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Hampshire girl Amanda Holden on Britain’s Got Talent, the off screen banter and preparing herself for the limelight

PUBLISHED: 15:02 01 May 2014 | UPDATED: 13:33 27 November 2014

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Britain’s Got Talent started again last month, and Hampshire girl Amanda Holden can’t wait to see who will walk across the stage, as Liz Kavanagh found out

“Even now, eight series on, the live shows give me the most amazing buzz,” says Amanda of the ITV show which made overnight celebrities of Susan Boyle, Paul Potts and dance troupe Diversity. “We never know who will be put in front of us,” she continues. “It’s like getting on a rollercoaster without strapping yourself in. None of the show is scripted or rehearsed so it’s a real ‘edge of the seat’ experience every time.”

Amanda broke into show business in her early twenties as an actress – her first professional role was Liesl Von Trapp in The Sound of Music. She now counts her career highlights as Sarah Trevanion in television’s Wild at Heart, and on stage more recently, Princess Fiona in Shrek The Musical. She has now been a judge on Britain’s Got Talent since it began in 2007.

It looks all glitz and glamour now, but Amanda has no qualms about discussing her upbringing. She spent the majority of her formative years in Hampshire with her mother. “I lived in Bishop’s Waltham on a modern housing estate,” she says. “Mum never let on how poor we were when I was a little girl and at the time I had no idea. She often went without herself so that my sister and I didn’t have to.”

But far from eschewing these more modest times, Amanda is full of praise for the area she grew up in, and the people that surrounded her. “Bishop’s Waltham was a lovely place to grow up, with a real sense of community. The mums had a babysitting circle, and we’d think nothing of popping next door for a cup of sugar.”

It was in Waltham Chase that Amanda got her first paid job, at Hyland’s Fruit Shop. “I was paid £13 for a stint at the weekend,” she said. “And I’d spend it all on clothes and No.7 make-up. I still love clothes and make-up – so nothing much has changed there!”

Amanda says that her dressing room at the Britain’s Got Talent studio is every girl’s dream: “We put mood boards on the walls and it’s filled with fairy lights, chocolates and candles, and lots of pictures that my girls have done.”

She says that while this is a fun place to be, it also helps her to put on her game face, and prepare herself for the limelight. “I always feel like a normal mum stepping into that room, and then come out ready to face the cameras. Britain’s Got Talent throws me head first into the spotlight in a way like nothing else does. It’s the same for the other judges. Alesha Dixon, David Walliams and Simon Cowell are an incredible team to work with. We have lots of banter off screen as well as on it.”

After years of working together on-screen, Amanda has become firm friends with co-judge Simon Cowell. “Working with Simon has been a revelation,” she says. “We have a lot of fun, but it’s remarkable to witness in person the phenomenon that is ‘Mr Cowell’.” The persona that we all know and (mostly) love to watch, is not the man that she sees backstage though. “He might appear to be made of stone on screen, but underneath he’s definitely a big softie. You only have to see how he’s been with his baby son, Eric, to see that side of him.”

Among the many highlights of the show, Amanda recalls the moment that they first saw Susan Boyle, a Scottish singer who came to the attention of the world when she appeared as a contestant on the TV programme in 2009. “People had laughed at her when she said she wanted to be like Elaine Page, and only moments later they were giving her a standing ovation. Very soon, Susan’s audition had gone global, and since then she has released four albums and become a legend. Susan proved that in the end talent wins out and that anyone from anywhere can make it.”

Away from the bright lights, Amanda is very much a hands-on mummy to Lexi, who is seven and Hollie who is now two. “Lexi was only a baby when I got offered the job on Wild at Heart,” says Amanda, “so I took her with me to South Africa where we were filming. I sometimes wonder if she’ll end up as a zoologist because of all those incredible experiences she must have stored up in her memory banks.”

Now though, Amanda says that globetrotting is the last thing on her mind. Her schedule this year includes stints on America’s CBS network as their UK correspondent, but Amanda admits that she’s very much a home-bird at heart. “The country lifestyle has always appealed to me,” she says. “I used to joke that my ideal role would be playing Ma Larkin in The Darling Buds of May, as I’ve always been the type of girl that liked making bread. When I was younger, my flat mates used to call me Jane Asher.”

A vegetarian since her teens and a patron of The Born Free Foundation, back in Hampshire Amanda still likes to cook a traditional Sunday roast for the family, but stays away from meat herself. “I was never a big fan of it, and where other kids would leave their veg, I’d be tucking in to mine,” she says. “I’m happy to cook meat for other people though,” she continues, before breaking into a smile. “I was stuffing a chicken when my husband Chris proposed to me in fact in 2004! My hands were covered in grease and garlic when he shrieked from the bathroom that there was a big spider in the shower. Chris is a real girl when it comes to spiders so I rushed in ready for combat, opened the shower door, and instead of a big hairy spider there was a box containing the perfect diamond ring.”

The course of true love didn’t run smooth though, and Amanda says that Chris isn’t a fan of the limelight, so it took some persuading for him to realise that she was the girl for him. “One of the prices you pay for fame is losing your privacy” says Amanda. “And that can be very tough on those around you. Chris hates any public attention. I still can’t believe he married me. But he has carried us through every storm, and is the very best daddy to our girls.”

When asked what she’d like to do next, Amanda is quick to talk about period drama. “It would have to be something where I’d get to wear a bonnet,” she says with a laugh. “I’ve also always wanted to do Shakespeare as that is such a big challenge as an actress – either way a part as a wench would suit me down to the ground!”

And away from the cameras, what is it that makes Amanda Holden happy? “Chris moans at me that I have no hobbies. But that’s because my hobbies turned into my dream and my dream turned into my job. The most important thing in my life is to be Mrs Chris Hughes, mummy to Lexi and Hollie.”

So there you have it. She may be an internationally acclaimed television presenter, but underneath it all she’s just a mummy who likes dressing up, putting on make-up, the Hampshire countryside – oh, and wearing bonnets.

Amanda Holden’s autobiography, No Holding Back is out now. To keep up with the latest news on Britain’s Got Talent visit www.itv.com/britainsgottalent

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