann Summers once [laughs].
What was the special occasion?!
I met Rob Rinder on a plane. We were on an EasyJet plane to Turkey for a detox week and we literally met having colonics – if you don’t make friends with someone during that, then you never will. He’s since become a really adorable friend of mine. I can’t remember if it was my birthday or my wedding anniversary, but he said I’d be delighted with the present. Thank Christ I opened it on my own because it was full of naughtiness! Obviously, I went through it and kept the bits I thought would be useful, and then the bin men had the rest. They’re having a lovely time.
It’s so funny you mention the magic box, because I’ve been struggling to think of what to get my mum for Christmas.
Take a polaroid of your mum’s face on Christmas Day.
I don’t think she’ll be sticking around. She’ll be right up in that bedroom.
Amanda Holden's Songs from My Heart is out now on Universal Records.