The spectre of Simon Cowell looms large for Dermot O’Leary
Things that are impossible to do: eat your own head, put a Fruit Pastille in your mouth without chewing it and dislike Dermot O’Leary. The X Factor presenter is the definition of the everyman, loved by the kind of age-range you usually only see on the side of board games. We caught up with him ahead of the show’s new series and immediately got our facts wrong…
The X Factor is back. It’s been what, four years on there for you now?
Six, actually. But I’m glad you said four, it means I’m not overstaying my welcome.
Do you still get nervous before the shows?
I do, but as anyone who has done public speaking will tell you, you’re only nervous when you’re not prepared. When you are, those nerves [become] excitement, and you can use them and go off-script. There’s nothing worse than being under-rehearsed. I do shows with much smaller viewing figures and get far more nervous because they’re unfamiliar, whereas The X Factor is… it’s odd to say a TV studio in front of 600 people and 12 million more at home feels like home, but it does. It’s the reality you get used to.
Like a pair of comfy shoes. Really expensive comfy shoes.
Yeah. It’s being comfortable but not complacent. And the good thing about working with Simon is you’re definitely not complacent [laughs]. You feel like you’re one bad link away from getting the sack… I’m joking, but it is a meritocracy.
Are you bringing your dance routines back?
It’s incredible how many people take them seriously. People will say after a few drinks, “You know you can’t really dance?” I know I can’t dance. The whole point is that I can’t dance. As long as everyone takes it in the spirit it was intended, I have no problem doing it. You don’t want to be the last person at the party, though, going: “Hey guys! Look at me!” when everyone’s bored of it.
Will the moves be getting more extravagant? Will wires be involved?
That’s the thing – my moves have been exhausted for some time now. And you’re right; I want them to be serious about this and put their money where their mouth is.
Has a contestant ever tried to provide a fake backstory? Saying “I lost my parents at an early age”, and then they show up to cheer them on…
Good question. With some people, you just get an inkling, like, “Really? That can’t be right.” But I think they are weeded out before we see them. When I meet someone and ask them why they’re here, I expect them to say, “Because I’m a great singer” or “Because I’ve never really sung before and will give it a go”. But if someone says “I’m doing it for her” and raises up a bemused-looking two-year-old, I sort of think, “We’re all doing it for her, for our families, aren’t we?” Maybe you should just do it because you can sing.
Were you up for The X Factor USA gig?
I was on the shortlist for it, but I signed for the UK one, and as soon as I did I knew it would probably rule me out, even if I thought I could do both in a sort of Superman, bravado way. It’s a shame, I would have liked to have given it a crack because I think I could have done a good job.
Do you miss Simon?
I don’t necessarily miss him being on the panel but I miss his passion. I mean, it’s not a problem, Simon is always ‘here’, he’s probably ‘here’ [on the phone] right now, on another line, but I miss him as a producer sometimes.
You’re an Arsenal fan – what kind of reception do you get at games?
Football fans, or at least Arsenal fans, are quite self-conscious people, not given to bursts of emotion. When I go away it’s a different story – “Dermot is a Gooner” – and all that. At home, I’ve been going for a while and you know everyone around you, so just a nod and a wink and you have a drink with some of the lads. It’s a wide ranging social demographic at Arsenal.
Do you get a lot of groupies?
No, but you get people who scream at you because you’re on TV. You get a lot of girls shouting “You’re fit!” and my response is always, “No, I’m just on television.”
Do you get strange offers or suggestions from fans?
It’s happened, but you laugh it off because they’ve probably been in the sun for a while and have had half a bottle of rosé. You don’t go, “Yeah, still got it!” You go, “Make sure that woman doesn’t come anywhere near me.”
'You promote up-and-coming acts on your Radio 2 show. Do you take credit for anyone’s success?
I wouldn’t say that. People come back and say “Thank you for your support”, but we’re just playing their record. All that’s happened is my ears have liked it, and then I press play on the CD. But we gave Amy Winehouse one of her first sessions, and Adele, so I’m proud of that. People ask me how I can do The X Factor and this, and it’s simple – one’s a popular entertainment show and the other champions new music. They’re not a million miles apart. People talk down about The X Factor, but the people that do well just want to be singers. The ones who just want fame get pretty short shrift early on.
Such as Jedward…
Well, I’m not sure anyone really knows what Jedward want. I’m not sure even Jedward know what Jedward want.
And finally, can you sign this interview off Dermot-style?
[Laughs] Bloody hell! What does that even mean?
The X Factor-style…
Well, I guess my ShortList interview ends right here!
The X Factor starts on ITV1 on 18 August at 8pm
(Image: Rex Features)