TV's Dermot O'Leary: 'I want to see X Factor do well'
After going AWOL for 2015, Dermot O'Leary is hitting our screens again, starting with the NTAs. TV's Mr Nice talks awards, comebacks and his talent show successors.
Dermot O'Leary won't lie. He admits it was "a bit of a shocker" to see Rylan Clark-Neal's name on the shortlist for best presenter at this year's National Television Awards. "Good for him," adds O'Leary of the Big Brother's Bit on the Side host, who he met when Clark-Neal appeared on 2012's The X Factor. "He's a hard-working lad."
Perhaps the bombshell was made all the greater, considering the fact O'Leary's own name didn't make the cut.
"I will say I'm not overly surprised. I did an hour of telly in 2015, and then Children in Need, so unless a lot of people enjoyed my Battle Of Britain show - which they did! - I wasn't expecting to get a nomination this year."
Nomination or not, O'Leary, who hosted a documentary for Channel 4 to mark the 75th anniversary of the aforementioned historic battle, will be centre stage at London's 02, when he returns later this month to host the ceremony live for a seventh time.
"It's a big gig, to be honest. It's not the fact that a lot of people watch it or that it's live, it's just that we start quite early and I like to get my hands dirty on it," says the Colchester-born 42-year-old.
"You're coming up with ideas for who can give awards away, or who's in town or what we could do with people."
The show is two-and-a-half hours long and O'Leary, who married long-term girlfriend Dee Koppang in 2012, is under no illusion as to the reality of the situation.
"No one wants a big set piece of, 'here's so-and-so doing something wacky'. It's, 'let's get the awards done and get to the after-show'. And for people watching at home, there's a bit of fatigue as well, so you've got to keep the momentum up."
He writes the script with Ivor Baddiel (brother of David), who O'Leary describes as "terrific".
The pair met while both were working on the late-Nineties series Light Lunch, O'Leary as a researcher and Baddiel as a writer.
"We've been writing for years now, and it's not about how complicated the script is, but knowing where you're going."
Light Lunch was presented by The Great British Bake Off's Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, who are also up for the best presenter award, along with Graham Norton and Ant and Dec.
"Seeing as I'm not in their category, I'd like to see Ant and Dec win," says O'Leary, who started his career on radio in his home county of Essex, before landing stints on Channel 4 teen show T4 and Big Brother's Little Brother.
"Actually, to be fair, I'd like to see Mel and Sue win this year, but it'll be Ant and Dec because it's the law."
Winners are chosen by viewers via online, phone or postal votes.
"I'd like Poldark to win. I'm an Aidan Turner fan," confesses O'Leary.
Dustin Hoffman will also be flying in to present Billy Connolly with the Special Recognition Award.
"There's no one more deserving really, in terms of being a comic," he says. "Billy's a sort of narrative to all of our upbringings. He's done so much television that we've watched, and proven his chops as a credible film actor as well."
The X Factor, which O'Leary quit after eight years last year, will be vying for the talent gong alongside Strictly Come Dancing, The Voice UK and Britain's Got Talent.
He was in America, at the South By Southwest festival for his BBC Radio 2 show, when he made the decision to leave the TV signing contest.
"I came back and the contract was being sorted, and I just thought, 'you know what? Now is the right time', so I went," he says.
A month later, it was announced that Caroline Flack and Olly Murs - who previously worked together on spin-off show The Xtra Factor - would replace him as hosts.
The recent series was besieged with reports of on-screen bloopers and poor ratings.
There must be part of O'Leary that's relieved he stepped down when he did?
"It was eight years of my life, so it would be callous of me to dismiss it and I want my friends to be a success on that show. I don't want to answer questions like that, because it's awkward. You want your friends to do well and specifically my friends hosting the show," he states.
Long-running judge Louis Walsh didn't return either. "Louis texted me at the start of the series going, 'see, they're missing us!' It's nice to be missed, but at the same time, you don't want that thing of, 'it's not enough for me to succeed, my friends have to fail'," continues O'Leary.
O'Leary's been busy filming his new BBC One game show The Getaway Car, in South Africa. Dubbed the 'ultimate relationship road-test', each episode sees five couples take on a series of driving and quizzing challenges, in the hope of winning a £10,000 cash prize.
"It's weird, I didn't really think the money would matter, but it's such a brilliant caveat," says O'Leary. "Then again, it's not really about the money, it's just a very funny, warm, family show."
The National Television Awards air, ITV, Wednesday, 7.30pm. Vote for your favourites at nationaltvawards.com; The Getaway Car begins on BBC One on Saturday, January 16