The Version Interview... Dermot O'Leary on his return to The X Factor

The UK’s most talked about TV show, The X Factor, is back. And this year’s series sees the return of some favourite faces as rock royalty Sharon Osbourne, pop sensation Nicole Scherzinger, chart maestro Louis Walsh and The X Factor creator and music mogul Simon Cowell are reunited on the judging panel. They are joined by the nation’s favourite TV host, Dermot O’Leary, who is back to guide viewers through all of The X Factor action as well as providing hopefuls with those much-needed ‘Dermot hugs’. 

How does it feel to be back?

It feels great, a bit odd to start with, not in a bad way, it’s just that this time last year I didn’t think it would ever happen. I started having drinks in early January with friends who work on the show and it was one of those things that started getting mooted, people were asking me if I would ever go back, then my agent started asking the same question.

Did you have any reservations about coming back?

To start with, I wasn’t sure. I felt like I had drawn a line in the sand. Then I gave myself some time to think about it and I realised I had missed the live shows, I missed the team and I missed being part of a show that’s part of the national conversation and culture. Like any job, if you do it for eight years it becomes engrained in you. I love making a live Saturday night entertainment show and there aren’t many around. I certainly still felt an emotional attachment to it. 

People expected you to stick the knife into the show after you left, why didn’t you?

I didn’t because that would have been disloyal. I had a great eight years on the show and walked away with no real bitterness. There were a few conversations that I would have liked to have had which we didn’t have, but that was just regret, not bitterness. I worked on a show I loved for eight years and entertained people for eight years. I don’t want to sound like I am some sort of beauty queen but I am not wired that way, it’s not how I have been brought up. Even if you have certain issues then you don’t air that in public. 

How did you feel when the show came back and you weren’t on it?

I was lucky that I was working in South Africa for two months while it was on. If I had been in the UK then it would have been slightly weirder. As I was away I was almost shielded from it. I spoke to Caroline and Olly a lot, even before they took the gig I spoke to them and told them they should take the job. I also told them what they should expect when they do take the job, it’s not The Xtra Factor, it comes with a certain pressure and level of focus. It’s TV presenting, it does require a level of concentration when you do a big live show. So I chatted to them about that but it’s the same thing as when I left Big Brother, you have to sort of let your babies go. I made my peace with it in my head.

What are your verdicts on the judges this year? 

With Louis you never know what day of the week it is, the wind could be going one way and then suddenly it changes with him, I don’t think even he knows what he’s going to do before he absolutely does it. What I love about Sharon is she simply can’t be produced, Simon can try and influence her but she’s completely her own woman. Nicole is great because not only is she a great singer, she’s nuts and for someone that graceful, with that presence and that beautiful, she’s the least selfconscious person I know. She will get up and dance, she’ll go to Asda and work as a check-out girl with Jahmene, that for me is a great judge and a great mentor. It’s good to have one performer on the panel too. And then Simon is Simon, he knows the show inside out. One of the first things I said to Simon when we sat down for our chat is that I think Sam Bailey is one of the most important winners we have ever had, you need someone whose life has passed by but has that talent but hasn’t had the opportunity. It doesn’t matter if they go on to sell hundreds of thousands of records, that’s irrelevant. The winner, every now and again, is great if it’s an over or someone with a killer voice. You’ll find stars with longevity, whether it’s One Direction, Olly or Leona, but it’s great to have a winner like Sam who’s fulfilling a dream. I’m proud we have given someone that kind of leg up. I love the variety of winners and successes that come from this show. 

How do you rate the talent this year?

There’s nothing worse than getting to this stage and thinking you’ve found your winner. We’ve got very good talent but I don’t know who the winner is yet, that excites me. The great years, like Leona or Matt Cardle, at this stage the person is still in the pack, then there’s a stand out performance, like when Leona did Somewhere Over The Rainbow, when suddenly they stretch their legs and go, ‘I’m here to win’. I like the fact I don’t know who the winner is. There haven’t been that many fights on the panel yet, which is a bit of a worry! I don’t know whether it’s because Simon’s a dad, or the fact Sharon’s quite maternal, but it’s been spreading because there have been a lot of clean sweeps, four yeses. 

What are you most excited about for the live shows?

The 30 seconds before we go live are the best 30 seconds of your life. It’s even more exciting than the show itself, unless they make me do a dance I didn’t know about, which did happen two years ago. Someone decided we were going to do a dance but no one told me, so these girls started filing in and I’m like, ‘Alright, you know we’re about to go live?’. That’s when people go, ‘Your dancing’s a bit rubbish!’, and I didn’t even know it was happening! I really can’t wait for the live shows though, it genuinely feels like a party, it’s unpredictable and that’s how it should be. 

Will there be more dancing?

God yeah, we can’t put that to bed, can we? Go on, let me! It will be sporadic, I don’t think it will be every week. I haven’t got it in the locker to do it every week. 


The X Factor returns to itv, 8pm, Saturday.