A quick chat with Des O’Connor

TV Times caught up with singer, comedian and chat show host Des O’Connor who after more than 50 years in showbusiness has released a DVD featuring highlights of his 1970s American variety show…

From Buddy Holly to Barbra Streisand you’ve worked with the biggest stars. How do you look back on it?

“It was just fantastic. Sometimes I think, ‘Did I really talk to all those people?’ For example, on just one show we had Elton John, Prime Minister Tony Blair and Pavarotti.”

What do you think of today’s crop of talk shows?

“When I watch some talk shows today, I think, ‘You’ll burn out because you’re upsetting the guests!’ You don’t have to be sycophantic and kissing bums, you just have to make it entertaining and shut up and listen. I never went for out-and-out interviews; I wanted to have fun conversations.”

You were always supremely at ease on-screen. How do you feel about people like Susan Boyle?

“It’s a live-or-die situation for a lot of them. Sometimes they can handle it, but often they can’t. I love shows like Britain’s Got Talent in one way because it’s an opportunity for some genuinely gifted people – but it’s all gone mad! I don’t like it when people are cruel about them because I know how much it’s going to hurt.”

So what’s the secret to being a successful entertainer?

“You learn your game. I’ve been entertaining for well over 50 years and I’m better on stage now than I’ve ever been. The best is yet to come! I’ve got a nationwide concert tour coming up, starting in August, and I know it’ll work. Before I get to the microphone I feel that it’s right and the audience and I will just have a giggle. Nothing is scripted. That’s the thrill of live entertainment – it’s what I do best. I’d really pack it in if I was to look at things and think, ‘That’s not very good, Des, you’ve lost that’.”

Why did you quite Countdown last year?

“I thought to myself, ‘I really want to get back to doing some of my own shows’. I just love performing.”

You’re remembered by many for being the butt of jokes on The Morecambe & Wise Show. How do you feel about that now?

“I never took it to heart. It was fine by me, and Eric and I became friends. I used to send him my own insults. I wrote lines like, ‘Des O’Connor’s got a one-man show – let’s hope two turn up next time!’ Or, ‘Des O’Connor’s just become a limited company. So he should – he’s a limited performer!’ People would say to me, ‘Did you hear what Eric said about you?’ And I’d say, ‘Disgusting!’ I never minded being the butt of the humour. Affection’s going to last a lot longer than admiration.

“I feel a warmth from people all the time. I know I’m not the greatest singer or the funniest comic in the world, but what I can do is create something where people relax, enjoy themselves and come away with a smile.”

*The two-disc DVD set Des O’Connor Volume 1 is on sale now (RRP £19.99)