I don’t know whether you’ve met Simon Cowell, but it’s an odd thing. He’s smaller than you think and he has no feet.

So that his feet are not visible, his trousers seem to have been glued to his shoes’ soles. His suit caught my attention once and I asked where it came.

‘I have to have them made, Harry,’ he said. ‘I’m a very odd shape.’

Harry Hill pictured with The Queen, who the comedian said he met when he 'hadn¿t eaten all day' and  was 'unfortunately completely smashed' during. He said: 'I turned the Royal Variety Show into a Dignitas reunion dinner'

Harry Hill pictured with The Queen, who the comedian said he met when he ‘hadn’t eaten all day’ and  was ‘unfortunately completely smashed’ during. He stated that he had transformed the Royal Variety Show into an invitation to a Dignitas dinner.

My hit TV Burp show was on ITV for teatime every Saturday in the Noughties. It played right before The X Factor. Simon and his colleagues used to look at it while getting ready in their make-up.

I was a huge fan of the X Factor and so were my three girls. One year I brought them along to see the live recording. They were thrilled to meet One Direction, Louis and Cheryl.

Next year I found myself a bit drunk at the finale as Little Mix won the grand prize. I mused that I’d watched every single episode for seven years, and I thought to myself, ‘How can I turn this huge amount of useless knowledge into some kind of higher art, or better still . . . money!’

Then as the confetti cannons went off on screen and Little Mix wept with excitement, it hit me like a thunderbolt — an X Factor musical!

Simon’s right-hand man was Nigel Hall, a former ITV producer whom I knew a bit. I was inspired by Simon’s idea and met him at his Sony office, located just off Kensington High Street.

Nigel called to explain that Simon was ‘running a bit late’. I’d brought my friend Steve Brown, who would be the musical director, along with me.

After we finished our breakfast, we were offered tea and Heat magazines. Twenty minutes later, he came back to us: ‘Good news, Simon has left home, and he’s now in the car on the Westway.’

Ten minutes later . . . ‘Simon is 15 minutes away, he’s at Shepherd’s Bush roundabout.’ And 20 minutes later . . . ‘Simon is in the road and walking towards the building!’

Then It is possible to. . ‘Simon is in the lift!’ Then . . . ‘Simon’s coming up the corridor!’ Then the door to the office opened and Nigel said, ‘It’s Simon!’

The cigarette smoke was clearing like an episode of Stars In Their Eyes and he was standing in front of the doorway.

What he does have is an amazing stillness and weird charisma that I’ve never experienced before or since. You feel as if anything is possible when you are with him.

After our first meeting, I was genuinely unsure if I would fall in love.

‘What’s this about?’ he said, easing himself into one of the beige leather sofas in his beige-leather-lined office.

‘It’s about Harry’s idea for the X Factor musical, Simon, remember?’ prompted Nigel.

At the end of the meeting, Simon nodded, sat back on his sofa, and said the magic words: ‘It’s a yes from me!’

Steve and me fell to the ground and stared at one another in horror. ‘S***!’ said Steve. ‘We’re going to have to write the bloody thing now!’

At that first meeting, Simon had told us that he’d recently banned two words from the show — ‘journey’ as in, ‘It’s been a fantastic journey’ and ‘dream’ as in, ‘This is my dream, Simon!’

Hill said: 'For revenge, I told Keeley Hawes we¿d both pose cross-eyed - except I didn¿t¿'. Hawes with Hill at the 50th Bafta Television Awards in 2008

Hill said: ‘For revenge, I told Keeley Hawes we’d both pose cross-eyed – except I didn’t…’. Hill and Hawes at the 50th Bafta Television Awards 2008

So Steve and I decided we’d write a song called I’m Dreaming Of A Journey On My Journey To A Dream.

It should be a duo at the next meeting. ‘It can’t be a duet,’ said Simon, looking at me with the look that says, ‘Cross me if you dare.’

‘Of course it’s not a duet! Ha ha!’ I said with a nervous laugh, thinking, ‘Bit weird, what was all that about?’

It was Simon’s muscles being stretched, I suppose.

Simon waved his arms around as Steve performed the song. He even started singing along.

At the end, he applauded and said, ‘That’s great, Steve, I really like it, but you should change key a couple of times at the end.’

To which Steve replied, ‘No.’

Instantly, everything changed. It was no longer the cheerful, positive atmosphere. Instead it became a frosty, arctic environment.

‘It could do with a key change,’ repeated Simon.

‘I don’t think so,’ said Steve dismissively.

Next day, I received a call. Nigel was the one who called.

‘Well done, yesterday! But, ah It is. . . How important is Steve?’

‘We sort of come as a team. It’s a musical,’ I pointed out, ‘so we need someone to write the songs.’

‘Well, he can’t argue with Simon,’ he snapped. ‘Otherwise it’s going to be a very short relationship!’

‘He didn’t really argue with Simon,’ I reasoned. ‘It was more a frank exchange of views . . .’

‘Believe me, baby, that’s as close to an argument that Simon’s been for ten years.’

It was all smoothed over. We assembled a cast, workshopped it for a week or so, rewriting the whole time, and then the moment came for us to perform it in a stripped-down way, in the basement of the Soho Theatre in Dean Street for Simon, his entourage and all the West End theatre owners and their representatives, with a view to securing Simon’s permission to press on with the project — and crucially, a venue to stage it in.

Just before the show was due to start, we got a series of phone calls. ‘Simon’s running late, Simon’s on Oxford Street, Simon’s round the corner . . . Simon’s in the building . . .’

Hill said of Simon Cowell, to whom he pitched an X Factor musical: 'I actually came away from that first meeting wondering whether I might be falling in love with him.' He added that Cowell said he was '110%' behind the show which closed four weeks later

Hill said of Simon Cowell, to whom he pitched an X Factor musical: ‘I actually came away from that first meeting wondering whether I might be falling in love with him. He added that Cowell said he was ‘110%’ behind the show which closed four weeks later

Eventually Simon arrived with Nigel, Amanda Holden and Sinitta in tow. The rest of the audience were producers, promoters and theatre owners — really hard bitten, ‘Nothing impresses us!’ types. Your quintessential ‘tough crowd’.

The last time any of these guys laughed was when one of their rivals’ shows was cancelled.

The show started and, unbelievably, it couldn’t have gone better — everyone was laughing hysterically from the off.

The show finished to a standing ovation — unheard of in that kind of workshop situation and in front of that sort of crowd.

Smelling success, Simon sprang to his feet, ran up on to the stage and said, ‘I’m backing this 110 per cent!’

It was over! Producers accepted the Palladium’s offer, which only holds 2,400 guests.

Opening night featured stars. Louis Walsh and Terry Wogan were there, as was Ronnie Corbett. CillaBlack, Philip Green. Union J. (waddya mean? who?)Sinitta, Amanda Holden and Ronnie Corbett. Sinitta appeared to have lost her pants.

Yes, I do! It’s a strange group! The majority of our reviews were positive. I was doing a lot of what I believe is called ‘flouncing about’.

I suddenly thought that I was Noel Coward. ‘I’ve got a hit show at the London Palladium, doncha know!’

Sir Ian ‘Gandalf’ McKellen turned up one night, Rowan Atkinson another! We were on our way — we were going to be rich!

Just four weeks later, on my way to home from matinee, I got in a cab. When I got home, the producer had left a voicemail. I immediately called her back.

For a few years in the Noughties, Hill's hit show TV Burp was on ITV on Saturday evenings, just before The X Factor

Hill’s TV Burp, a hit TV show, was on ITV Saturday nights for a number of years, right before The X Factor.

‘Oh, hi, Rebecca!’ I said breezily. Then as a joke added, ‘I thought we’d get longer than four weeks, ha ha ha!’

To which she replied, ‘How did you know?’

A low, grunting sound that sounded almost like an animal was making me nervous.

‘Noooooooo!’ I groaned. That was all.

What was the reason it failed? We took on too big a venue. It was later discovered that nobody in the Palladium’s history had launched a musical. We should have started smaller and traveled the provinces like other musicals.

As they were leaving, we told the crew the following night. This group of talented and dedicated people were those who had suffered the most.

They were all signed up for a year and all they got was two weeks’ notice. I know it’s not quite the same as the pit closing in a mining town, but it’s as close as us luvvies get to it.

Cast list is what makes a Royal Variety Show command performance so special. This is old-fashioned, traditional showbiz.

On the bill when I appeared in 1997 were the Spice Girls, Celine Dion, Jim Davidson, Michael Ball, Cirque Du Soleil and the cast of Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake.

I shared a dressing room with a Russian strongman called Vlad — who spoke virtually no English. Ronnie Corbett, Ronnie Barker and The Two Ronnies were back in the dressing room for their first appearance together in 10 years.

‘What are you going to do?’ I asked them. Barker explained that they were to come on dressed as those TV chefs, the Two Fat Ladies, on their trademark motorbike and sidecar — then take their helmets off to reveal their real identities.

‘I mean, God knows how it will go down — it might be met by complete silence!’ Ron said. Ron seemed genuinely nervous about the reaction of his audience.

In any event they got the biggest applause of the night — bigger than the Spice Girls and Celine Dion put together.

I, on the other hand, didn’t fare so well.

Des O’Connor was hosting. ‘I won’t do very long,’ he said, as he went on to introduce me, but then proceeded to tell a tortuous shaggy-dog story that had a number of false endings.

Eventually, Des finished his gag — but when he introduced me, it felt like he just put a little bit of distance between the two of us. It was a subtle thing, a signal to the audience that he wasn’t entirely convinced by my act — like he was covering himself in case I bombed.

‘Well, this next guy should know what he’s doing,’ he said. ‘He used to be a doctor and somehow [Somehow? That’s not a great sell, Des, is it?] he’s going to find your funny bone.

The madness is for ladies and gentlemen [Madness, notice — not comedy] of Harry Hill!’ Then he rolled his eyes. Des.

It was almost like being at the Dignitas dinner reunion. I found the camera and played it all ‘down the bottle’ — straight into the lens.

That old telly trouper Chris Evans taught me the trick: ‘Make it look like you’re doing it for the punters at home, the viewers,’ he told me. ‘After they’ve dubbed a few laughs on it, it’ll look like you’re having a good time.’

It was correct. When you watch it now, it looks like I’m having the time of my life.

I didn’t know that yet, though. I crossed the road to get out of the stage and entered a pub. There I ordered three pints.

All three were consumed in rapid succession, and I felt all the tension buildup over the previous weeks slowly disappear.

I hadn’t eaten all day, and unfortunately I was now completely smashed and due to meet my sovereign.

Vlad, the Russian strongman and a Russian tiger tooth fetishist was seen standing in front of me at the dressing area wearing a necklace with fake tigers teeth. He also had his only loin cloth.

‘You can’t wear that to meet the Queen!’ I said with a surprisingly high level of indignation — well, it was cut very high over his thighs.

‘Huh?’ he grunted in a broad Slavic accent.

‘We’re meeting the Queen!’ I said ‘You’d better put something on!’

As we all waited for Her Maj. Jonathan Ross, there was an atmosphere of party as everyone gathered backstage. Scary Spice was also present.

As the Queen and Prince Philip appeared, everyone stiffened, standing to attention — like naughty schoolkids caught smoking behind the bike shed.

We’d been briefed not to on any account talk to the Queen before she talked to us, and that we should address her as ‘ma’am’.

The Queen stopped and looked at me, seemingly lost for words. Perhaps she smelled the booze.

‘Well “Well. . .’ she said, after what seemed like a year. ‘I suppose it will have raised an awful lot of money!’

To which I replied, ‘Exactly, Your Majesty, I always say you can never have too much money!’

She gave me a look like she’d trodden in something, then turned and greeted Michael Ball like an old friend.

After I had met the Queen, I was able to bump into her a couple of times. Her inability to recognize who we are is what I love most about her. At ITV’s 50th birthday celebrations, I overheard her asking Ant and Dec where they ‘fitted in’, which was a great leveller.

In his book Hill described his stint with a Simon-Cowell approved X Factor musical at the London Palladium, which lasted four weeks

Hill’s four week stint at Simon-Cowell’s X Factor Musical at London Palladium was described in his book.

Her 92nd Birthday bash was held at the Royal Albert Hall. That was my last encounter with her. The BBC had put together an eclectic bill consisting of Tom Jones, Sting, Shaggy and Kylie Minogue — all the Queen’s favourites!

I was there with Frank Skinner and Ed Balls as part of the George Formby Society, singing and playing When I’m Cleaning Windows.

Frank and me met Sting onstage. They did an unexpected version of Leaning On A Lamp Post together, but it was a very strange encounter.

We’d been told that at the end of this feast of entertainment, we should all file on stage. To receive the applause, Prince Charles and Queen Elizabeth would join us.

When we gathered in the wings I found myself right behind the front of the line. As I turned around, the Queen, dressed in sparkling gold, stood behind me.

‘Oh, hello there!’ I said, a little startled.

‘It’s awfully dark, isn’t it?’ she said.

‘Did you not bring a torch, Your Majesty?’ I replied with a little chuckle.

‘Hmm,’ she said, once again completely thrown by my attempt at humour. ‘Surely, you should have a torch bearer!’ chipped in Frank.

We were then able to hear the National Anthem being played by the band.

Showbiz is full of highs and lows. In 2008 when I was awarded a couple of Baftas I was genuinely gobsmacked — never had my gob been smacked quite so hard.

Ant ’n’ Dec had seats on the front row. I wrongly assumed this was a dead giveaway that they’d win for Best Entertainment Show and I wouldn’t.

My position was eight rows behind Piers Morgan.

Behind me was James Corden, who was also about to get his first gong for Gavin And Stacey, and he was quite — how shall I put it? — ‘hyper’.

I could feel him swinging from my back like a child in a car that needs to go. I felt like doing what my dad used to do if I was playing up — sticking my hand round the back of my seat and smacking his legs!

Gordon Ramsay was there too, and gave me the firmest handshake I’ve ever had. It felt like you were slamming your fingers into a car door.

Anyway, when Keeley Hawes and Nicholas Hoult announced that I’d won, the three of us were sent round the back to have our photographs taken.

But moments later, I overheard Keeley saying to Nicholas ‘ . . . and I’ve never found anything he’s said remotely funny!’

Maybe she was talking about the host Graham Norton, but they both looked at me like they’d been caught with their hands in the slagging jar.

My revenge was mine. As we stepped in front of the press, I whispered to Keeley, ‘I always do cross-eyed for photos!’

She laughed and then went cross-eyed for three to four more shots. I didn’t. It’s a nice photo — I look strangely normal for once.

And at the other end of the scale, if you ask my wife what the worst night of her life was, she’ll reply without hesitation, ‘The evening of the recording of An Audience With Harry Hill.’

It’s pretty high up on my list too.

After going through my entire set list, I selected my most memorable jokes and routines. I then assembled these into an hour of hilarious comedy.

Producers hoped that David Bowie would show up. But when I peered through the curtains, I only saw Kriss Akabusi seated next to Hank Marvin and Richard Stilgoe.

Hill's memoirs is filled with hilarious self-deprecating tales of some thirty years in the world of British comedy

Hill’s Memoirs are filled with funny self-deprecating stories from over thirty years of British Comedy. 

A stagehand appeared to be approaching my dressing room. ‘Steve Wright’s just called, he’s got a snuffle and can’t make it — break a leg!’

There was only a small round of applause as I made my way out onto the stage. After the initial ten minute of bad, it only got worse until it was so severe that I believed I would be performing An Audience With. It was. . Be booed by the celebrity crowd.

After I got off the bus, I went straight to my dressing room. I felt so emotional.

When I told this to Paul O’Grady some years later, he said he’d felt exactly the same after doing his and added that Ken Dodd told him, ‘That’s nothing — I did burst into tears!’ 

  • Excerpted from Fight! by Harry Hill, to be published by Hodder on November 11 at £20. © 2021 Harry Hill. To order a copy for £18 go to mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3176 2937. Free UK delivery on orders over £20. Promo price valid up to 22/11/2021