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Why dreams of fame never die

LONG before The X Factor or Britain's Got Talent, there was New Faces. Unless you're of a certain age, you might not remember New Faces, which was the above two shows rolled into one big, glittery, showbizzy ball and, in its day, bigger than either of them.

It first appeared in the 1970s, when it introduced the novel concept of the nasty judge to TV talent shows.

Two nasty judges, actually: songwriter Tony Hatch (he wrote Petula Clark's massive hit Downtown) and his brother-in-law, record producer Mickie Most, who took turns ripping sub-standard acts to ribbons.

You'll almost certainly know some of the stars New Faces discovered, though.

They include Lenny Henry, Victoria Wood, Michael Barrymore, Les Dennis, Jim Davidson and Marti Caine, who returned as host of the revived 1980s version.

But the wonderful Wonderland documentary I Had the X Factor . . . 25 Years Ago wasn't concerned with any of those.

Instead, it focused on some of the contestants from the 1986 New Faces final who briefly made it big, only to see it all snatched away from them as suddenly as it had appeared.

As a cautionary tale for all those wannabe stars who think appearing on a television talent show is an instant ticket to fame and fortune, this wistful, melancholy film was hard to beat.

"Shaking God's hand could not top winning New Faces," said Vinny Cadman, once the zany half of a Cannon and Ball-style comedy double act called Walker & Cadman.

Vinny and his partner, who didn't appear here, didn't win New Faces but, like everyone else on the bill, they became overnight stars and the work flowed in.

The drink flowed, too.

Every night, Vinny spent every penny he earned at an all-night bar called The Dutchman, where he was astonished to be rubbing shoulders with the likes of Oliver Reed and, er, Roy 'Chubby' Brown (well, it WAS the 1980s).

"I really thought I was going to be a massive star," said Vinny, who has three failed marriages behind him and is the living image of the sad clown.

He imagined it would last forever; it didn't.

By 1989, the work had dried up and he was broke. He spent a year sleeping in a rubbish skip -- "Welcome to show business!"

Another comedian, Billy Pearce (whose face, I'm horrified to say, I immediately recognised), landed his own BBC TV show after the final and was earning £4,000 a night from live shows.

But he lost his fortune when he invested the lot in a Portuguese nightclub owned by a bankrupt.

Still, Billy is one of the luckier ones. He managed to hang onto his house and his second wife, and he's earning a steady living in cabaret and panto.

For reasons never fully explained, soul singer James Stone turned his back on his family and friends and moved in with his manager, a much older woman who treated him like a mother.

She died six years ago and James misses her.

Oddly, he doesn't miss the hundreds of thousands of pounds she stole from him. Two years ago he entered Britain's Got Talent -- and reached the semi-finals.

The person who seemed happiest with his lot was the one who actually won the '86 final: Gary Lovini, a then 17-year-old violin prodigy. "When you're famous, it's all about you," said Gary, who clearly enjoyed the ride while it lasted and has a smile that could illuminate Blackpool.

He never became a huge star but he has a lovely wife, two lovely children, a lovely house and an even lovelier Porsche, all supported by lucrative cruise-ship work.

Vinny Cadman still believes his destiny is "to be world famous".

When we left him, he was plying his old New Faces slapstick shtick at a caravan park in Wales.

For some, the dream never dies, no matter how critically ill it is.

Wonderland: I Had The X Factor . . . 25 Years Ago 4/5