We catch up with the Take That star about his BRILLIANT new reality show...

He may have quit his job as a judge on The X Factor three years ago, but now Gary Barlow is making a big return to TV with his very own Saturday night BBC1 entertainment series Let It Shine. And if a sneaky glimpse behind the scenes on the glitzy set on the new show is anything to go by, it looks certain to give The Voice, which has jumped ship to ITV, a run for its money.

Joined by Dannii Minogue, Martin Kemp and various guest stars on the panel, Gary, 45, is launching a national search for five singers to form a band that will tour the UK performing Take That tracks to coincide with the group’s 25th anniversary. And with TV favourites Graham Norton, 53, and Mel Giedroyc, 48, stepping in as hosts, we can expect plenty of laughter.

Gary (along with Graham and Mel) took some time out from filming in Manchester to tell us why he’s so excited about the series, why he isn’t after a lookalike of himself and how he’s handling the pressure of going against The Voice…

Why did you decide to launch this new show?

Gary: I had a conversation with a couple of the heads at the BBC about it all. My reaction was, if I were to do it there would have to be something that wasn’t a promise but a real tangible thing, where you got to the end of it and there was a massive opportunity. With this show, they’re actually auditioning for a job. They’ll have a 12-month theatre tour, eight shows a week and they’ll play to over 100,000 people. It’s so exciting.

Tell us more about the show…

Gary: So we’re looking for a five-piece group. They’ll be called The Band and they’ll then tour the country. It’s solo people auditioning and we’ll then put them together. They’ll then go against each other to find the winner. We want that same energy we had when we started out as Take That in 1991.

Take That back in the day

So will it be just like those old talent shows that Andrew Lloyd Webber used to do?

Graham: No. We’re looking for five that will work together.

Gary: We haven’t had any bands come to us ready-made. Everyone’s a solo artist. For us, it’ll be interesting to put them into bands of five and that’s going to be really hard. Some bands will have definite lead singers; some bands will have more supporters.

Can you swap people around?

Gary: Early on we can. But once we go live, that’ll be it. You’re all huge personalities in Take That.

Is personality important on this show?

Gary: I think if you’re looking to put people on a stage in a musical environment, personality is massive. The light has to go on and people have to be excited and entertained.

Graham: It’s not just about vocal excellence.

Mel: They have to be on the road for 12 months, living and breathing everything. They have to have stamina as well.Gary: This is an amazing opportunity. I want everyone, even the people who don’t get through, to go away thinking how they can change something. I want them to learn.

Will Mark Owen and Howard Donald have any involvement?

Gary: Yes, they’re there. They’re on the floor.

Graham: They’re backstage stealing my coffee!

What’s your favourite Take That song?

Mel: Relight My Fire.

Graham: Me? Back For Good.

Gary: Rule The World.

We wonder what Simon Cowell will think of the show…

You’ve got Martin Kemp and Dannii Minogue on board as judges too. Tell us why you chose them.

Gary: For me, having the acting side with Martin was a really big thing – we needed that. I don’t have that. Danni’s done it all. We’ve met so many times on The X Factor.

And how does it feel to have Graham and Mel on board?

Gary: These guys are with us, which shows the commitment of the channel. It’s a big show for us. It feels like a fresh show and has a real end game.

Graham and Mel, how are you enjoying it so far?

Mel: We’re already gossiping.

Graham: We’re like viewers. Everyone’s got an opinion. When the music starts, you don’t know where it’s going to go and you don’t know which way it’ll go.

Have you cried?

Mel: Yep, I’ve welled up twice and brimmed three times. It’s pretty nerve-wracking for lots of them, so emotions run high.

Graham: I think this is an amazing experience for the boys. These are people who want to be in the industry. Normally if you go to an audition, there’s no feedback at all. In this, you get an experience.

Gary: There’s a serious side to the whole audition too. We feel for everyone, but even when you’re known and you go on TV, you’re on an audition. People are making opinions. This is the world. They need to learn it doesn’t stop when they end their song – it continues.

Are you secretly looking for a second Gary Barlow?

Gary: No. I see some of the kids and it reminds me of bouncing around. I think: ‘God, that was us in 1990 trying to get noticed.’ A lot of people we’re seeing have tried everything. They’re frustrated. They’re looking for direction. Part of the whole making of this show is making sure they go away knowing what they need to do next.

Do they need to be novices?

Gary: We’re open to everybody. We’ve seen some people who’ve been in shows before, to one guy who’d never lifted a mic.

Will there be a sing-off?

Gary: Well, we’ve got to get rid of them somehow, so yes!

How do you feel about the show being compared to The X Factor and competing with The Voice for viewers?

Gary: We’re on Saturday night. Everyone is competing for those slots. I’m trying not to think about it!

And finally – have the crowds gone crazy because Gary is involved?

Mel: I’ve had to take myself off and calm myself down. I find it quite moving when I see Gary, Howard and Mark. I’m sure I’m menopausal.

Graham: The audience are quite a crowd.

Gary: We did the first auditions in Manchester and that’s where it started. The audiences are particularly good.

Mel: They’ve gone bananas.

Graham: It doesn’t look like other shows. I really, really like that set.

Mel: Wait until you see the common room where I’m based. That’s where it’s all happening…

Let It Shine starts on BBC One at 7pm on 7 January