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'If Ant and Dec win, I am going to chuck in the towel'

Host Dermot O'Leary chats to Sherna Noah about the popular duo and X Factor's chances at the National Television Awards on ITV on Tuesday

Dermot O’Leary will be presenting the 2019 National Television Awards
Dermot O’Leary will be presenting the 2019 National Television Awards

Dermot O'Leary is worried - he's presenting the National Television Awards and there is a surprise in store for him on the night. The glitzy ceremony will mark the TV host's 10th year at its helm with something under wraps, but O'Leary isn't too keen. "Oh, no", he groans. "When you do live TV, you want the unpredictable, you want stuff to go wrong, but not at your own expense. If it's to do with you, it's a right pain in the backside."

This year's event, screened on ITV, sees Ant and Dec, Holly Willoughby, Doctor Who actress Jodie Whittaker and Bodyguard star Richard Madden up for some of the top prizes.

Ant and Dec have scooped the Best Presenter award for an astonishing 17 consecutive years, but if they do it again this month, it will be despite the fact that Ant took a break for much of 2018.

"If they win it this year, we should just not do it anymore," O'Leary laughs. "If they win it, having not been on television, then we may as well just chuck in the towel."

Bradley Walsh, chat-show host Graham Norton and This Morning's Willoughby and Phillip Schofield are also up for Best Presenter.

"With the greatest respect to the boys, I think Holly has had such a great year - and Graham," O'Leary says of the competition. "Graham needs to win one of these, because he's an incredible host. Holly, over the last couple of years, has done so, so well.

"Holly and Phil should have entered together. If they'd done that, I think they would stand a really good chance."

There is one glaring omission from the presenter list and that's O'Leary himself. Does that take the pressure off him on the night?

"It sort of does," the X Factor presenter says, but adds, candidly: "I'd rather be on there than not."

He's been married to TV producer Dee Koppang since 2012, has just finished presenting another series of The X Factor.

Viewing figures are not what they used to be, despite the show unveiling a new judging line-up, including married couple Robbie Williams and Ayda Field last year.

Stories about the show's declining viewing figures make its presenter feel like "we're the Arsene Wenger of telly," O'Leary says, referring to the former Arsenal manager, "because we did so well earlier now we are getting stick for it. But six or seven million (viewers) for a third of the year isn't bad."

He will be back on the ITV singing contest next year. Simon Cowell had to ask him to return to the show in 2016, following a disastrous spell with Olly Murs and Caroline Flack as hosts, but O'Leary says that hasn't changed his relationship with the TV mogul.

"Simon has always let me get on with my bit. I feel happy to be there and listened to and empowered, but I don't feel that's changed particularly," he says.

And he defends Cheryl, whose raunchy performance of Love Made Me Do It on the show sparked headlines that she had been panned by viewers.

He does not feel bad for the former X Factor judge "because she's a tough cookie. But I felt it's a nonsense," he says of stories that she was slammed.

Journalists ignored the positive and focused only on the negative reaction on social media, he says.

The X Factor is up against rival Strictly Come Dancing, as well as Britain's Got Talent, The Voice and Dancing On Ice for Best Talent Show at this year's National Television Awards.

"It feels good," he says of X Factor's inclusion on the shortlist, but O'Leary does not hold out much hope of his show actually winning.

"Strictly has just done so well in the last couple of years that it would take some to overturn that," the 45-year-old says.

He didn't watch Strictly's last series, in which Stacey Dooley was crowned winner.

"It's not about avoiding it, I just don't see it because I'm on at the same time as it," he says.

There is usually some form of chaos at the awards - last year, O'Leary was confronted with a stage invader. O'Leary was pictured talking to the man.

"The protester came up when (Sir Bruce Forsyth's widow) Wilnelia was giving her speech, which is probably one of the reasons why my regard for my own safety didn't kick in, which it normally would," he says of his actions on the night.

Always unruffled, he makes presenting look easy.

"That's because I prepare a lot," the presenter says.

But, unfortunately, for O'Leary, you can't prepare for a surprise.

The 2019 National Television Awards, ITV, Tuesday, 7.30pm

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