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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Alexandra Topping

Britain’s Got Talent company ‘knew of David Walliams’s derogatory remarks when it offered him £1m deal’

Walliams’s lawyers say FremantleMedia only withdrew its offer after the Guardian published a story about the comments.
Walliams’s lawyers say FremantleMedia only withdrew its offer after the Guardian published a story about the comments. Photograph: Dymond/Thames/Syco/Shutterstock

David Walliams was offered a new contract on Britain’s Got Talent despite the show’s production company being aware of derogatory and sexually explicit remarks he made about two contestants, according to court documents.

Walliams, 52, announced he was leaving Britain’s Got Talent in November 2022 after the Guardian revealed he had been recorded making the comments during the filming of a 2020 episode.

He could be heard referring to one contestant as a “cunt” and saying of another: “She thinks you want to fuck her, but you don’t.”

Walliams’s lawyers argued the comments were part of a private conversation never intended for broadcast, as did lawyers for Thames TV, the production company behind Britain’s Got Talent.

Walliams has subsequently filed a case against FremantleMedia, which makes Britain’s Got Talent, accusing it of an unlawful data protection breach and seeking for his data to be erased and damages for distress, loss of earnings and “psychiatric harm and loss of control of his private information”.

In high court documents, Walliams’s lawyers state that Fremantle was “fully aware of the allegations made by the Guardian” when it offered Walliams a £1m contract to appear in the 2023 season of the show, and that it only withdrew the offer after the Guardian published a story about the comments.

A Fremantle spokesperson said: “We had a long and productive relationship with David and so are surprised and saddened by this legal action. For our part, we remain available and open to dialogue to resolve this matter amicably. However, in the interim, we will examine the various allegations and are prepared to robustly defend ourselves if necessary.”

The papers state that Walliams, whose real name is David Edward Williams, received a letter from the Guardian months before he was offered a new contract, which said it had seen a transcript of judges’ comments for three days of filming in which Walliams “made unguarded comments about two contestants”.

The letter was the first time Walliams realised Fremantle was “collecting and retaining vastly more of his personal data than he had been given to understand” and than was necessary to make the show, state the papers.

A source at Fremantle said the show’s judges were aware their conversations were being recorded, adding: “It seems somewhat bizarre, as it was widely reported in 2018 that all the comments judges made at the desk were going to be recorded, even when they weren’t speaking to contestants.”

Walliams, one of the UK’s best-known television personalities and children’s book authors, received an offer that “set out the central terms of a contract” to appear on the 2023 season of BGT in October last year, proposing a £1m fee and a wardrobe allowance of £25,000, according to the documents.

The Guardian’s article was published on 10 November 2022 and Walliams’s lawyers say he accepted the job offer 18 days later. Fremantle withdrew the offer on 14 December, with Walliams stating he believed it did so “in response to the publication … of an article in the Guardian”.

The documents state that Walliams was unaware that “his microphone was kept on and recording throughout the whole filming day, including breaks” and had recorded sensitive and personal discussions. These included conversations with his fellow judge Alesha Dixon about the breakdown of his marriage, his opinions about other celebrities and his mental health.

According to Walliams’s psychiatrist, the 52-year-old has experienced a “profound” effect on his mental health and has been prescribed heavier doses of medication that he was already using for depression, anxiety and sleep problems.

Dr Mark Collins said Walliams had been “plagued by uncontrollable negative thoughts”, according to the papers. They add that he consequently suffers from a “constant concern that any unguarded comments could be used against him, he has lost the ability to be spontaneous or edgy – in short, to be funny”.

Walliams apologised for his comments last year. He said in a statement: “I would like to apologise to the people I made disrespectful comments about during breaks in filming for Britain’s Got Talent in 2020. These were private conversations and – like most conversations with friends – were never intended to be shared. Nevertheless, I am sorry.”

Thames TV said at the time that the company regarded Walliams’s comments as private but that his language was “inappropriate”.

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