Stephen Mulhern says he’s the “and” in Ant & Dec – and counts Simon Cowell as a friend
Ask anyone in the TV industry what Stephen Mulhern really looks like and they’ll tell you what you see onscreen is exactly what you get offscreen. Okay, he might not be wearing the flamboyant outfits Ant and Dec dress him in Saturday Night Takeaway, but he’s personable, funny, and most importantly, open and genuine.
“If this all ended tomorrow, would I be emptied?” Yes, but would I say there is nothing else I can do? No, I would go back to what I did before, ”Stephen tells us via Zoom. He speaks to us from the back of a car – a rare quiet moment in a busy schedule that includes Catchphrase and In For A Penny. “The shows I do are a dream to do and I know I’m very lucky to be able to do them,” he adds.
The 44-year-old has just wrapped up filming on a second series of Rolling In It, ITV’s game show where famous faces team up with audience members as they try to win big on a huge game arcade. The show, which returns this week, was inspired by an idea from Simon Cowell, the former boss of Stephen’s Britain’s Got Talent. And Stephen tells us that in addition to a colleague, he now counts Simon as a friend.
But he’s far from the only famous name in Stephen’s phone book. Here, the magician and former Redcoat of Butlin reveals his other friendships, explains why he leads a normal life away from our screens, and how he’s now available for hire after officiating at the renewal of Emma and Matt Willis’ wedding vows. .
Hi, Stéphane. You can tell you love hosting Rolling In It…
I honestly believe this is the best game show on TV. He delivers everything – ups, downs, comedy, anxiety. It’s fair to everything!
What famous faces are you always trying to get?
I would love for Lorraine Kelly to do the show, and I want a Gogglebox special. I would also like to see Simon Cowell play there. The game actually started from an idea of Simon because he loved the arcade game. So we could do a special BGT judge with Simon, David [Walliams] and Alesha [Dixon] or Amanda [Holden].
Do you know why that would be amazing? It’s the only game Simon couldn’t control. He wouldn’t like it, but viewers and I would love him!
Do you count Simon as a friend?
He sends me an email and even when I don’t expect it, I get a response from him. So I hope so. But if I was on a sinking ship, and it was just me and Sinitta, I don’t know who he would save first. It was probably the only time in my life that I started to panic. Maybe I should grab the Sinitta leaves to float…
What are your funniest memories with him?
The last time I did the Royal Variety Performance was at the Palladium. The backstage is so small that everyone has to share dressing rooms. You had Shirley Bassey with Bette Midler, Michael McIntyre and One Direction. When I arrived, it was written on the door: “Stephen Mulhern and Simon Cowell”. I thought, ‘Oh my God!’ The reason is that it is not only Simon who arrives, it is Simon and his entourage. He arrived with his sunglasses on, followed by his makeup artist, PA and his partner. We were like sardines, it was the most uncomfortable moment of my life.
Then to make matters worse, opening my number was the joke, “Oh look, there are a lot of people here that I recognize. Hello Sue, how are you? Hello Di, how is your eye? Hello Annie… you are fine! ‘ Now we’re all adults, but when I got back to the dressing room, Simon said, ‘Tell the joke. Annie’s joke. Say it again. ‘ I had to explain the joke to Simon and his girlfriend. I hope this moment will never happen again. I wanted the ground to swallow me up.
It has been reported that Simon is planning a residency in Vegas for the BGT acts. Would you be ready to do some magic?
Yes! I hope while we’re on that Zoom call he calls me and tries to reach my phone – because if he’s not, then why not ?! [Laughs] In fact, I will absolutely send an email after this. I will ask and find out.
And speaking of your famous friends, how does it feel to be the third person in Ant and Dec’s televised wedding?
Weirdly, someone said to me the other day, ‘You’re like the’ and ‘in Ant and Dec.’ It’s pretty funny to hear. But also my dad said, “You’re the Des O’Connor” because when Morecambe and Wise were at their peak, Des was the downfall guy. It was the same kind of comedy where they said to Des, “You’re going to do this today …”
Is that how you end up wearing all those ridiculous costumes on Saturday Night Takeaway?
Yes! I don’t know what’s going to happen next year because these golden pants caused a stir. We almost set the bar too high. Where are you going next? Maybe I’ll wear some sort of Borat leotard. A Mulhern-kini. In fact, let’s not give them any ideas!
Do you have the opportunity to hang out with Ant and Dec when you’re not working together?
Yes. Oddly enough, I was at a small market the other Saturday and, as I walked through it, Dec was there. We were exchanging stories about what we had bought. The only thing we had that was similar was a few little shots of ginger where we were trying to be healthy! One year in confinement and we’re still trying to drink ginger shots.
Has confinement changed you?
There are some things I wish I had done. I wish I had learned a new skill, like the guitar or another language. But the bonus I got from the lockdown was that I realized I needed to see more of my family, without fail. We spent half the year with my mom trying to use FaceTime, which I renamed ChinTime because that’s all I’ve ever seen from her [Laughs].
So, are you very close to your family?
Yeah – my mom reminds me, if not every day, every other day, how lucky we are. All my mom and dad want to do is go to a rotisserie. It’s their pleasure of the week. I was with them yesterday and I said, “What do you want to do? And my mother said to me: ‘Are we going to have a grill?’ And her face lights up. I don’t go to showbiz parties but I love life.
Have you been able to treat your family through your television work?
The best treat we’ve ever made – which they’ll never stop talking about – was when I was on the Royal Variety show. I surprised them with a
stay at the Ritz hotel. We had my mom, dad, sister, aunts and uncle. It was unbelievable.
What’s left on your list of career choices now?
I want to do my own live show, and in terms of TV, I would love my own big entertainment show. I’m in talks with different companies trying to come up with an idea – but a Michael McIntyre-style, Saturday Night Takeaway-esque show with a little bit of magic. Something you can’t see on other shows. If this happens, it will be the bucket list checked.
We never see you do entertainment reality shows. Are you not asking yourself the question?
I wasn’t asked to do them – I don’t know if they think I just wouldn’t do them. But I might think of doing
The Masked Singer because it could be good.
Do you have a voice good enough to impress the judges?
Well judging by Lenny Henry I would win the show!
Will Ant and Dec take you to the jungle one day for I’m A Celeb?
That’s the problem – I wouldn’t know if viewers voted for me, or if Ant and Dec were liquidating me. It would be like, ‘Oh, who eats kangaroo testicles today? I wonder … ‘If I did, I would eat as much food as possible before entering!
Finally, is it true that you officiated for Emma and Matt Willis’ vow renewal ceremony?
Not only did I do it, but Emma said it was as good as getting married. Honestly, it was like the Comedy Central Roast TV show. Matt got it with both barrels! It took a long time to write it but it was funny.
So will you be available if Simon ever gets married?
Yeah, and I’m gonna start over with that opening joke from Royal Variety. Simon will love this!