He’s spent a decade transforming local community groups into all-singing, hit choirs. Now Gareth Malone is taking things to a whole new level – as a judge on BBC1’s new entertainment series, Pitch Battle, which sees rival musical groups facing-off against each other.
And to mark what is, undoubtedly, a big moment for Britain’s best-known choirmaster, he’s even undergone an image transformation with a brand new wardrobe of bright and sparkly suits. They aren’t, he chuckles, quite in the realms of Graham Norton’s trademark shiny suits, but it’s clear the 41-year-old is determined to embrace everything about Saturday night television.
“Last year I was involved with Invictus and that was my most emotional project,” says Gareth as he chats in his dressing room at the TV studios in Salford, where Pitch Battle is filmed. “It was a life-changing project and, of course, I want to carry on that work, but this is something different. It’s Saturday night, a glass of Champagne time and a bit of shiny suits! It’s fun!”
Landing such a coveted role on the BBC’s big push to bring new formats to our screens was one of the reasons why he didn’t think twice about taking up the offer.
It is, he puts simply, a huge honour to judge a TV singing competition featuring lots of different groups – from acapella, country and rock to musical theatre – who compete against each other in a Pitch Perfect movie-style contest that will see the winning group pick up a £50,000 prize.
“I am really excited to be part of Pitch Battle,” says Gareth. “It’s come at the right time. I’ve spent a decade doing shows involving choirs. This is not about the backstory (like many of my previous programmes). It is about the power of musical performance. It’s about those stand-out moments that really count.”
On the judging panel with Gareth is Kelis, an American singer whose hits include Milkshake, and a different guest judge each week. Seal was the first guest with other stars lined up to appear including Chaka Khan and Will Young.
“Pitch Battle is much more akin to Strictly Come Dancing than the X Factor or The Voice,” explains Gareth, “It’s much more about the way they sing – just as Len would say ‘that is not strictly a foxtrot step’. My argument about a competition and singing, is that a contest sharpens your skills. I remember winning Bournemouth Singer of the Year in my 20s! It was a great experience. The person who came second didn’t break down on the floor. They got feedback and learned. It’s the same on this show.”
So is he a Simon Cowell-esque Mr Nasty on Pitch Battle?! “I am vicious,’ he quips. “I am joking! What I want to be is honest. This is such a great opportunity and it’s exciting to be part of such a great, new show. Kelis is so warm and down to earth. She is a big surprise. She is delightful and really clever. The British public are going to love her.”
His friend, who he mentored for the Children in Need choir, Mel Giedroyc, is presenting the six-part series. “I love Mel,” says Gareth. “She is great. With all her experience on a certain cake programme, she is good at putting people at ease. Her warmth is central to that. It’s not about being cool, but about bringing warmth.”
As he chats, Gareth is bubbling with energy and excitement – and it’s infectious. You can’t help but be swept along and it is clear the choirmaster turned TV presenter is relishing this new opportunity after he first sprang on to our screens in 2007 with The Choir. In turn, it’s gone on to have many successful incarnations, including The Military Wives and the Invictus group – both of which enjoyed big musical hits. “Music is such a big passion of mine and I hope this show inspires people watching at home,” he says. “Hopefully, it takes everything to a higher level.”
Determined to keep his family life private, Gareth – who is married to Becky, an English teacher, and who lives in London with their children, Esther, (7) and Gilbert, (4) – thinks one of the reasons why this show could run and run is the fact that the guest judge must go on stage at the end with the two remaining groups who have been whittled down from six to sing a line from their own song.
A down- to-earth star, who wears his heart on his sleeve, Gareth says he feels incredibly fortunate to be doing a job he loves. “I can’t believe it! I am still waiting for them to go ‘thanks Gareth, here’s your leaving gift!’ I feel really lucky. Quite early on, I realised I liked television and that I wanted to be making television programmes for a long time. And that’s come true.”
For the time being, Gareth is throwing his heart and soul into Pitch Battle. And then he will be going on tour this autumn for a musical extravaganza with guest choirs and singers. “All I do now is music on TV, or on the stage,” he says. “I am writing songs at home, too. It is 100 per cent music, which is absolutely ideal.”
- Pitch Battle is on BBC1 on Saturday evenings. If you missed the first one you can catch up on BBC iPlayer.
- For more details about Gareth’s autumn tour, including venues and dates, visit
- Words and interview by Alison James