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Britain's Got Talent winner Jon Courtenay's secret battle with skin cancer on show

Jon Courtenay may have won Britain’s Got Talent – but his wife wanted him to be even more like the show’s boss Simon Cowell.

The 49-year-old, the first golden buzzer act to have won the show, met Simon during his edition at the London Palladium in 2020.

The multi-millionaire gave Jon’s stunned wife Emmah, 45, a hug and she was immediately smitten.

Simon Cowell (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

The pianist revealed: “He gave my wife a hug and a week later she bought me a beautiful grey, cashmere jumper.

“We couldn’t afford it so I asked why and she said that’s what Simon had been wearing. I’m still not sure who she’s thinking of when she asks me to wear it in bed.”

While it was Ant & Dec who pressed the golden buzzer for Jon, Simon was an early champion of the Manchester musician and comedian.

Jon, the father of two sons Nathan 16 and Alfie, nine, had been trying to make it for 25-years and was struggling financially before auditioning for the show in 2020 which he eventually won, receiving a life-changing £250,000.

But he wasn’t able to ask Simon advice during or after the show because the media mogul broke his back in August 2020 after he fell off an electric bike in California.

Jon joked: “Simon was only there for my audition then he used the excuse of a broken back to get out of the rest of the series.

“On stage at the Palladium he was very sweet and said he realised that I’d been grafting for many years and that this would be a big break for me.” While it was, Jon hasn’t been able to cash in on the success of the TV like other winners because of the Covid pandemic. The 2020 show was split into two – with the auditions being shown on TV in April and May and the live shows airing between August and October.

At the time Jon was worried after getting the golden buzzer from Ant & Dec – the show was going to be cancelled.

He said: “For a while they were adamant that they wouldn’t do it without a live audience.

“It would have been a very cruel fate to get a golden buzzer and then have the show cancelled!

“I know Ant & Dec were pretty ecstatic that it was their golden buzzer who won before Simon’s (this year’s Axel Blake).”

The show was then cancelled in 2021 because of the pandemic and it’s only now that Jon can go out and play live to his fans – including a debut run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe starting next Wednesday.

Jon said: “It was a little frustrating but you’ll never hear me complain. The prize money meant we could pay the mortgage having been unemployed for 18 months like all entertainers.

“Then I was having my cancer treatment so if I was out on the road I would have probably had to cancel a lot of shows anyway. Maybe it all happened for a reason.”

During filming of BGT in July 2020 Jon saw a suspicious mole on the left side of his head which in August – before BGT reconvened in the autumn – was found to be a melanoma.

But he didn’t tell anyone on the show as he didn’t want the pity vote.

Jon said: “We literally told no one on the show in case it got leaked.

“BGT love a good sob story but the thought of people giving me a sympathy vote rather than for my performance scared me more than my diagnosis!”

Being on the show while secretly battling skin cancer actually helped Jon with the stress of being on the show.

He said: “An excerpt from my diary during the finals said: ‘The last two days of rehearsals at the studio is the first time I haven’t thought about cancer for months.’

“I was having a lot of sleepless nights which I probably would have been having anyway worrying about the show, but maybe my health situation helped me keep it all in perspective.”

After winning the show Jon had an operation in December and got the all clear just before Christmas. But in February 2021 he found a lump in his neck.

He said: “It turns out it had spread despite the doctor’s convictions that it hadn’t, so after a radical neck dissection to remove it, I started a year’s course of immunotherapy which finished in May this year.”

Technically the show’s longest running champ – until comedian Axel Blake was crowned BGT winner last month – Jon is making his Fringe debut next week.

Axel Blake won BGT 2022 (ITV)

He said: “It’s been on the bucket list for many years. The show is called Against the Odds and it’s a one-man musical about the story of my experience on BGT combined with my cancer diagnosis at the same time.

“I wasn’t a favourite to win for a very long time and I wasn’t expecting to get through my health battle either but against the odds, I did.”

While he hasn’t got Scottish roots he is partial to a dram.

He said: “I have a vast collection of Scottish single malts. A few friends who have done the Fringe in the past have had a zero-alcohol policy.

“That may be tough considering my love of single malts but that’s my intention.

“I’ll be buying some during my stay in Edinburgh and will enjoy my purchases when I’m back in England.”

Jon first learned the piano when he was four but was a comedy-magic act in his teens before making up songs and playing the piano on stage in his 20s. Victor Borge, not Victoria Wood was his early inspiration.

Jon is hoping his Fringe run will be a success so he can keep performing his new show around the UK but has already been booked to do panto in St Helens.

He also has advice to anyone hoping to apply for next year’s BGT.

He said: “I went into it very aware that Simon has created a TV show first and a talent show second.

“If you accept that then yes, you should go for it and enjoy the ride.

“I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

But Jon does warn hopefuls that BGT doesn’t open the door to a successful career.

He added: “While a reality show might have done 20 years ago or more – it’s up to the act whether they can sustain the momentum.

“Whether it gives you a career or not still depends on what you do when it’s all over.

“It’s not like the old days of New Faces or Opportunity Knocks when a successful appearance almost
guaranteed you a TV career. It’s not that simple anymore.

“You need a good team around you and you need to nail social media which I’m still so bad at!

“If I wasn’t in this business I’d have no social media presence at all but it’s a necessary evil nowadays.”

● Jon’s Against the Odds runs from August 3-14 at the Gilded Balloon – The Museum. Tickets from gildedballoon.co.uk or call 0131 622 6552.

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