SINCE most of the news this year has been so bleak, how refreshing it is to talk to Dermot O’Leary, whose world has changed beyond measure, but for the best possible reason.
Because while most of us were grappling with the challenges of lockdown and then the uncertainty of emerging from it, Dermot and his producer/director wife Dee Koppang O’Leary have been ensconced in a newborn baby bubble with little Kasper.
And you couldn’t meet a prouder, happier new dad – three months in and he’s even relishing the sleepless nights.
“It’s all been great. When your friends tell you about all the nappy changes or waking up in the middle of the night, you think: ‘Ooh, that sounds hard’,” says Dermot, speaking publicly about fatherhood for the first time.
“But when it’s your own, none of that matters at all. You just go: ‘Heeey, it’s you! I like you! Let’s go and change your nappy!’ So I’m really enjoying it, it’s been wonderful.
"We’ve been in that lovely foggy bubble that everyone talks about but you can’t appreciate until you’re in it. And it’s just a lovely place to be.”
Dermot, 47, revealed Kasper Koppang O’Leary’s very cool name live on his Radio 2 show, 10 days after the June 23 birth, also disclosing that Kasper had very aptly come into the world to the anthemic Elbow track One Day Like This.
But he confides there was some deliberation before they finally settled on “Kasper – with a K”.
He says: “We knew the sex, but we didn’t tell anyone – and over nine months, it’s really hard not to have leakage.
"But we debated over the name! We didn’t have any disagreements, but we wanted to see what he looked like before we decided.
“We actually had a couple of names lined up and we took him in for a little bit, ummed and ahhed for a while and decided: ‘Yeah, it’s Kasper!’”
After Dermot and Dee married in 2012, he often spoke of their wish to start a family.
But the path to parenthood isn’t always simple and just a few days after announcing her pregnancy earlier this year, Dee, 41, referred to their “rocky road to get here” in a moving Instagram post.
The message prompted hundreds of responses, clearly resonating with many experiencing the anguish of struggling to conceive.
And although this is obviously an intensely personal situation and Dee and Dermot have always been a private couple (“we’re not ‘celebs’,” he says), he echoes her words of solidarity to anyone currently walking that same rocky road.
“Don’t lose hope,” he says. “Just keep going and you’ll find resolution one way or another, whether it’s through adoption or IVF or whatever.
"Because if you really want to be a parent and you want to bring a kid up in a loving, nurturing and supportive household, then you should do your utmost to do so.
“And I know it’s very easy to say these things, because none of that is science. But there are always ways.”
He says that one day, when she’s ready and the time is right, Dee, a keen photographer who shot Dermot at their north London home for our cover today, will share their journey in the hope that it helps others who are going through a similar experience.
“I’m very proud of her. She’s been brilliant and I’m sure she’ll write about it eventually. I’m just so proud of how she’s gone about talking about it, and the fact that it’s resonated with people has been really touching.”
Holding up his phone, he shows a picture of Kasper, who looks completely delicious with a mop of dark hair.
At first, Dermot and Dee’s beloved cats, Toto and Socks, were a little put out by his arrival – although, thankfully, both have since come round to the family’s newest member.
“I’ve been so surprised by it. I wasn’t exactly worried, but it was a concern because we love our cats and we didn’t want them to have to be put away in a different room.
“I mean, they have their moments when he’s a bit windy or cries and they’re a bit like: ‘What is that?’ But for the most part they’ve been really good.
"Toto is super-protective, she’s like a dog with him. She’ll get on the end of the bed and almost look out in a protective manner.
“Socks is a little bit more circumspect, but it’s been really good.”
We had that early baby period being able to spend proper time with just himDermot O'Leary
Of course, locked down and in the middle of a pandemic wasn’t the world Dermot and Dee ever imagined bringing a baby into.
But in some ways it’s been a blessing, allowing them time and space to adjust to family life and their new normal.
“In one respect, you want to get out there for him to meet everyone and see the world. But in another, it’s been quite special because it does give you that enforced time together.
"We had that early baby period being able to spend proper time with just him.
“Also, if the diary had been different and The X Factor was on, I’d have been in America [filming judges’ houses] and missing quite a lot of it.
"So even though it’s a hideous situation, the stars have kind of aligned for us to be able to spend this time together.
“It’s been an unsettling time, but with a silver lining for us that I’ve been able to be here.”
Dermot has a very clear memory of the night the country went into lockdown back in March – he felt the shift along with a pang of apprehension about what lay ahead.
“I’m not a particularly anxious person, but I think it’s really important how it’s been OK to say you’re feeling a bit of anxiety about the situation.
“I remember putting the bins out and I looked up into the sky and thought, ‘OK, the world is going to be a very different place now.’
"It was deathly quiet and we live in an area where there is always life, but the streets were deserted. It really brought it home to me and I felt this little twinge of anxiety.
“As human beings, we adjust to our reality and that’s what I always tried to keep in mind.”
As well as preparing for the impending birth, Dermot’s lockdown was also spent putting the finishing touches to the fourth book in his excellent Toto The Ninja Cat children’s series.
This latest escapade, Toto The Ninja Cat And The Mystery Jewel Thief, sees Toto (who is based on Dermot’s real-life rescue cat) and her motley crew go in search of a precious diamond cat collar, stolen from the animal crown jewels at the Tower of London.
Just like the previous three books, it’s witty, full of heart and complemented perfectly by Nick East’s brilliant illustrations.
Dermot says, “When I first started five years ago, it was because we had a blind cat who had ninja-like tendencies and I thought I’d give it a go and see if I could do it.
"I had no idea how good it would be, but when you meet kids who have read the book, that’s when the penny drops.
“I don’t want to sound like a beauty queen, but when people come up to me and say: ‘My kid doesn’t really read, but he’s started to read your book’, that’s when… well, I get something in my eye.
“What’s been really touching recently is how many books I’ve been sent by friends for Kasper, saying this is a book they were read as a child or read to their kids, and that notion of legacy is really sweet.
"God, if I’ve ever been bought for a child for that reason then I’ll be over the moon.”
To be honest, if you do the job I do, you always feel a bit of imposter syndromeDermot O'Leary
Sales of over 180,000 (and counting) speak for themselves, but Dermot is absolutely upfront about the fact it was his name that got his foot in the door with publishers.
It gave him an advantage over lesser-known aspiring children’s authors, but did that mean he felt he had something extra to prove, to show he wasn’t just another celebrity author jumping on a pretty crowded bandwagon?
“To be honest, if you do the job I do, you always feel a bit of imposter syndrome.
"Because I started doing TV when I was 24 and I’m now 47, when you do something a bit out of your lane, you do feel you have to try twice as hard to get recognised for it.
“I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, but as a society we’re far too myopic in the way we look at what people do. We are kind of: ‘Stay in your lane’.
“If someone wants to be a TV presenter or work in radio then I’m fully supportive of it if they do it the right way. Work hard and learn how to do that job, as opposed to being parachuted into it.
“In the same way, I’ve got no time for people who don’t write their own books. If that’s the route they want to go down, fine, but it’s not for me.
"I insisted when I first started that I wanted to do this myself.
“When we go out [on a book tour] again I’d really like to take an author with me who might well be more experienced than me, but who doesn’t have the same profile.
"Almost like when you see bands play live, there’s a support act.
"I’d be more than happy to do that because getting kids reading is the most important thing – there are some great untold stories out there and as a book-writing community we should all support each other.”
Dermot reached out to fellow children’s author and friend David Walliams recently when a social-media storm saw a backlash against his bestselling books, such as The World’s Worst Parents, which were accused of being “sneering, classist, fat-shaming nonsense” by food writer and activist Jack
“Yeah, I dropped him a line because I felt for him at the time,” says Dermot.
“I know David and he’s a pure of heart man. He plays the curmudgeon, but he’s a really decent guy who adores writing children’s books and where that level of imagination takes them.
"We’ve chatted long and hard about that in the past and I know he doesn’t mean any offence to anyone. And I think his books are, for the most part, really inclusive.”
Conversations with Dermot are varied and never dull.
In the wardrobe with Dermot
What was your lockdown look?
Stripped back! But the most important thing was to get up, get showered and get dressed.
Most worn item?
At the moment I’m living in J.Crew shorts around the house.
How has your style evolved over the years?
It’s about dressing to your age. I’m 47 and, while I don’t need to dress like an old man, I can’t dress like a 20 year old, either. I worked out what suited me while I was in my 30s.
What are your favourite labels?
Private White, Slowear, Sunspel, Orlebar Brown.
Best on the high street?
Uniqlo do brilliant work, as do Gap, H&M and J.Crew. There is some good stuff out there.
Who’s your style icon?
Dead or alive? For dead, I’d have to say Paul Newman. And alive, Bill Nighy, Daniel Craig and George Clooney always look incredible. Tom Hanks, too.
He’s sincere, unfailingly generous with his time and the limited sleep he must be getting at the moment hasn’t dimmed any of his natural enthusiasm for chat as we veer from TV to politics, podcasts to Brexit, and his “obsession” with maritime history to the love/hate relationship he has with social media.
“If you want to go down a rabbit hole,” he says, “Twitter is a great place and can be wonderful. But if you want a genuine, sensible discussion, nuance and debate, get off Twitter.”
His passion for human-interest stories and in-depth interviews has led to a second series of his engaging podcast People, Just People with Audible (“Exactly what the world needs – another white guy in his 40s with a podcast,” he jokes), and he hopes to make more Reel Stories – musical retrospectives told through archive footage and clips, which have so far featured Kylie Minogue, Noel Gallagher and Rod Stewart.
The future of The X Factor is less certain, however – Dermot, who has hosted the show since 2007, points out that: “It’s on a hiatus at the moment, so we’ll see.”
But if, as rumoured, the show doesn’t return, could that provide a good opportunity for a clean break and a new chapter for himself?
“I love the show so much so I’d never look at it that way,” he says.
“But when they took the decision to rest it, of course it necessitates a change in outlook.
"Like when I didn’t do the show for a year [in 2015, when Caroline Flack and Olly Murs were handed the presenting role, before Dermot was asked back the following year], it was a case of: ‘OK, what am I going to do now? What do I want to do now? What’s out there?’ Just don’t panic, don’t go knee-jerk.
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“It’s actually really interesting to see how radio has been received and how people have engaged with it during Covid. I’ve actually never felt more privileged to be on the radio than I do now.”
He adds: “I think we’ve got to wait and see when it’s safe and healthy to come back and if The X Factor returns, great. And if it doesn’t, I’ll look for other opportunities.
“But the most important thing is to hold your nerve.”
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