National Television Awards: People moan about fame, but I love my job, says host Dermot O'Leary
Ahead of the National Television Awards, presenter Dermot O'Leary tells Jeananne Craig why it could be 'carnage' on the night
If you ever find yourself at the receiving end of a Dermot O’Leary bear hug, chances are you won’t want to let go. Firm, warm, reassuring ... you can see why all those X Factor contestants gratefully reach out for him after a nerve-wracking performance.
Everything about the presenter seems cuddly, in fact, as he proffers a plate of biscuits and cheerfully chats away before being reined in so this interview can commence. “I will talk about anything,” he admits with a grin.
But for all the qualities that make him TV’s Mr Nice — and deservedly so — it’s clear O’Leary’s a driven man at the top of his game.
Fresh from The X Factor, which he returned to this autumn after a year’s absence, the 43-year old will be live on ITV from London’s O2, hosting the National Television Awards.
Some of 2016’s most talked about shows are in the running for gongs, including Game Of Thrones and The Night Manager (for Best Drama), Poldark and Victoria (for Best Period Drama), and I’m A Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here! and The Great British Bake Off (for Best Challenge Show).
It’s the eighth year in a row that O’Leary’s presented the ceremony and he says the nerves are under control. It helps the audience is in a celebratory mood, and that his telly peers are “almost always drunk” at the glitzy event.
There is one aspect of the night that’s making the confident star squirm, however. O’Leary is rumoured to be performing an “all-singing, all-dancing opener” at the star-studded bash.
“We had this discussion in June, or August, and they said, ‘Let’s do a song’,” he reveals, wincing.
Coming from an Irish family, the Colchester-born presenter says he can hold a note for sing-songs at “Christenings and wakes”, but insists it’s “a very limited range”.
Perhaps a few drinks beforehand would help lubricate his vocal cords? “Well, it hasn’t been the plan in the past, but it’s probably not a bad idea!”
Another challenge will be keeping tabs on the aforementioned audience. The X Factor wannabes sound like school prefects compared with this boisterous bunch.
It is, O’Leary admits, “fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants stuff”.
“In rehearsal, it’s Oscar-like or Grammy-like — you’ve got a picture of the person in each seat, and you go, ‘Great, I know Hugh Bonneville’s going to be there, Tom Hiddleston will be there, the guys from Sherlock are there, the soaps are there’,” he explains. “In my head, I know who I’m referencing when. Then it goes live and you look down and go, ‘Hang on, where’s so and so gone? Why are they sat over there, talking to that person they used to be in that show with? Oh no!’ It’s carnage.”
It’s no wonder that when the curtain goes down on the NTAs, O’Leary and his TV producer wife Dee will be heading off somewhere sunny.
“Because it comes so quickly after The X Factor, I don’t really get a chance to go on holiday beforehand, so we just go somewhere nice and hot and not think about anything for a couple of weeks.”
On home soil in north London, O’Leary confesses he and Dee are partial to some TV drama binge-watching.
“We try not to, but it’s so hard,” he says. “I think The Missing has been brilliant this year. My wife’s got me really into The Crown as well, which I love. The Fall was brilliant, House Of Cards, Game Of Thrones; we do a lot of those big kind of set pieces.
“My wife’s Norwegian, so she’ll be eating weird stuff like salt liquorice while we watch, whereas I’m more of a traditional wine gum man.”
The pair wed in 2012 after a decade together and O’Leary credits their busy work schedules for keeping the romance alive.
Both are “very independent”, he says, so the time they do have together really counts.
On top of The X Factor (which he says he felt “very energised” to return to after his hiatus), and the NTAs, O’Leary also hosts his own show on BBC Radio 2.
He admits he probably is a workaholic, but adds: “It’s like any job, if it’s all encompassing — you just chuck yourself into it, don’t you? I think you change as you get older, you definitely take time to see friends and family a little bit more.”
Having landed high-profile presenting jobs on Channel 4 teen show T4 and Big Brother’s Little Brother while still in his 20s, O’Leary admits that, with hindsight, he’d have liked to have got his big break a bit later.
“Realistically, I’d liked to have started on telly a little bit later, because you become a more well-rounded person, and you know a bit more about the world.
“But that’s the way telly is. You hope that you grow with your audience.
“People moan about (fame) a lot, but you’ve got nothing to complain about. I love the industry, I love my job and I’m a very lucky boy.”
The National Television Awards, ITV, Wednesday, 7.30pm