Dawn French hosts the second series of Little Big Shots, the entertainment show that shines the spotlight on some of the most talented children from around the world.
With no prizes at stake and no winners or losers, the programme simply allows three to 13 year olds to take to the stage to showcase their talents and prove they are star performers!
In each of the six hour-long shows, Dawn meets each act and gets to know them before they take to the performance area on the revolving stage, and show the audience and viewers what makes them special.
Pint-sized acts from all over the UK and the world will show off their singing, dancing and acrobatic skills alongside other amazing acts including a dog handler, a Eurovision expert, a champion hen-racer, a juggling strongman and stand-up comedian!
You’re back for a second series. What do you love so much about making Little Big Shots?
There are lots of things about it that are lovely. Never mind the practical stuff, which is go to London for two weeks, where I’ve got lots of mates, and have fun during the day doing this. The team that make it are very good fun. It suits my life very well, but never mind all of that, it’s a great show. I was a bit trepidatious about it at the beginning when they asked me to do it, because it’s a show that’s come from America and it’s presented by Steve Harvey who is a very different person to me. And I was thinking, maybe this needs a kind of grown up presenter – somebody who does a lot of thinking on their feet, which was not my skill or experience at all. I didn’t want to let the kids down, or be that awful person who tries to grab all the focus all the time. But then I asked to see the American show and it was just joyful. And a big attraction for me was that you are not promising these kids are going to be big stars, there’s no prizing or judging or horrible critiques or anything like that. Everybody understands that, for that one little moment, they get to shine, doing the thing that they love doing.
What was the reaction to the first series?
Fantastic. My in-laws love it. What I really like about it is that it’s old-fashioned family viewing. It’s got kids in it, but it’s not a kids-only show. It’s for everyone. Quite a lot of what I do divides people. Some like it, some don’t. That’s fine, but this – everyone seems to love it.
The kids you have on the show are incredibly diverse, aren’t they?
They’re so different because they’re all different ages, all different sizes, colours, creeds, countries, and talents. The talent is so varied. Some of them sing and dance and they are lovely. But some of them are just kids who’ve done something silly and funny on YouTube – we had a little boy called Marshall who is four years old. He got a guardsman’s outfit at Christmas and he loved to march in it so his family took him to Windsor Castle and filmed him meeting a proper guardsman. The guardsman stood still at first, like he’s supposed to, then he went indoors and got permission from his senior to go out and march with Marshall. Marshall’s day, his week, his year was made by doing that. So we replicated that on stage. And it’s joyous because we’ve all loved dressing up.
There is a very funny scene in the first episode in which you get on your hands and knees and crawl through a dog agility tunnel. You don’t mind getting stuck in, do you?!
Honestly, I saw them setting up the agility course and I thought, ‘I see. I see. I know what’s going to happen here’. In theory, I’d rather not be that undignified. On the other hand, I knew I was just not going to be able to resist it.
Which other acts stand out to you?
The Russian aerialists were absolutely extraordinary. Tiny, tiny, little perfect little creatures. They were strapped in so I knew they couldn’t fall, but nevertheless, the courage it takes to do that. You know, there’s no feeling around any of these kids that anyone has been forced, or does anything against their will, or doesn’t enjoy what they’re doing. These kids were just beaming, absolutely beaming. One thing I actually really love is the interpreters. We have these amazing kids with their talents from Russia, the Philippines, Romania, Germany, America, you name it. And a lot of them can’t speak the language, so then you meet other remarkable kids who translate. It’s crucial to have them there, but they’re massively clever. The little boy, Kai, who is a Russian translator, has now featured in series one and series two, and he’s very funny in his own right. He will explain things of course but he will also have his own take on it. So I asked this Russian kid if they are going to buy a football team while he’s here, which is just a little joke for the audience really, but Kai is rolling his eyes at me and it’s hilarious. He gives me a kind of, ‘I know what you’re up to and this is ridiculous’, type look.
What’s it like back stage before the kids come on?
The producers are very good. They are very kid friendly, and they’re very aware that especially for kids who come from abroad or other parts of the country, they’re in a hotel and it’s a big old deal. They’re given a few little tips and, more importantly, lots of time to rehearse. When they come to the studio, they don’t meet me, and that’s on purpose , it’s best for our show if they are meeting me for the first time in front of the audience. They see a picture of me but all they need to know beforehand is that I’m this lady who’s going to talk to them. It makes it much more natural.
Is there anything new this series?
Yes, we’ve got some collaboration. I was a bit wary of it to begin with. I thought, ‘Oh, hang on. Don’t just put people together for the sake of having a new thing’. But actually, we only do it three or four times in the whole series and it’s great when it happens because you get a second bite of some of the most remarkable kids. The producers sit and think, ‘Right. Here we have this beautiful singer. What would go well with her? I know, I remember that lovely boy, the ballet dancer from the last series. Let’s get him back and he can dance in the back’. So there’s a kind of little relationship with the show going on, a bit of history. There’s a harpist who works with a singer. There’s a lovely American trio, a cello and two violins, all brothers and sisters – and we put them together with a lovely Welsh singer and they do a Disney classic. It’s delightful. Then we’ve got this gorgeous boy who plays the piano, who happens to have been blind since he was born, and there’s a Romanian singer that we put him with. It’s an extra wonderful treat.
Some of these kids must spend hours upon hours training and rehearsing. Do you have any concerns about being that dedicated at such a young age?
I’m okay with that, as long as the kid really wants to and it’s a kind of passion. And I can honestly say that all the kids that we saw, their parents are right behind them and they are encouraged, they’re not forced. They’re encouraged to do something that is their skill. Now, I’ll tell you something I really have learned with the series, is that without a doubt, if you can identify a skill that your kid has or a passion, or a love that they have for a particular thing, and if you can devote some of your time as the parent to giving them space to do it, they will get better at it. So in other words, there’s a reason why the Williams sisters are brilliant at tennis. It’s because they decided to do tennis rather than watch loads of telly! Not that I have a judgement about that particularly – I love telly, and I certainly watched lots of it with my daughter – but I didn’t, somewhere along the line, think, “Oh, now, what could I focus on that she loves, that we do that and only that?” These parents have done that, they have sacrificed quite a lot actually, to make sure these kids have access to the one thing they love, and to support them and encourage them. Most of us just go, ‘Let’s do a bit of judo and a bit of piano’, and open lots of doors for your kids. But if you concentrate on one thing, you get really good at it. Like these wonderful two brothers we had on who are the best at mixed martial arts in Ireland and they travel the world doing it, getting better and better. Max is 11 and World Champion. That reminds me, there’s another wonderful thing about this show….
I get loads of presents! It’s heaven. These kids come from all over the world and all over the country with all kinds of wonderful things. I get everything from little Tupperware boxes of cookies to Russian matryoshka dolls. And the judo brothers gave me a black belt. So now I’m a black belt and I didn’t even have to earn it. I’ve got a great ukulele as well, some drumsticks from this amazing little girl. As it happens, my stepson is a drummer, and he saw them immediately and said, “Oh, I like these. May I borrow them?” And I haven’t seen them since.
What would your secret talent be if you were to go on the show as a child, or as an adult?
I didn’t really ever have a proper, well honed talent! I did a bit of dancing. I certainly couldn’t sing, but thought I could, so perhaps that. What would I do now? Hmm. I haven’t actually got a tangible skill, it’s a bit shocking. Well, I can move my eyes independently. It is a bit of an odd thing and I’ve been able to do it ever since I was very little. I think for a while my parents might have thought I was possessed. But I can do it. I’m not sure it would have got me on to Little Big Shots, mind you. I might wear a silly costume or something, or do a silly dance, or something like that. I could try and amuse the audience one way or another.
You dress up for a living, of course, when you act or especially when you film French and Saunders.
Most definitely. But I’m not so good at dressing up for fancy dress parties, weirdly. I’ve got it very wrong in real life. Elton John used to throw amazing, huge great big parties and I waslucky enough to go to a couple of those. Len and I once went as Michael Jackson and Bubbles. He was Michael Jackson and I was Bubbles. Hilarious for about five minutes, and then hot, and then I could smell my own body rotting from the inside of the costume. It was a full chimpanzee outfit, I could hardly see anything! When I eventually took the head off, and just mucked about sweating a lot, at the very glamorous party, I looked around and there were all these people in very glamorous versions of fancy dress. There were all these sexy jailbirds or flappers or whatever is cool and comfortable, and glam. And I was not. I’ve done that many, many times. I will go for the gag, and the joke wears off very, very quickly. But I can still remember the joy of doing the dressing up. Of laughing a lot, you know, getting ready for the party. And we don’t do that often enough as adults. Kids do it all the time.
On a completely different note – French and Saunders was very well received at Christmas time. Does that mean there will be more?
We never close the door on French and Saunders. We can’t bear the thought to close the door on it. There are no immediate plans, I would say. That’s because Fatty and I both are very booked up this year, and even into next year, so I can’t see the window of opportunity, but the minute there is one, we’ll be in there thinking of something. Fatty has been doing Lady Windermere’s Fan, which is brilliant. Fatty’s the best thing about it, of course, but the whole thing is wonderful.
Did you love being reunited for French and Saunders?
Yes, it was very good fun. We had very little time and it was a clip show at first, that turned into more than a clip show. I think what they really wanted us to do was just to narrate between some old clips, but we couldn’t face the thought of doing that, so we did sketches, and then we ran out of time. So it was chaotic, the same old chaos, but it was very doable. One of the great joys, and something I miss, is having accurate make-up and wardrobe. On the Christmas show, I used a makeup artist called Naomi Donne who I’ve worked with since I was 22 on French and Saunders, Vicar of Dibley. And now she’s the chief on all the Bond films. But we still get together and when she’s putting the wig on me to play Giles in Gogglebox, it’s the best giggle you could have. It’s just being in the dressing up box with your best mate. Collaborating on the costume before you even hit the studio floor is half the fun.