Choreographer Ashley Banjo led dance troupe Diversity to victory in the 2009 series of Britain’s Got Talent, famously beating big favourite Susan Boyle in a final that was watched by more than 17 million viewers.
But when the group returned to make a guest appearance on the show last year, their routine, which referenced the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement, sparked a backlash.
"My world changed with one performance," recalls the 33-year-old. "That moment was scary and I just thought: 'What have we done?'"
This time, to Ashley’s amazement, their appearance was the subject of more than 24,000 complaints and countless negative tweets. "Diversity are used to being liked," he adds. "I became public enemy number one."
He was particularly struck by the fact some of the complainers were people who had previously voted for Diversity. "It’s alright when we were entertaining people and dancing around," he says. "But not if we speak our minds."
In search of answers as to why that happened, Ashley seeks out a diverse range of opinions from people including singer and Britain’s Got Talent judge Alesha Dixon and actor David Harewood, in the ITV documentary Ashley Banjo: Britain in Black and White.
His most memorable encounter is with comedian Jim Davidson, who had aired his negative views about the dance in an online video. To Ashley’s disappointment, Jim walks out of the interview.
However, seven months after their controversial performance, Ashley and the Diversity crew received a resounding affirmation, when they won the BAFTA TV award for Must-See Moment.
Receiving the award, Ashley said: "As much as there is so much that needs to change, this is what change looks like!"
Ashley Banjo: Britain in Black & White will air on ITV on Tuesday, Oct. 19 at 9pm. It will also be available on the ITV Hub — see our TV Guide for full listings.
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Ian writes about TV and film for TV Times, What’s on TV and TV & Satellite Week magazines. He co-hosts the weekly TV streaming podcast, Bingewatch.
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