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Comedian Harry Hill: I'm no good at forced sincerity

Stars In Their Eyes is returning to screens, but don't expect everything to be the same as before, presenter Harry Hill tells Susan Griffin

Harry Hill couldn't be happier about his new job fronting Stars In Their Eyes - but there is one particular element of the show, which sees members of the public impersonate famous singers, that the comedian admits he's struggling with.

"I've had to find a way around not taking the p**s out of the contestants!" teases the cheeky 50-year-old, famed for his bald head, black specs and big collar. "But at the same time, I can't do that forced sincerity.

"The thing is, they do sing really well and get a real kick out of it, so I don't think we need to lard anything on too thickly," he adds.

The original series aired from 1990 to 2006, and almost a decade on, Hill admits he smiled when the producers came to him with the idea of resurrecting the cheesy show.

"And everyone I mentioned it to, they all thought it sounded like a great idea," says the funny man, who appeared as Morrissey in a celebrity version of the show back in 1999.

"I wasn't that well known at the time, but I've got a soft spot for it," confesses the father-of-two, who agreed to host the Saturday night prime time series on one condition - that he could "fool around" with the format.

"They were up for it, because they realised you couldn't just bring it back as it was, so we've been trying to work out how much of it we need to preserve."

He and his team, including a couple of writers from the award-winning Harry Hill's TV Burp, have been toying with the idea of doing a segment about pets that look like TV presenters, and another on finding celebrities who look like members of the public.

"We came up with too many ideas to fit the time, so it's just a question of what's funniest," notes Hill, a qualified doctor whose real name is Matthew Keith Hall.

He definitely won't be changing the dramatic transformation moment, however - when the contestant walks through the doors as smoke billows around them, before reappearing as their chosen singer.

"That's the most important bit to preserve. We have to let them do their thing and not mess about with that too much, but all the stuff around it, the interview and video of them at home, we're mucking about with. Also, we've got running gags and sketches running through the series."

Unlike entertainment juggernauts like Britain's Got Talent and The X Factor, there's no phone vote for viewers, or recording contracts for the contestants to vie for. "It's not going to change your life, and it's not going to ruin it. It's really for people to have fun with and to have a kick out of dressing up," says Hill.

"I hope people are going to like it, because there's a whole generation of kids who never saw the (original) show and a lot of acts who've come up since then who were never done, plus all the old ones that are quite funny anyway."

Far from finding the recording of the show stressful, he believes it to be the "fun bit" of the process.

"The stress comes in the months beforehand, when you're getting all the props and gags right. By the time you film it, you can't actually change anything, and you've just got to go with it in front of a live audience."

While he enjoys presenting, Hill is eyeing up further acting gigs too, following his appearance in The Incredible Adventures Of Professor Branestawm over Christmas.

"I don't think I'm necessarily the best actor, but all I can say is, I enjoyed doing this one," says the Surrey-born star, who's also working on another musical - despite the fact I Can't Sing! The X Factor Musical, his previous effort with Simon Cowell, was besieged by technical issues and closed six weeks after its official opening night in spring 2014.

"Part of the appeal was writing something I didn't have to be in, which I'd never done before," he explains of the project. "Plus, it's the ultimate showbiz experience. There's music, jokes, dancing and a big cast. It was really good fun."

The new musical is "not for anyone other than me at the moment", however.

"Me and Steve (Brown, the composer he worked with on I Can't Sing! as well as numerous other projects) have two ideas we're working on, but it'll be a while before it sees the light of day."

His first musical attempt might have been met with mixed reviews, but that's not going to deter him. As Hill says: "I enjoyed the process so much, it'd be a shame not to have another go."

  • Harry Hill's Stars In Their Eyes is on ITV tonight at 7pm

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